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Anderson Aims to Cap Historic Pro Stock Season

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 14 2021

Pro Stocker Greg Anderson is hunting for history at Pomona this weekend. (File photo courtesy of the NHRA)

World championships in NHRA’s four professional classes will be decided Sunday at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, where Greg Anderson is poised to cap an historic Pro Stock season.

In the hunt for his fifth world title, Anderson completed a self-described “flawless” two days of time trials by qualifying on-pole Saturday for the 56th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals. Anderson recorded the quickest run in all three rounds this weekend, capped by a quarter-mile pass in 6.558-seconds at 209.85 mph in Saturday’s first session.

Anderson notched his 12th pole this year and 118th in his stellar career. Pro Stock’s all-time wins leader with 98, Anderson will open eliminations against first-time qualifier Mike Callahan with a 47-point lead over four-time/reigning world champion Erica Enders.

“The table is set. I couldn’t ask for any more,” said Anderson, driver of the Chevrolet Camaro SS fielded by Ken Black Racing. “I’ve got every point they could give this weekend, and hopefully (Sunday) I can get every point they have to offer.

“In my heart of hearts, I know I’ve had the best race car in the class all year long. It would be a crying shame to me to squander the opportunity to not get it done.”

Non-title contenders Mike Salinas (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car) and Karen Stoffer (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also qualified No. 1 at the final race of the Countdown to the Championship playoffs and the 2021 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season.

FOX Sports 1 (FS1) will televise three hours of live final eliminations coverage from the famed Southern California venue starting at 4 p.m. (EST) on Sunday. Two hours of qualifying coverage on FS1 will begin at 2 p.m.

Anderson has led the “Factory Hot Rod” point standings all season, one that saw him emerge as the all-time wins leader during the NHRA FallNationals at Hall of Famer Billy Meyer’s Texas Motorplex in Ennis on Oct. 10. Anderson broke out of a tie with mentor Warren Johnson, the “Professor of Pro Stock” and a six-time world champion.

Anderson has posted four wins, four runnerup finishes and 12 poles in his bid for a fifth Pro Stock championship. The latter also is the prize for Enders, whom Anderson could meet in a semifinal matchup for the ages.

Round victories are worth 30 points this weekend under a points-and-a-half system installed by NHRA for the event. Enders, driver of the Elite Motorsports Camaro SS, needs to win two more rounds than Anderson to join Bob Glidden (10), Johnson (6) and Jeg Coughlin Jr. (5) as the only five-time Pro Stock champions.

“Quite honestly, we’ve made three flawless runs in qualifying,” said Anderson, a 60-year-old resident of Charlotte, N.C. “I’ve never been more confident. My HendrickCars.com Chevy has been absolutely bad to the bone. What an opportunity I’ve got to close the deal.”

Anderson, who launched his driving career in 1998 with a 12-race schedule, won consecutive championships from 2003-2005 and scored his most recent title in 2010.

“It’s been a year or two since I’ve been all the way to the top,” said Anderson, who was the chassis expert for Johnson. “I’ve got all the confidence in the world my car is going to be great (Sunday). That’s a good feeling and a confidence-builder and you’ve got to have that going into race day when there’s so much on the line.

“This has been a special year and to cap it off with a championship…I can’t even explain what it would mean to me. It would mean more than any of my other championships.”

Kyle Koretsky qualified second at 6.571-seconds and 208.49 mph and Dallas Glenn’s run of 6.580 at 209.33 earned the Rookie of the Year contender the third spot. Matt Hartford was fourth, giving KB Racing Camaros the top four ladder spots. Enders qualified fifth at 6.589 at 209.04 and will face No. 12 qualifier Steve Graham after his run of 6.637 at 207.53.

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Already prepping for the 2022 season, Robert Hight secured P1 in Funny Car Saturday at his home racetrack. Hight, of California-based John Force Racing, was Friday’s provisional No. 1 qualifier but improved via his quickest run to close out qualifying, covering the 1,000-foot distance in 3.886-seconds at 329.34 mph.

Hight earned his third pole this season and 71st in his career, setting up a first-round matchup with Jim Campbell.

“This is probably the best car I’ve had all year going into race day,” said Hight, a three-time world champ and driver of a Chevrolet Camaro SS. “It’s pretty exciting. It’s a little too late as we wanted to be fighting for a championship, but we’re going to try to win this race and come back strong next year.”

Point-leader Ron Capps of Don Schumacher Racing finished second in qualifying at 3.908-seconds at 329.83 mph, giving him a lead of 67 points over three-time/reigning world champ Matt Hagan. With the points-and-a-half scenario in play, Capps _ the 2016 world champ _ has more than a two-round lead over his DSR teammate.

The winner of 68 races, Capps will open eliminations against No. 15 qualifier Terry Haddock’s Ford Mustang. Hagan, who qualified seventh at 3.956 and 319.75, will open against No. 10 qualifier Tony Jurado and his Mustang.

Capps and Hagan could face-off in a huge second-round pairing. If Capps were to trailer Hagan in Round 2, he would be crowned champion. If Hagan were to prevail, he would need to win the race in order to clinch a fourth world title.

“We always talk about these goals that we have with this NAPA AutoCare team and we saw how crazy qualifying was,” said Capps, a 56-year-old resident of Carlsbad, Calif. “Our first goal is always to qualify because you’re not guaranteed to race on Sunday in NHRA drag racing. We accomplished that right off the bat on Friday in Q1. Secondly, we wanted to gain some of those important small bonus points and put it over the 60-point threshold with Hagan. It’s a nice cushion. That’s a whole another round that they’d have to win to go around us.

“The goal is to win the race. We have Terry Haddock first round and we’re focused on that and that alone. If things line up second round against Hagan, then we’ll focus on that. Waking up Sunday morning in November at Pomona with a chance to win a world championship is something I’ve done a lot. We did it in 2016, but I’ve been here a lot where we didn’t accomplish the goal. And that’s made me better in the seat as a driver.

“I’m just focused on the same thing and that’s drive this great NAPA Dodge Charger that ‘Guido’ (Dean Antonelli) and this AutoCare team has given me.”

Hagan, who will move to three-time NASCAR Cup champion Tony Stewart’s NHRA start-up team next season, is looking to close his DSR tenure with another Wally trophy and title.

“It’s about as simple as it gets. We have to win the race,” said Hagan, driver of a Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye. “If we want to win the championship, we have to win the race. If we do that, we’ve done what we set out to do here and all year long.

“I don’t know how it worked out that way, but the Good Lord above shined on us today and gave us a shot to make our own fate. It all falls on us. I know we have the car, team and people to do this and I’m excited to have a shot. Ron Capps and that team are great, but we’re going to try and ruin their day. That’s what we do out here when we race and let’s see how it plays out.”

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Mike Salinas continued to lower the boom in Top Fuel, completing qualifying with a spectacular 1,000-foot run of 3.676-seconds at 330.23 mph in his Scrapper Racing dragster. The lap gave Salinas, who has advanced to final rounds in three of the past four races, his second pole of 2021 and eighth in his career. He’ll open race day against Steven Chrisman in a bid to end the season with two wins in the final three events and a possible top-three position in points.

“This team is amazing and it’s pretty awesome to be part of this,” Salinas said. “They taught me how to race and they’re just amazing. I believe we’re going to do really well (Sunday) and we’re capable of going four rounds. We’ll both keep doing what we’ve been doing and we’re going to have a lot of fun.”

Sunday also looms as historic for point-leader Steve Torrence, who is super-close to securing a record-tying fourth consecutive world championship. Torrence secured the second spot in time trials with a run of 3.698-seconds at 317.05 mph, putting the 38-year-old Texan on a direct path to his fourth straight title. Torrence will face No. 15 qualifier Brandon Welch in Round 1.

“We’re not going to do anything different,” said Torrence, the winner of 50 races since his NHRA Top Fuel debut in 2006. “We’re just going to go out there and try to win the race. To have the success we’ve had, I can’t believe it. I’m just the guy that gets to sit in the seat and drive the best race car on the property. I’m humbled to be able to do it and our group of guys, we’ve been together since 2013 and that’s been the key to our success.”

The only NHRA professional drivers to have won four or more successive titles are Don “The Snake” Prudhomme (Funny Car), Kenny Bernstein (Funny Car), Lee Shepherd (Pro Stock), Bob Glidden (Pro Stock), Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel) and John Force (Funny Car). Schumacher, currently the only Top Fuel driver in the group, was the last to achieve the standard when he won six straight titles from 2004 through 2009.

Torrence’s chief competitor, 2017 world champ Brittany Force, qualified a season-low 13th. Torrence will take a commanding 116-point advantage into eliminations _ more than three rounds ahead of Force, who earned 12 poles during the first 20 races.

“It’s the last race of the season, it’s my home track and we want to win this thing,” said native Californian Brit, of John Force Racing. “Not exactly how this Monster Energy/Flav-R-Pac team want to start.”

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Karen Stoffer made a major move in Pro Stock Motorcycle, earning P1 with a quarter-mile pass in 6.751-seconds at 199.11 mph aboard her Suzuki.

After advancing to back-to-back final rounds in Pro Stock Bike, Stoffer earned her first pole of the season and fifth in her career. Stoffer will open eliminations against Kelly Clontz and her Suzuki.

“The job is to turn on the win light and we want to do that four times,” said Stoffer, who has competed in selected events since making her NHRA debut in 1996. “We’ve got the bike to do it and that was a good pass. We nearly squeaked out that 200 (mph) run, but we’re really excited. My job is to go ride the best I can and try to turn that win light on.”

Stoffer’s run bumped four-time/reigning world champ Matt Smith to second, as the point leader posted numbers of 6.778-seconds at 201.25 mph. Eddie Krawiec’s 6.810 at 199.55 placed the four-time world champion third, while championship contenders Steve Johnson and Angelle Sampey followed in fourth and fifth, respectively, in an abbreviated 12-bike field.

Smith will take a 41-point lead over three-time world champ Sampey into Sunday’s eliminations, where he will face Ryan Oehler in the first round. Smith and his Denso Auto Parts/Stockseth/Matt Smith Racing EBR could race Sampey in Round 2 and Johnson _ who is 45 points out of first _ in the semifinals.

Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1997) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was inaugural recipient of the Texas Motor Speedway Excellence in Journalism Award (2009). His list of freelance clients has included Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, NASCAR Wire Service and Ford Racing).

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First-round pairings for eliminations Sunday at the 56th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona (Calif.), last of 20 events on the 2021 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series schedule and seventh race in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs. Pairings based upon results in qualifying, which ended Saturday. DNQs listed below pairings:

Top Fuel _1. Mike Salinas, 3.676-seconds, 330.23 mph vs. 16. Steven Chrisman, 4.106, 257.83; 2. Steve Torrence, 3.698, 317.05 vs. 15. Brandon Welch, 3.919, 308.28; 3. Leah Pruett, 3.706, 327.59 vs. 14. Cameron Ferre, 3.803, 312.28; 4. Billy Torrence, 3.713, 330.47 vs. 13. Brittany Force, 3.784, 328.30; 5. Antron Brown, 3.719, 329.26 vs. 12. Justin Ashley, 3.765, 320.97; 6. Clay Millican, 3.733, 324.28 vs. 11. Alex Laughlin, 3.759, 324.83; 7. Josh Hart, 3.734, 323.81 vs. 10. Doug Kalitta, 3.757, 302.08; 8. Shawn Langdon, 3.746, 320.97 vs. 9. Tripp Tatum, 3.750, 323.97.

Did Not Qualify _ 7. Buddy Hull, 4.265, 220.48.

 

Funny Car _1. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.886, 329.34 vs. 16. Jim Campbell, Dodge Charger, 4.138, 273.83; 2. Ron Capps, Charger, 3.908, 329.83 vs. 15. Terry Haddock, Ford Mustang, 4.081, 311.27; 3. Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Camry, 3.919, 326.32 vs. 14. Bobby Bode, Mustang, 4.057, 310.70; 4. Paul Lee, Charger, 3.920, 327.43 vs. 13. Jeff Diehl, Camry, 4.031, 314.24; 5. John Force, Camaro, 3.939, 328.14 vs. 12. Chad Green, Mustang, 4.002, 315.19; 6. Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 3.939, 321.96 vs. 11. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.990, 316.23; 7. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.956, 319.75 vs. 10. Tony Jurado, Mustang, 3.988, 316.08; 8. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.963, 326.71 vs. 9. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.975, 318.24.

Did Not Qualify _17. Alex Miladinovich, 4.213, 256.84; 18. Chris Morel, 4.225, 276.52; 19. Gary Densham, 5.130, 203.49; 20. Jason Rupert, 19.986, 32.74.

Pro Stock _1. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.558, 209.85 vs. 16. John Callahan, Dodge Dart, 6.852, 186.23; 2. Kyle Koretsky, Camaro, 6.571, 208.49 vs. 15. Troy Coughlin Jr., Camaro, 6.713, 183.67; 3. Dallas Glenn, Camaro, 6.580, 209.33 vs. 14. Alan Prusiensky, Dart, 6.671, 205.47; 4. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.587, 207.40 vs. 13. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.644, 206.35; 5. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.589, 209.04 vs. 12. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.637, 207.53; 6. Mason McGaha, Camaro, 6.589, 208.10 vs. 11. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.617, 207.18; 7. Aaron Stanfield, Camaro, 6.592, 204.98 vs. 10. Cristian Cuadra, Ford Mustang, 6.614, 207.34; 8. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.594, 208.49 vs. 9. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.608, 209.79.

Did Not Qualify _17. Marty Robertson, 7.956, 171.49.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _1. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.751, 199.11 vs. 12. Kelly Clontz, Suzuki, 7.013, 192.22; 2. Matt Smith, EBR, 6.778, 201.25 vs. 11. Ryan Oehler, EBR, 6.985, 194.16; 3. Eddie Krawiec, Buell, 6.810, 199.55 vs. 10. Chris Bostick, Suzuki, 6.943, 192.91; 4. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.811, 197.39 vs. 9. Freddie Camarena, Suzuki, 6.935, 195.28; 5. Angelle Sampey, Suzuki, 6.819, 196.76 vs. 8. Angie Smith, EBR, 6.931, 195.28; 6. Scotty Pollacheck, EBR, 6.849, 185.03 vs. 7. Andrew Hines, Buell, 6.902, 199.02.

2021 COUNTDOWN TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE/PROFESSIONAL WINNERS

Sunday, Sept. 12 _ Maple Grove Raceway, Reading, Pa. Billy Torrence (Top Fuel); Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car); Greg Anderson (Pro Stock); Steve Johnson (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Sunday, Sept. 19 _zMAX Dragway, Concord, N.C. Josh Hart (Top Fuel); Tim Wilkerson (Funny Car); Kyle Koretsky (Pro Stock); Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Sunday, Sept. 26 _ World Wide Technology Raceway, Madison, Ill. Steve Torrence (Top Fuel); Matt Hagan (Funny Car); Erica Enders (Pro Stock).

Sunday, Oct. 10 _ Texas Motorplex, Ennis. Justin Ashley (Top Fuel); Ron Capps (Funny Car); Greg Anderson (Pro Stock); Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Sunday, Oct. 17 _ Bristol (Tenn.) Dragway. Mile Salinas (Top Fuel); Alexis DeJoria (Funny Car); Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Sunday, Oct. 31 _ The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Steve Torrence (Top Fuel); Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car); Dallas Glenn (Pro Stock); Steve Johnson (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Sunday, Nov. 14 _ Auto Club Speedway, Pomona, Calif.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 14 2021
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