Before showers arrive, plenty of drama unfolds at Maple Grove Raceway to disrupt Countdown opener.
The lone driver to advance to the final round, Doug Kalitta hardly misses a beat Sunday after Top Fuel dragster tire shreds, causes serious damage to primary car during Saturday qualifying.
Pair of No. 1 seeds exit early.
Tony Stewart set to face Madison Payne in Top Alcohol Dragster rematch of Vegas final she won last fall.
Eliminations continue Monday. The race will be broadcast on FS1 at 9:30 p.m. ET on Monday.
Rain was a big winner Sunday at the interrupted Pep Boys NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pa.
However, top Funny Car qualifier Bob Tasca III was right in his prediction Saturday evening that fans “could see some big-time upsets” in this first of six Countdown to the Championship events.
The NHRA started eliminations an hour early, hoping to avoid a storm front that was predicted to roll through in mid- to late afternoon. Ultimately, a rain delay robbed racers of daylight, racing-safe temperatures, and a chance to show off in full force on an NFL-adjacent FOX broadcast.
Instead, eliminations will continue Monday at 10 a.m. and Maple Grove Raceway. The final day's action will be broadcast Monday at 9:30 p.m. ET on FS1.
Kalitta Still Unsure Why Tire Shredded – But He Keeps On Winning
Top Fuel’s Doug Kalitta still isn’t sure what caused his right rear tire to shred and damage the rear wing and chassis of his primary Mac Tools during Saturday as he completed his 3.748-second, 332.10-mph qualifying pass at the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals at Reading, Pa.’s Maple Grove Raceway.
“The tire did not fault. There was nothing wrong with the tire,” Kalitta Motorsports General Manager Chad Head said. “The car did not have any malfunctions on the run, but something caused the tire to explode. We do not know what caused the tire explosion.”
Nevertheless, that forced his team to scramble to prepare a back-up car overnight Saturday.
None of it seemed to faze Kalitta, who got into his car – one without a cockpit canopy he was starting to get used to this season – and won the first three rounds Sunday in dramatic fashion.
In the only pass that weather permitted after the lengthy rain delay, Kalitta knocked off Leah Pruett to reach his third final round in seven races. After another brief stoppage, Tony Schumacher and Steve Torrence rolled to the line for their semifinal match to see who would face Kalitta in the final. Then it began to rain again. By then, track conditions had deteriorated.
The drama started much earlier in the day.
In his opening-round match-up against Josh Hart, Kalitta recorded low elapsed time of the meet with a 3.658-second pass at 335.73 mph. (That was quicker than No. 1 qualifier Justin Ashley’s 3.687 seconds.) In the second round, Kalitta ambushed Kalitta Motorsports teammate Shawn Langdon and won by seven-thousandths of a second.
“I’m super excited. My guys gave me a great car,” Kalitta said. “There’s some seriously close racing going on here. It’s time to step up, get up on the wheel.” After his first-round victory, he said, “I wasn’t sure what to expect. It has a different look from [inside], not having the canopy. It felt good It’s one of my old faithful cars.”
With help from Langdon’s Kalitta Air Careers team, the crew worked late into Saturday night to prepare the back-up car while a truck already was on its way from the Ypsilanti, Mich., shop to retrieve the disabled primary car.
Robert Hight Knocks Out Matt Hagan in Monster Match
No. 3-ranked Robert Hight defeated No. 2 Matt Hagan by one ten-thousandths of a second Sunday in the quarterfinals. That’s.0001 of a second.
Hight said of Hagan and his Dodge, “That’s the car you’re going to have to beat for the championship. You’re going to have to beat him week in and week out. You don’t expect to run those guys second round. But when those opportunities come up, you’ve got to get it done.”
No. 1 Countdown Seeds Lose Early
Top Fuel’s Justin Ashley and Pro Stock’s Dallas Glenn dropped out early. Ashley, also his class’ No. 1 qualifier who enjoyed a solo pass in the first round when opponent Scott Farley’s car failed to fire, got a rude awakening in Round 2. Tony Schumacher, the 12th-seeded Countdown racer, defeated him to break a string of seven Round 1 losses.
Ashley said, “It’s disappointing. Ultimately, for that team, I’m happy for them. They’ve been struggling all year. This is a part of racing, as disappointing as it is, this sport has so many ups and downs.”
In Pro Stock action, Glenn picked the wrong time to have his first foul start of the season. It handed the first-round victory to Cristian Cuadra.
Jianna Evaristo has dominator Gaige Herrera’s number – again
Pro Stock Motorcycle’s Jianna Evaristo has made giant strides this season since aligning herself with Matt Smith Racing. Now she’s a giant-killer.
She knocked out points leader, No. 1 qualifier, and seemingly unstoppable Gaige Herrera in the quarterfinals. In 33 previous elimination rounds, he had lost only three times – and one of those he fell to was Evaristo. She also beat him in June in the second round at Norwalk, Ohio. So, she became the only racer this season to beat Herrera more than once. Steve Johnson (at Bristol) and Matt Smith (at Indianapolis) were the other two.
Tony Stewart Earns Rematch with Madison Payne
Tony Stewart advanced Sunday to the final round of Top Alcohol Dragster competition against Madison Payne in a rematch of their fall 2022 Las Vegas final. She won that one.
Stewart won the Division 1 race here at Maple Grove Raceway in August and a Division 3 event in May at Indianapolis.