Top Fuel’s Mike Salinas powered to the No. 1 qualifying position on Saturday at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, taking the top spot on the final run of the session at the 23rd annual NHRA Nevada Nationals.
After a post-qualifying penalty was applied, Robert Hight (Funny Car), Kyle Koretsky (Pro Stock) and Gaige Herrera (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also qualified No. 1 for the fifth of six races in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
Salinas entered the final qualifying session in the No. 1 spot, dropped to third and then rocketed back to the top with a standout pass of 3.680 at 331.77 in hisValley Services/Scrappers Racing dragster. It gave the veteran his fourth No. 1 qualifier this season and the 15th in his career. Steve Torrence and Doug Kalitta both dipped into the 3.60s during the previous pair, bumping Salinas to third momentarily. But as part of a thrilling side-by-side run with Austin Prock, Salinas jumped back into the lead heading into eliminations, where he’ll open raceday against Rob Passey.
“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,” Salinas said. “Don’t underestimate anybody in this class. Everybody is good and you have to be on your ‘A’ game. 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.”
Torrence ended up in second with his 3.683 at 331.69 and Prock qualified third thanks to a 3.696 at 328.66. Heading into eliminations, Leah Pruett leads Doug Kalitta by just one points and Steve Torrence by only six points.
In Funny Car, Robert Hight’s run of 3.851 at 327.51 from Friday in his Cornwell Tools Chevrolet Camaro SS held up, after the fourth round qualifying runs from Funny Car drivers Bob Tasca III, J.R. Todd and Jeff Diehl on Saturday in Las Vegas were disqualified when their cars failed a post-run inspection. That bumped Hight back into the No. 1 spot, with Tasca now moving to second with his 3.853 at 335.73 from Friday. The revised results gave the multi-time world champ his sixth No. 1 qualifier this season and 83rd in his career.
Points leader Matt Hagan took the third spot with a 3.871 at 322.58. Hagan has won the last two playoff races.
Pro Stock’s Kyle Koretsky had enjoyed strong qualifying runs this weekend, but made a major move in the final session, running 6.589 at 205.66 in his Lucas Oil Chevrolet Camaro to earn his first No. 1 qualifier of the season. Running next to points leader Erica Enders, who was the provisional No. 1 qualifier, Koretsky jumped into the 6.50s and into the top position with a standout run, claiming his fourth career No. 1 spot. After a frustrating season – including three straight first-round losses in the Countdown to the Championship – late-season success would be a massive boost for Koretsky and his team. He’ll open eliminations against Jerry Tucker, looking for his first win of the season.
“We didn’t give up after making a good run Q1, they kept digging and trying to get better and better every round, and that just shows the dedication of KB Titan,” Koretsky said. “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.
“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. A win tomorrow would do a lot 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 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, so I’m going to try to get the win.”
Enders, who is also the defending event winner and world champion, qualified second, going 6.592 at 208.07. Cristian Cuadra also made a big jump in the final session, taking third with a 6.604 at 206.80.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, points leader Gaige Herrera capped off a dominant two days of qualifying in Las Vegas, making the quickest run in all four sessions on his Mission Foods/Vance & Hines Suzuki. He went a terrific 6.767 to close out qualifying, with Friday’s track-record run of 6.760 at 199.82 giving him the top qualifying spot for a class-record 12th time this season. He was the only rider to reach the 6.70s in qualifying and Herrera did it three times, including during both sessions on Saturday. Herrera stretched his lead to 161 points over teammate Eddie Krawiec entering raceday, meaning he’ll need to finish two rounds ahead of him to clinch the world championship on Sunday in Las Vegas.
“I’m thrilled with how we ran all weekend,” Herrera said. “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.
“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.”
Herrera’s teammate, Krawiec, qualified second with a 6.830 at 198.85 and defending world champion Matt Smith is a spot behind after going 6.842 at 196.53.
Eliminations for the NHRA Nevada Nationals begin at 11 a.m. PT on Sunday at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.