St. Louis low qualifier Tasca eyes points lead for the first time; Kalitta, Enders, and Herrera also No. 1
He's starting from the top spot again, and now Bob Tasca III has an extraordinary opportunity on Sunday at the NHRA Midwest Nationals to slide into the Funny Car points lead for the first time during the NHRA Countdown to the Championship. Incoming points leaders Doug Kalitta and Gaige Herrera also qualified No. 1 at World Wide Technology Raceway, as did Erica Enders, who is a handful of points out of the lead.
Racing in front of a sellout crowd – the eighth of the season – Tasca picked up his sixth No. 1 of the year with a 3.85-second pass at 324 mph which he clocked on Friday evening in his Motorcraft Quick Lane Ford Mustang. The run held strong through two additional rounds of qualifying, and Tasca will enter Sunday in St. Louis No. 2 in the points. That's less than a round behind current points leader Robert Hight.
Looking for his second straight victory during the Countdown, Tasca will open eliminations against Jack Wyatt with bolstered momentum after a strong pass of 3.87, 331 to close out the evening.
“This is very exciting, but one round at a time, one run at a time,” said Tasca. “We really don't pay as much attention to what the cars around us are running. We have enough data now with this car and enough track information to go up there and try to go as quick as we can for the conditions that are presented.
“You want to be in the conversation. No one can guarantee a championship. No one knows what's going to happen over the next four races, but you want to be in the conversation. That's why the sponsors invest in us, that's what the fans cheer about. We're going to do the best we can, and if we come out victorious, it's that much sweeter. But this is what it's all about. I've been around a lot of successful teams. We've had some good runs, but this is clearly our best run at it.”
Chad Green moved all the way to second with a solid run of 3.88 at 330, and Blake Alexander earned the No. 3 position with a 3.88, 326.
Kalitta hung on to his second No. 1 qualifier of the season and the 53rd in his career thanks to Friday’s run of 3.70 at 331 in his Mac Tools Toyota dragster. The points leader will open eliminations against Lex Joon and aim to stay perfect in the Countdown to the Championship: The veteran, chasing his first Top Fuel world championship, has won the first two playoff races and built a strong lead against the likes of Steve Torrence and Justin Ashley. Kalitta has marveled at the team’s consistency in the postseason and hopes to continue their stellar run on Sunday in front of another huge crowd in St. Louis. Kalitta flew to a 3.72 to close out qualifying.
“I was really happy with that .72 in that last session,” said Kalitta. “My car has been really consistent. I just can't say enough about how hard everybody is working on my car. Connie Kalitta is our fearless leader out here and given me a great opportunity over the years.
“It's just nice when it all can come together like it has the last couple of races for my car. We're just going to hold on, do our best, and keep going rounds – as many as we can get. We're definitely looking forward to tomorrow, whatever it gives us, and hopefully we can have it dialed in real nice.”
Mike Salinas landed the No. 2 positioni with a run of 3.71 at 329, and Antron Brown was right behind in third with a 3.71, 331.
After earning her third straight start from the No. 1 spot with Friday’s lasting run of 6.54, 209 in her Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage Chevrolet Camaro, Pro Stock’s Erica Enders has a chance at history on Sunday. With her next win, the defending world champion will become the most winning female driver in NHRA history. Her journey on Sunday will begin with a first-round meeting with Eric Latino, and Enders is hoping to secure her 47th victory this season and first in the Countdown to the Championship. She has dominated over the years in St. Louis with four straight victories heading into the weekend. Her six overall wins are the most for any Pro driver at World Wide Technology Raceway.
“I'm definitely excited to head into raceday,” said Enders. “St. Louis has always been really good to us, and we hope that the trend will continue tomorrow – but there are a lot of really tough competitors out there. I'm hopeful to park that JHG/Melling Performance car in the winner's circle. We've got our work cut out for us, but I'm looking forward to it.
“I haven't thought about [the record] on raceday, but no matter when it comes it will be a huge honor. Angelle [Sampey] was one of my heroes growing up, and we're great friends now. To be the all-time winner for females in any form of motorsports is pretty substantial and an honor I won't take lightly.”
Pro Stock points leader Matt Hartford made a strong run of 6.54, 207 to move into the No. 2 qualifying position, while Troy Coughlin Jr. qualified third with a pass of 6.55 at 208.
Gaige Herrera tied Matt Hines for the most No. 1 qualifiers in a single season in Pro Stock Motorcycle history as he secured his 11th No. 1 in 12 Pro Stock Motorcycle races. Friday’s run of 6.71 at 201 on his Vance & Hines Mission Foods Suzuki got it done. Hines set the mark in 1998, and Herrera matched the mark more than 25 years later as he continued a dominant season. The points leader made two more quality runs on Saturday to take plenty of momentum into Sunday as he aims to pick up his first win in St. Louis and his eighth of the season.
“This is very cool. I just have to give it up to Andrew [Hines, crew chief] and all the guys at the shop – and Matt Hines, included,” said Herrera. “They're the ones that make that possible. To be able to tie Matt and get that many No. 1 qualifiers in one season, it's incredible. There have been a lot of remarkable, crazy, things I've accomplished so far this year, but to add something like this to it is pretty cool.
“We tried to do different things on the bike today, the track is kind of a little tricky for us, so I feel like we made good passes considering. We'll go back and go over all our data and be ready for tomorrow. All in all, I felt pretty good on the bike. It should be good tomorrow.”
Defending world champion and defending event winner Matt Smith is No. 2 with a 6.76 at 201, and Eddie Krawiec bumped to third thanks to his 6.77 at 201.