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Torrence, Hight, Hartford, and Herrera lead the way into Monday's Indy finals

There were few changes on Sunday as Saturday low qualifiers Steve Torrence, Robert Hight, Matt Hartford, and Gaige Herrera now look to capture Dodge Power Brokers U.S. Nationals titles on Monday.
03 Sep 2023
NHRA National Dragster staff
Race coverage
Steve Torrence

There were few changes on Sunday as Saturday low qualifiers Steve Torrence, Robert Hight, Matt Hartford, and Gaige Herrera now look to capture Dodge Power Brokers U.S. Nationals titles on Monday.

Torrence, who has qualified in the top four at the last five races, collected his second No. 1 of the season and the 36th of his career, but it’s the first in Top Fuel at the U.S. Nationals where he’s already won twice in the class.

Torrence’s opening lap of the event Friday night, a 3.708, proved to be the run of record for the Capco Contractors team but they also were among the quickest three in two of the other four sessions. In a weird statistical anomaly, five different drivers led the five sessions throughout shifting weather,

"We made a really good run on the first and we were able to hold on to it for the last four and I think a couple of those rounds, we were second or third quick, so we've had a pretty consistent race car," he summarized. "Today we utilized the track conditions to prepare for tomorrow, and push the envelope as much as we thought we could get away with and it was a little more than what we could. 

"But I feel really confident that the two runs we made today even though we didn't go down on the racetrack, I feel like we learned a lot of information that will be useful for tomorrow."

Brittany Force remained in the No. 2 spot she’s occupied since Friday with a 3.709 while points leader Justin Ashley sits third with a 3.714 and Doug Kalitta No. 5 at 3.717.

Mike Salinas, whose 3.755 was the quickest run of the final qualifying sessions, kalo was a top-three qualifier in four of  the five sessions and end d up fifth with a 3.721 best.

Leah Pruett (3.730), T.J. Zizzo (3.736), and Josh Hart (3.744) round out the quick eight.

Defending U.S. Nationals champ Antron Brown struggled with clutch problems through the first four qualifying sessions with a best run of just 3.856 and came into the final qualifying session not in the field. The Matco team responded with a 3.806 that moved them into the field in the No. 14 spot, where they had to survive a final pair of Will Smith and Buddy Hull trying to knock them out. Nether made a full run and Brown finally breathed a sigh of relief.

Brown ended up No. 15 and gets a first-round date with Force while Smith ended up on the bump with a 3.822 and will face Torrence. Hull joined Lex Joon and Dan Mercier on the DNQ list.

Hight collected his fourth No. 1 of the season, his second at Indy, and the 81st of his career with his dazzling 3.853 pass from Saturday grabbing the No. 1 spot and his victory in the Pep Boys NHRA Funny Car All-Star Callout making Sunday even sweeter. Hight’s Jimmy Prock-tuned Cornwell Tools Camaro has dominated qualifying over the event’s five sessions, being the leader three times and second-quick twice.

"We were low three of the sessions and second two of the sessions, so.we're definitely coming around at the right time," he confirmed. "But you have to do that in all the different conditions during the countdown, you know, you're going to have some cool weather, and you're gonna have to do all this when it's hot and cold if you want to win a championship,

"I do feel that we're coming together at the right time., so we'll just carry this momentum into raceday tomorrow."

Bob Tasca III, who had grabbed the early qualifying lead on Friday’s lone pass with a run of 3.864 from his Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford, didn’t make it down the track on his next three runs but remained No. 2 and closed with a competitive 3.962 in Q5.

Alexis DeJoria, who won this event in 2014, sits third with her Bandero Premium Tequila Toyota with a 3.888 with Callout runner-up and 2016 Indy winner Matt Hagan in the No. 4 slot at 3.912.

Defending event champ Ron Capps (3.917), Cruz Pedregon (3.931), Blake Alexander (3.934) and Tim Wilkerson (3.945) round out the top eight. Twelve drivers qualified in the three-second zone.

Paul Lee ended up on the bump spot with a 4.088 with Dave Richards and Justin Schriefer on the outside looking in.

Hartford stated early on that his 6.569 from Friday night’s lone Pro Stock qualifying session would not be bettered and he was not only correct but was never seriously at risk of being proven wrong. After Friday, Hartford used the next two qualifying runs to test different set-ups on his Total Seal Camaro.

On Sunday, Hartford prepared for Monday's eliminations with a stellar 6.601-second run that he believes was far more impressive than Friday's low qualifying effort.

"I will say that my entire crew is bad-ass. Eddie [Guanarccia, crew chief]  is a genius," said Hartford. "That [6.60] was a far more impressive run than what we ran on Friday. Now, I need to get focused because tomorrow is a new day. I need to figure out a way to win four rounds tomorrow because we've got a great race day tune-up."

Hartford will now focus on his round one match with No. 16 qualifier Mason McGaha, who held on for the bumps spot following a spirited back-and-forth battle against Fernando Cuarda Sr.

"If I do my job, I know my crew will do theirs and we'll be able to turn on four win lights," said Hartford. "I loved Pro Stock from the first time I saw it and to come here to Indy and get a yellow hat is a dream come true."

There was almost zero chance that Herrera’s 6.746 from Friday would be nudged from the top spot during either of Sunday’s two Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying sessions as the weather continued to warm up at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park. In Sunday’s opening session, it was Matt Smith, not Herrera, who bagged the four qualifying bonus points with a 6.892. Steve Johnson (6.900) and Chase Van Sant (6.915) also made solid runs that were representative of conditions. The only improvements in the opening session of Pro Stock Motorcycle were Angie Smith, who moved into the top half of the field with a 6.917 and Cory Reed, who moved the bump spot from 7.21 to 7.11.

Herrera actually slowed on Saturday afternoon and did not earn qualifying bonus points for the first time in many races, but he also doesn’t need them having long ago sealed the top spot in the class heading into the upcoming Countdown to the Championship. Herrera’s final tune-up run before Monday’s final eliminations was competitive 6.830 which was low for the day. Herrera will be paired with No. 16 qualifier Cory Reed in round one.

“That 6.74 run on Friday was a big accomplishment and we wanted to make sure it stayed No. 1,” said Herrera. “That’s a tribute to my team, especially Drew [Hines, crew chief]. He never quits. This is good for me and good for the team and for us to run 6.74, 6.75, and 6.76 shows we’ve also got a consistent bike. Today, we played with tires a bit so we were in full test mode. Drew had a new tire he wanted to try but it needs more runs so we’ll probably use the old one tomorrow.”

While he’s got a very fast motorcycle, much of Herrera’s dominance this season can be traced to his riding style which is somewhat unique. Herrera uses his body weight to help launch the bike. The late Dave Schutlz may have pioneered the technique, but Herrera seems to have taken it to another level. He’s also noted that he’s flattered to see other riders emulating his style.

“It’s hard to believe that some people would actually study how I ride because I still think of myself as a rookie,” said Herrera. “I’ve had a few people ask what I do and how I do it. It’s all flattering but I never tell them everything.”

Herrera’s teammate, Eddie Krawiec, finished as the No. 2 qualifier and he’ll be paired against Bud Yoder, who qualified for the field in his first NHRA appearance. No. 3 qualifier Hector Arana Jr. delivered the first 200-mph run of the weekend with a 200.05 blast on his GETTRX Buell, and he’ll race Chris Bostick on Monday. Perhaps the most intriguing matchup of the first round involves Matt Smith and John Hall, who raced in the 2013 U.S. Nationals with Hall taking the victory against Smith, who was his then-teammate.