Kyle Koretsky displaced Friday’s Pro Stock leader on Saturday of the NHRA Nevada Nationals while Mike Salinas (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), and Gaige Herrera (Pro Stock Motorcycle) continued to lead their fields into Sunday’s dramatic final eliminations at the season’s penultimate event.
Salinas ended Friday night atop the field with a 3.699 and it seemed like that number might survive Saturday until the two final pairs of Q4 where the lead changed hands from Salinas to Steve Torrence’s 3.683 before Salinas fired back in the final pair with a 3.680 for his fourth No. 1 of the season and second in the last four events though he’s only won two rounds in the last two races after reaching the final in Charlotte.
"We were trying to run a 3.67 but Rob [Flynn, crew chief] backed down it a little bit because he saw something that wasn't right, so he did a great job,” said Salinas, who still has a shot at the championship with the right wins and losses Sunday.
“Don't underestimate anybody in this class,” he cautioned. “Everybody is good. There are no gimmees. You have to be on your A game. When we get to Pomona [for the season finale], the weather's gonna be cool, so .64 or 65 is going to be No. 1, and I would say the top seven to nine cars are going to be in that range, and hopefully I'm in the top.
“Basically, [the performance of] our car has been there recently but I've been distracted as a driver. This weekend, I fixed that. We have a lot on our plate, and we took care of it, just compartmentalizing everything and with the right people around us, we'll be just fine. With all these cars running this good at the end of the year, can you imagine what next year is going to be like?”
Torrence ended up second to snug up his pursuit of points leader Leah Pruett and second-place Doug Kalitta thanks to the bonus points he earned Saturday and the points that Pruett and Kalitta did not earn as they qualified Nos. 4 and 5 behind Austin Prock, whose Montana Brands dragster came alive with runs of 3.707 and 3.692 to get around Kalitta’s 3.696 and Pruett’s 3.704.
Justin Ashley ended up sixth with a 3.708, a number matched by Antron Brown at a slower speed for No. 7. Shawn Langdon rounds out the quick eight with a 3.711
Kelly Harper has impressed in his class debut in the Paton racing car this weekend, qualifying 14th with a steady quartet of runs with a best pass of 3.817. Rob Passey, who made a career-best pass of 3.989, ended up on the bump spot and will be Salinas’ first-round opponent.
The top four in Funny Car points are the top four qualifiers heading into Sunday’s eliminations with Hight ahead of Bob Tasca III. Tasca's strong Q4 run of 3.843 was disqualified after the pass, preventing him from overtaking Hight, who remained No. 1 based on his Friday pass of 3.851. Tasca is now second based on his Friday pass of 3.853.
Points leader Matt Hagan sits third, and fourth-place Ron Capps. With Tasca's run DQ'd, Hight made the best run of each of the four sessions, including a 3.875 in Q4, and his Cornwell Tools Chevy gathered up all 12 possible session bonus points and eight low qualifier points to close the gap a bit on Hagan, who picked up only two points while Tasca earned five.
Hagan ended up third with a 3.871, just ahead of Capps’ 3.877. John Force’s gold-plated Old World Industries 50th anniversary car is fifth at 3.887, just a tick ahead of Chad Green’s 3.888.
Cruz Pedregon (3.893) and Alexis DeJoria (3.902) round out the top eight and 13 drivers qualified in the threes with Tim Wilkerson, J.R. Todd, Paul Lee, Blake Alexander, and Alex Laughlin also covering the 1,000-foot racecourse in less than four seconds.
Jeff Diehl came back from a troubled first pass to hold the bump spot with a 4.089 just behind West Coast favorite Steven Densham, who came into the final session not qualified, almost had to abandon his final attempt due to a missing part that was loaned to them by another team on the starting line, then promptly bumped his way into the field.
Koretsky's Lucas Oil-branded Chevrolet Camaro showed power and speed throughout qualifying, and he unseated Friday low-qualifier Erica Enders to claim the fourth No. 1 of his career and first of the season with a 6.589, 205.66 in the final session.
"We didn't give up after making a good run Q1, the team kept digging and trying to get better and better every round, and that just shows the dedication of KB Titan," said Koretsky, who was ousted in the first round in each of the most recent three events and dropped to No. 8 in the standings. "The last few races, we've been behind – but they keep pushing, keep pushing me, and keep trying to make me better. We just keep on going. My opinion, I have the best team out here. They give me 110% every single time we go down that racetrack. They believe in me, and that gives you a lot of confidence as a driver. That's real important. The last few races I've been down and out, but we didn't give up."
Korestky, who won the fall race in Charlotte in 2021, has reached the final round twice this year and is in the hunt for his first victory of the season.
"A win tomorrow would do a lot for me personally," said an emotional Koretsky. "Pro Stock is tough, to qualify is a win. To go No. 1 is a win. To win the race is a bigger win for us and for me personally. I think we have a shot, I really do. I never enter the property thinking we don't have a shot. I feel like we have a fair shot and just like everybody else, you can win from No. 16 or you can win from No. 1. I think I need this. I really do. I know everyone wants to win out here, but I think this weekend's mine. Vegas has been somewhat good to me in the past. I owe Vegas something, so I'm going to try to get the win."
The early Pro Stock qualifying round on Saturday distributed bonus points to the top quickest of the round: Koretsky claimed three as best overall in his Lucas Oil Chevrolet Camaro, Dallas Glenn received two, and Bo Butner earned a point as third-best. Koretsky scored three more in the Incoming points leader Enders claimed a pair of points for her 6.592 at a big speed of 208.07.
Cristian Cuadra made a very large move early in the final session to indicate better things to come. His 6.604, 206.80 vaulted him to the No. 3 position and came with a bonus point as the third-best of the session. He will race Deric Kramer in the first round of eliminations, while his older brother, Fernando Cuadra Jr., is No. 4 and will race their father, Fernando Cuadra Sr.
Championship contender Matt Hartford, starting fifth, will meet KB Titan Racing teammate Camrie Caruso in the first round. In what should be a great race, the 2021 Rookie of the Year will square off with the 1998 recipient of the award as Glenn, the No. 6 qualifier, will battle Jeg Coughlin, who narrowly missed having to race nephew Troy Coughlin Jr., who moved up the ladder to get out of his uncle's way in the final session. The younger Coughlin will race fellow Elite Motorsports-powered driver Bo Butner.
Greg Anderson, No. 2 in the points entering the event, rounds out the top eight and is slated for a first-round meeting with recently crowned Factory Stock Showdown champion Aaron Stanfield. Jerry Tucker locked into the bump spot with a best time of 6.651, 207.02, and for his efforts will race Koretsky in round one. Enders made her best run in the final session and will start second. She'll race Mason McGaha in the opening act.
When it was all said and done, Chris McGaha, Eric Latino, Kenny Delco, Joey Grose, Steve Graham, and Alan Prusiensky were locked out and will have to try again at the next race.
The early round of Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying on Saturday began with Angie Smith returning to competition for the first time since her crash in St. Louis. Currently No. 6 in the class standings, Mrs. Smith got proper medical clearance and planned her return here this weekend for the sole purpose of qualifying for the 16-car field to earn the points that could, potentially, keep her in the top 10 at season's end.
As planned and decked out in an older set of Denso leathers, Smith made a smooth, easy pass down the track and clocked a 12.232, 90.87 that will lock her into the field. She does not plan to race on Sunday and her attendance in Pomona is still up in the air, but she intends to race the full schedule next season.
Later in the round, the pace picked up dramatically as Herrera reinforced his position as pole sitter with a 6.771, 198.23 that was low of the session. His Vance & Hines Mission teammate Eddie Krawiec was 6.855, 197.88 for two bonus points as the second-quickest of the lot, and former world champ Jerry Savoie, aboard the Trick-Tools machine most recently ridden by Chase Van Sant, who is recovering from a damaged knee from an incident in Dallas, was third-quickest on a 6.891, 195.85. Savoie will receive one of the coveted bonus points.
In the later session, Herrera closed out qualifying with a strong 6.767, 198.41 for an additional three points. Krawiec was again second-best with a 6.850, 196.33, and Hector Arana Jr. was third-best for a point thanks to his 6.863, 196.47.
Herrera's reign of dominance carried right on through qualifying as he scooped up every available point to land his 13th No. 1 of the year. He reset the track record for elapsed time in the process to a 6.760 at 199.82. The track record for speed remains intact, so far, at 202.27 set by Matt Smith at this event in 2022.
"I'm thrilled with how we ran all weekend," said Herrera. "I'm glad to get our 13th No. 1 qualifier so far this season out of 14 races. That right there is just a big accomplishment for Andrew [Hines, crew chief], all the guys back at the shop, and me just being consistent on the motorcycle. From Friday to today, my bike is basically a bracket bike. It's consistent and fast, and that's what we want. I'm excited for tomorrow. As long as we go A to B I think we'll continue gaining little points over my teammate and getting closer.
"I was expecting to slow up a little bit with the wind and the weather, so for us to be able to run that considering the conditions, we're very happy. We made a few gear changes, we actually changed the tire, and we're making changes in between each round chasing the weather trying to keep the bike running the same no matter the conditions. That's helping us out a lot as far as our tuning window – and as far as me riding it. The bike always feels like the same bike no matter the conditions. I think it helps me and Andrew out a lot as far as him tuning, me riding, and it's paying off."
If Angie Smith does not pull to the starting line for round one of eliminations, Herrera will receive a bye run and gain points placing him that much closer to securing his first NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle world title.
Krawiec, starting from the No. 2 spot, will race Karen Stoffer, while Arana Jr., starting third, will square off with Joey Gladstone. Savoie qualified in the No. 4 position for a head-to-head meeting with Blaine Hale in round one. Defending world champion Matt Smith is No. 5 on the sheet with his best time of 6.895, 196.73, and he will race John Hall. Jianna Evaristo, Chris Bostick, and Marc Ingwersen round out the top eight.