CONCORD, N.C. — The second round of the NHRA Countdown to the Championship came to a thrilling conclusion on Sunday afternoon at zMAX Dragway.
Here are five takeaways from the weekend at the Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals.
1. Bob Tasca III Is ‘Not Gonna Get Picked Off’
With four races left in the Countdown to the Championship, Bob Tasca III is only half-a-round’s worth of points out of the lead following his victory at zMAX Dragway on Sunday afternoon. It was his 15th career Funny Car win and his third of the season.
It may be surprising to some to see the Motorcraft Funny Car inching up in the standings, but Tasca believes he’s earned this moment with the way he’s performed this year.
“I can assure you this. There’s nobody that pulls up alongside that Motorcraft car now when the conditions are good and says, ‘Ehh, we can pull it back and we can beat ‘em,’” Tasca said.
“Well, they may beat us — trust me, by no means are we flawless — but you are not going to pull up next to that car and say, ‘We can pull it back and outrun them.’
“We’re not going to get picked off, if there’s anything we can do about it.”
The level of competition in Funny Car is easily a make-or-break situation for any driver, according to Tasca, who is in his 16th season of racing in NHRA.
But for someone who “lives in a pressure cooker,” between competing on the weekend and managing Tasca Automotive Group during the week, Tasca has full confidence that he and his team are up to the challenge.
“I’m at home when I’m in that car and the stage bulb’s on, because I know I have a shot at it,” Tasca said.
2. Mike Salinas Can Go Fast — Really Fast
Mike Salinas came into the Carolina Nationals a proven winner in Top Fuel.
With eight victories to his credit in 116 races — including one at this year’s season opener at Florida’s Gainesville Raceway — there was little doubt that the Scrappers Racing dragster was a stout contender.
But in one swift move, Salinas changed his NHRA reputation forever.
During qualifying on Saturday night, the 61-year-old became the first Top Fuel driver to reach 300 mph at the eighth-mile.
And while elated to finally break the barrier, Salinas was almost disappointed that his run wasn’t better.
“We thought we were going to go 339, 340 mph,” Salinas admitted.
His even keel 338-mph run came up slightly short of where he’d hoped to be, egging on the Top Fuel driver to continue pushing over the weekend. Salinas made a fierce climb up the ladder, defeating Mike Bucher and Austin Prock en route to making his 17th final round where he lost to Doug Kalitta.
3. Greg Anderson Isn’t Retiring
This year, five-time Pro Stock champion Greg Anderson has been asked the same question dozens of times every race weekend — “How much longer are you going to drive?”
And he always gives the same answer: “Until I can’t win anymore.”
In the depths of a lackluster season where the HendrickCars.com Chevrolet has only reached the final round once in 13 races, the 62-year-old admitted that he’s had a few questions of his own along the way.
“Been thinking about it, been wondering, ‘Can I win anymore?’ So, today I guess I proved I’ve got to stick around a little bit longer. I guess I still can win,” Anderson said.
Anderson flipped four win lights on Sunday at the Carolina Nationals, defeating Jerry Tucker, Christian Cuadra, Erica Enders and Dallas Glenn to earn his 102nd Wally — the most of any Pro Stock driver.
4. Robert Hight Knows How To Rebound
Robert Hight was on fire Friday night at zMAX Dragway — and not in a good way.
His John Force Racing Funny Car erupted in a ball of flames just a few feet after he launched off the starting line in his first qualifying session of the weekend.
“We went up there to try and run .285,” Hight explained. “I was backing up from the burnout and it started not sounding right. I said to Jimmy (Prock) when I was pulling forward, ‘Is this thing alright?’
“I saw him look at the pipes, he was hearing the same thing I was, and he said, ‘I’ll be ready.’ Well, it didn’t make it. It went about five feet and blew up.”
From there, it was an all-out scramble from Hight’s crew to repair the primary car and replace the body. They worked until 11 p.m. on Friday and arrived back at the track early on Saturday morning to finish the job.
“Sometimes when you go up and there and you push and try real hard, it doesn’t work out. There are so many moving parts with a fuel car, that everything has to work just right,” Hight said.
Their dedication was rewarded on Saturday night, as Hight earned the No. 1 qualifier award with a 3.824-second run at 330.15 mph.
The relentless, three-time Funny Car champion continued to hustle through eliminations on Sunday, defeating Paul Lee and Alex Laughlin to reach the finals, where he was defeated by Tasca.
5. No, The Points Don’t Always Count Themselves
Reigning Pro Stock champion Enders is infamous for two statements.
One involves the family-sized bottle of Tums she jokes about needing in order to control her nerves on the starting line.
The second: “Let the points count themselves.”
But on Saturday night, Enders made it clear that she’s counting them, too.
After qualifying was rain-delayed on Saturday, making the track conditions less-than-ideal for the Pro Stock cars — which have short wheelbases, lots of horsepower and no downforce — Enders was one of two drivers who made a full run down the drag strip.
And she did so after her Elite Motorsports teammates, Troy Coughlin Jr. and Aaron Stanfield, each had trouble in their qualifying runs.
Coughlin Jr. broke out of the groove and got loose, while Stanfield blew the back window out of his car and “nuked his race clutch.”
Before she staged, Elite Motorsports team owner Richard Freeman advised Enders to shut it off after the start and not take the risk, as the six previous Pro Stock entries who attempted a run hadn’t made it past 100 feet.
“Richard was like, ‘We’re not going to tear our stuff up for tomorrow on a run that doesn’t matter,’” Enders said. “The conditions aren’t going to be the same (on Sunday).”
But the five-time champion was comfortable taking control when the green light flashed on the Christmas tree and she made a successful, albeit slow, pass down the drag strip.
“We risked our lives and a million dollar to get points and we got the points,” Enders said, after picking up three bonus points for being fastest in the session. “I’m lying if I tell you I’m not counting.”
She’ll have some ground to make up after losing to Anderson in the semifinals on Sunday.