Pruett, Tasca, Hartford, and Herrera each earn a spot at the top at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals
Qualifying for the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals was a bit out of the ordinary on the first day in Norwalk, but day two was business as usual for all four Professional classes. Leah Pruett was able to keep the No. 1 that she nabbed early in Top Fuel, while Funny Car's Bob Tasca III and Pro Stock's Matt Hartford edged out the Friday low qualifiers. Gaige Herrera kept his streak of low qualifier awards alive in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
Pruett threw down a killer 3.68-second pass at 333 mph on Friday in her Dodge Direct Connection Top Fuel dragster to move into the No. 1 position, and no one could touch it on Saturday. Although she did not make a clean pass on Saturday, Pruett has the utmost confidence in what the TSR Nitro team will be capable of on Sunday. The No. 1 is her second consecutive start from the top spot, building on a provisional low qualifier that she earned on Friday in Epping.
"The beauty is that we have been making really great runs, and that's putting us in the position to gain these qualifying points and qualifying positions for a better spot to start on raceday," said Pruett, who locked down the 15th No. 1 qualifier of her career. "We're not disheartened about today, but frustrated a little bit. We keep finding a kaleidoscope of different ways to not have perfect runs, but at least we know what those issues are. We would have loved to have made runs today that were spectacular, but we know we have a racecar that can go the mileage on Sunday.
"It feels absolutely great to be No. 1. That's what Tony Stewart Racing is all about, and I'm glad that our Top Fuel team has been able to up our cadence and our performance to keep up with what Tony and Matt Hagan's teams have been able to do."
Pruett's pass was nearly matched by Steve Torrence and his CAPCO rail; Torrence clocked a 3.688, which was just .004-second behind Pruett. He'll start from the No. 2 position, while Brittany Force and her Monster Energy dragster claimed the No. 3 spot with a 3.69. Doug Kalitta, who reached the final round of the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge in his Applied Innovations-branded dragster, is No. 4 on a 3.70, while Austin Prock and the Montana Brand/Rocky Mountain Twist Top Fuel dragster are No. 5 based on a 3.70 of his own. Josh Hart and Justin Ashley continued the trend with another pair of 3.70s, and they are No. 6 and No. 7, respectively. Mike Salinas rounds out the top eight with his 3.72.
Warsaw, Indiana's Kyle Wurtzel is holding down the bump spot, a 3.82, and he will race Pruett in round one. T.J. Zizzo, Mike Bucher, Terry Totten, and Scott Farley were locked out of the 16-car field.
In Funny Car, Ron Capps earned the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge title, but he was knocked from the No. 1 position by Tasca in the early round on Saturday. Capps had closed out Friday qualifying with a brilliant 3.89 to claim the provisional pole, but Tasca's 3.88 on Saturday afternoon unseated the reigning champ. Tasca, driving the Motorcraft Quick Lane Ford, scooped up his third No. 1 of the season and 12th of his career, and he will race Bobby Bode in round one on Sunday.
"You've seen this car perform at a really high level this year," said Tasca. "We have multiple No. 1 qualifiers when the tracks are really good. We've struggled a little bit with consistency, and what I like this weekend even more than the No. 1 qualifier is that we ran 3.90, 3.88, and 3.90. The car was absolutely dialed in. It pretty much ran to the hundredth of what the crew chiefs wanted it to run. That was the last little missing link for this team to go on a real run. Hot track, cold track, we've proven we can run low e.t.
"I've won here in Norwalk a bunch of times in my alcohol Funny Car, in the nitro car, and I've been in the winner's circle with all the Ford executives. This is a special track, and I love racing here. These facilities – they're a different level. You come here and see that it's an awesome place to race. Hopefully we can win another one here."
Matt Hagan and his Dodge Direct Connection Funny Car qualified in the No. 3 position with a 3.89. Alexis DeJoria is No. 4 (3.90), Tim Wilkerson is fifth (3.90), and Robert Hight and J.R. Todd are starting sixth and seventh, respectively, with a pair of 3.91s. Chad Green is No. 8 by way of a 3.92.
Reigning Pro Stock champion Erica Enders was quickest in the early session on Saturday – the first for Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle as Friday was a wash-out for all but the nitro categories. In the final session, however, Matt Hartford and his Rottler-branded Total Seal Chevrolet wheeled around her by .002 to grab a third No. 1 of the season – and of his career.
"That was huge for us," said Hartford. "To come out here and put the Rottler/Total Seal car on the pole is a lot of momentum for tomorrow. It comes down to what a great team this is, and my crew chief makes great calls.
"We're counting every point we can right now. We're looking at those bonus points you get for qualifying No. 1. It's going to mean something when you get to the Countdown as to where you end up. We need to go into that with as many points as we can. We need to get some more semifinal or final rounds so we can get into the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge again because there are points there. Those points right now are huge. We have a chance to win the championship, and it's the best chance we've ever had."
Troy Coughlin Jr. tied Enders and her 6.59, but he was relegated to No. 3 based on speed. Aaron Stanfield is No. 4 (6.60), and Greg Anderson, Cristian Cuadra, and Dallas Glenn each laid down a 6.61 to situate into the No. 5, 6, and 7 positions, respectively. Deric Kramer, who won the #2Fast2Tasty title over Anderson, is No. 8 with his 6.62.
Hartford will race Fernando Cuadra Sr., while Fernando Cuadra Jr. and Alan Prusiensky were left on the outside looking in.
The Pro Stock Motorcycle field is led by Herrera, who blistered the racetrack with a 6.78 aboard his Vance & Hines Mission Suzuki. He has been perfect this season in qualifying and picked up his career fifth No. 1. He will have a bye run in the first round as there are 15 motorcycles in attendance.
"Going red in Bristol, and then going red today in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge definitely took the wind out of my sails a little bit," said Herrera. "But to bounce back and get a No. 1 qualifier – we're still holding that streak, so I'm happy for that, overall, for the whole team.
"I started off with an incredible season, you can't ask for anything better. I knew there would be bumps in the road, I was kind of expecting it. In Bristol, I was telling everyone I wasn't feeling it, something was going to happen, and it did. I think you just come back from it, you grow from it.
"You can't always come out here expecting to win. I mean, I have the baddest bike out there, and I'm expected to win. So, it was kind of a relief off my shoulders, but I was mad at myself about going red, any driver would be. We'll see, going into raceday I'm excited. I'm getting more and more comfortable on the bike. The whole team, we're working really well together. I'm excited for tomorrow, for sure."
Reigning world champion Matt Smith clocked a 6.80 for the No. 2 position along with 199.17, top speed. Hector Arana Jr. is No. 3 with his best time of 6.81, and Eddie Krawiec claimed the No. 4 position on a 6.82. Steve Johnson's 6.84 was good for the No. 5 spot, and Mission #2Fast2Tasty winner Angie Smith is No. 6 with her 6.86. Marc Ingwersen (6.89) and Jianna Evaristo (6.94) are No. 7 and No. 8, respectively.