Looking to stay in the Funny Car championship hunt, Robert Hight claimed the provisional No. 1 position at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, making the quickest run in both qualifying sessions on Friday at the 23rd annual NHRA Nevada Nationals.
Mike Salinas (Top Fuel), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Gaige Herrera (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are also the provisional No. 1 qualifiers at the 20th of 21 races during the 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season, and the fifth of six races in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
Hight powered to a run of 3.851s at 327.51mph in his Cornwell Tools Chevrolet Camaro SS to take the top spot. If it holds, the multi-time world champion would earn his sixth No. 1 qualifier this season and 83rd in his career. He entered the weekend 69 points out of first and called this weekend a must-win situation with only two races remaining in the Countdown to the Championship.
“After Dallas, we kind of knew what we were up against,” Hight said. “You dig yourself a big hole and you have to get out of it. The only way to do that is race aggressively, try to get as many points as you can get, and it’s a must-win here and Pomona. But the way those other cars are running that we’re fighting against, you’re going to have to be a win and a semifinal to even have a chance, and we might even have to win both of them – and that still might not be enough. That’s how close this is and the caliber of cars.
“Vegas is kind of like Denver, you have to make big moves to run quicker and faster. It’s kind of an equalizer racing here. I’m proud of the guys – we did exactly what we had to do today, but I predict that if we don’t step up tomorrow, we won’t be here tomorrow night. It’s going to take more.”
Bob Tasca III, who entered the weekend second in points, went 3.853s at 335.73mph to go to second, while points leader Matt Hagan is right behind after a 3.871s at 322.58mph. Hagan has won the last two playoff races.
In Top Fuel, Mike Salinas rocketed to the top thanks to his run of 3.699s at 332.75mph in his Valley Services/Scrappers Racing dragster. He’s seeking his fourth No. 1 spot this season and the 15th in his career and is also after a strong finish to his season. Salinas, who started the weekend sixth in points and 131 points out of first, started the year with a victory in Gainesville and would love a second victory in 2023. He was also the only driver to make a run in the 3.60s on Friday.
Austin Prock went to second with his run of 3.701s at 329.99mph and points leader Leah Pruett is right behind thanks to her run of 3.707s at 331.53mph. She entered the weekend four points ahead of Doug Kalitta.
Nobody has more wins at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway than defending Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders and her success continued on Friday, securing the No. 1 spot in her Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage/Melling Performance Chevrolet Camaro with a 6.595s at 207.66mph during opening session. Her second qualifying run on Friday was disallowed due to a technical violation.
She’s looking for her 10th career win in Las Vegas and enjoyed a great start, making the only run in the 6.50s. It puts the points leader on track for her sixth No. 1 spot this season and 35th her career. Entering the weekend with an 85-point lead over Greg Anderson, Enders hopes to build on that this weekend at her most successful track.
“[Even with] how well we’ve done here in the past and the success that we’ve had here in Las Vegas, we sucked so bad earlier this year that we couldn’t even win here in the spring,” Enders said. “It’s been an uphill battle, but with the way the Countdown is structured, we finally got ourselves out of the ditch that we were in – and just in the nick of time. We never doubted it, we just had to identify our problem and work through it. That’s something my guys are great at; when their backs are against the wall, they perform flawlessly and they never give up. They’re very tenacious, so I’m proud of them. Having the provisional No. 1 here is very meaningful.
“We tested and I’ve said this before, you win races before you leave the shop. You’re as prepared as possible, and we want to come out here and get every single point we can. Having said that, I know all the other competitors feel the same way, but good start, I’ll take it. The six points are very meaningful.”
Kyle Koretsky’s 6.603s at 206.07mph put him in the second spot and Matt Hartford took third after his run of 6.608s at 206.26mph.
On a weekend where he has a chance to clinch his first NHRA world championship, Pro Stock Motorcycle’s Gaige Herrera got off to a flying start on his Mission Foods/Vance & Hines Suzuki, shattering the track record with a run of 6.760s at 199.82mph. The points leader entered the weekend with a 156-point lead over teammate Eddie Krawiec and he opened the event by making the quickest run in each of the first two sessions. It puts Herrera on track for his 13th No. 1 qualifier – a race after he set the class record for No. 1 qualifiers in a single season – and plenty of momentum heading into the rest of the weekend.
“For the whole Vance & Hines Mission Suzuki team, we were very happy with that,” said Herrera. “With the cooler conditions in Q2, we were expecting a 6.77s, but that pass was so smooth and straight as an arrow that it felt slow. I knew it was on a good pass, but I didn’t expect it to go 6.76s and get the new track record. That’s a big deal to me and the whole team.
“I’m going into this race knowing in the back of my head that I can possibly lock it up this weekend, but it depends on how Ed does, and the rest of the guys as well. Everything I’ve accomplished this year has really been starting to set in, going to the last two races here and Pomona, just sitting back and thinking about everything, it’s hard to believe what’s been accomplished and what we continue to accomplish.”
Krawiec is currently second 6.830s at 198.85mph and defending world champion Matt Smith is a spot behind after going 6.842s at 196.53mph.
Qualifying continues at 12:00 p.m. PT on Saturday at the NHRA Nevada Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.