Hight Piling Up Funny Car Points As Countdown Drags On

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 30 2022

Robert Hight heads into Sunday’s eliminations in search of points. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Funny Car championship-leader Robert Hight continued “point-racing” without apology Saturday at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where qualifying concluded for today’s 22nd annual NHRA Nevada Nationals.

Hight held onto the top spot he provisionally claimed via Friday’s 1,000-foot pass in 3.857-seconds at 331.77 mph to secure his sixth No. 1 qualifier of the season and 77th of his career.

And now, Hight can take a breath. A three-time world champion, Hight began the weekend 10 points ahead of two-time/reigning champ Ron Capps after suffering a semifinal loss during the 37th annual Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex in Ennis two weekends ago. Hight added 11 bonus points during qualifying this weekend to raise his advantage over Capps to 21 points _ one round of racing _ heading into Sunday’s eliminations.

Brittany Force, Hight’s teammate at John Force Racing, emerged as the No. 1 qualifier in Top Fuel. In addition, respective championship leaders Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also qualified P1 at the 21st event in the 2022 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season. The Vegas event also is the fifth of six races in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

FOX Sports 1 will air 90 minutes of time trials highlights at 12:30 p.m. (EDT) today, capped by three hours of eliminations coverage beginning at 5 p.m.

Hight, who will race Terry Haddock in Round 1, closed-out Saturday’s final session with a stout pass in 3.3865-seconds. Capps, meanwhile, qualified sixth at 3.889-seconds and 332.59 mph and will face-off against Jim Campbell. 

“I would say it was mission accomplished in qualifying this weekend,” said Hight, driver of the Camaro SS tuned by Jimmy Prock.  “We came in with a 10-point lead and we’ve turned it into a 21-point lead just in qualifying. That’s a big deal. We gathered a lot of points in qualifying.

“We pushed it too hard earlier today and tonight we tried to run better than 3.85, but the clutch didn’t cooperate. But we’re splitting hairs really. If we can run in that range four times Sunday, I think we’re going to be on top at the end of the day. We just need to keep focusing on the task at-hand. I need to cut a good light and keep it in the groove and whatever happens, happens. We just have to do our best, that’s what’s got us here. Been doing it all year and we’ve mastered it so we just have to keep doing it.”

Capps, who won the FallNats at The Plex, is aiming to defend his championship in his first season as team-owner/driver.

“Everyone starts off the season with the goal of still being in the championship hunt by the time we get to the fall Las Vegas race,” said Capps, driver of his Toyota GR Supra. “I can’t say enough about our NAPA team. Yes, there’s a lot of momentum coming off of our win in Dallas, but we’ve got to stay humble. We’ve got our small goals that we try and achieve every weekend, and this weekend is like no other. We’re going to show up and try to qualify. The second goal is you try and qualify with lane-choice and gather up every single bonus point you can, and then the Sunday goal is round wins.

“We need to make sure we position ourselves to still be in contention to win another world championship by the time we get to Pomona.” The Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif., from Nov. 10-13 will offer points-and-half. 

Three-time world champ Matt Hagan of Tony Stewart Racing made a quality move Saturday with a run in 3.862 at 330.23 to qualify second. Hagan, who is paired against Steven Densham in Round 1, enters Sunday 83 points behind Hight. Hagan’s pass bumped Bob Tasca III and his run of 3.865 at 330.80 to third on the ladder.

“Just like we’ve done well in races at the beginning of the season, I think we always do well in races at the end of the season,” Hagan said. “It’s favorable conditions as far as what Dickie (Venables, crew chief) is comfortable with and being able to push hard. Our Dodge Power Brokers Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car is making a lot of power and as those tracks cool down, our car is able to maintain that power.

“Here at the end of the year, these obviously count a lot. We have a lot of ground to make up. Hight and Capps have to have two bad races and we have to have two good races.”

Brittany Force’s provisional 1,000-foot run of 3.665-seconds at 337.24 mph from Friday held serve Saturday, giving the 2017 world champ her ninth pole in 2022 and 41st in her career. Brit made two quality runs Saturday knowing she needs a big-time result Sunday. Force, who trails Justin Ashley by 73 points, will aim for a Vegas sweep today _ as well as her first victory since Sonoma, Calif., in July. She will begin Sunday with a bye run in a 15-car field.

“Looking at our overall qualifying, we’re in a great position, making four solid passes and all in the high-.60s and a .71,” said Force. “It’s fantastic for our team. It’s four good runs to set up going into race day and gives us all a lot of confidence. I feel like we’re back on track and I’m feeling positive. We’re in a good headspace and we wanted to attack and be aggressive. For us, we can’t play it safe. That doesn’t work for us.”

Second spot on the ladder changed names several times during qualifying, with JFR’s Austin Prock landing there with his run of 3.685 at 334.32. Ashley qualified third after a pass of 3.686 at 333.08 in his Toyota dragster.

In Pro Stock, Erica Enders moved a step closer to her fifth world championship, as the point- leader earned P1 with a quarter-mile pass in 6.579-seconds at 208.75 mph. Enders, who also won at The Plex, claimed her sixth No. 1 qualifier this season and 29th in her career. She will take a commanding 164-point lead over Elite Motorsports teammate Aaron Stanfield into race day.

Enders, who will open eliminations against Kenny Delco, is not only seeking a Las Vegas sweep Sunday, she’s also trying to record a personal-best 10th victory of the season. The native Texan can wrap up her fifth “Factory Hot Rod” title by advancing one more round than Stanfield.

Enders earned her first victory for team-owner Richard Freeman and Oklahoma-based Elite Motorsports in 2014 at Vegas.

“A personal goal coming into the year was the most wins we’ve ever had in one season,” said Enders. “There’s still room to accomplish that goal.” Erica’s 42 career victories are second to three-time Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion Angelle Sampey on the all-time list among NHRA women competitors in all categories.

“The rest of the field is nipping at our heels so it’s time to get busy and go to work,” Enders said. “All these young guns in the class have pushed me all season long and we need to rise to the occasion.

“My goal is to do a good job. I know I’m in a great position, but I still feel the pressure. It’s hard to explain that feeling in your gut. Other than that championship, I’d still like to win 10 races and I’ve got two shots to do it.”

Stanfield got bumped down to second by his teammate, but still impressed with a run of 6.580 at 208.07. He will open eliminations against Fernando Cuadra. Deric Kramer advanced to third with a strong pass of 6.585 at 207.69.

Matt Smith delivered another statement pass in Pro Stock Motorcycle, improving from Friday’s provisional No. 1 and taking the top qualifier _ while also breaking both ends of the track record. Smith did so with a quarter-mile pass in 6.785-seconds at 202.27 mph aboard his Denso Auto Parts Buell.

The five-time/reigning world champion, Smith secured his fifth No. 1 qualifier of the year and 52nd in his career. He will open race day against Katie Justice. Smith’s lead now stands at 64 points over Joey Gladstone.

“We were quickest in Q2, Q3 and Q4,” Smith said. “I’ve got a shot at a sixth title, but we still have a lot of work to do. If I just do my job, I know we’ll be just fine. (But) we all know how quickly things can change here. There are still a lot of really good bikes out here. There are seven or eight good bikes that can win the race. We got lucky and went to No. 1, but that doesn’t mean too much (Sunday). We still need to turn on four win lights.”

Angelle Sampey earned the second spot after her run of 6.807 at 198.64 on Friday, while Angie Smith, Matt’s wife, improved to third via her pass in 6.816 at 200.77.


Tony Stewart’s competitive NHRA debut in Top Alcohol Dragster has advanced into Sunday’s eliminations. Stewart, a NASCAR Hall of Famer, won his first two rounds in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series Saturday in the McPhillips Racing TAD entry to reach today’s semifinals.

In doing so, Stewart added to a resume featuring three NASCAR Cup Series championships, the 1997 Indy Racing League title and victories in various IMSA sports car and U.S. Auto Club Midget, Sprint and Silver Crown vehicles. Stewart is completing his first season as owner of Tony Stewart Racing, fielding the Top Fuel dragster driven by his wife, Leah Pruett Stewart, and three-time Funny Car world champion Matt Hagan.

“This sport is so different than anything I’ve ever done before,” Stewart said during a virtual news conference previewing his debut. “Just the fact that we’re doing it I think in a lot of people’s eyes and judging off the messages that I got _ text-message-wise, from competitors not only from NHRA but from the Sprint Car ranks and NASCAR drivers and crew guys _ everybody knows this is a learning experience this weekend.

“I think you have to set realistic expectations and if we advance to the second round or third round I think every time we make it, it’s a bonus. Just having the opportunity to have three qualifying rounds and one elimination round with somebody in another lane is just another step forward in learning whether I really want to do this down the road or not.”


First-round pairings for Sunday’s eliminations at the 22nd annual NHRA Nevada Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the 21st of 22 events in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series and fifth of six races in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs. Pairings based upon results in qualifying, which ended Saturday. DNQs listed below pairings:

Top Fuel _ 1. Brittany Force, 3.665-seconds, 337.24 mph vs. Bye; 2. Austin Prock, 3.685, 334.32 vs. 15. Cameron Ferre, 12.655, 57.36; 3. Justin Ashley, 3.686, 333.08 vs. 14. Clay Millican, 4.272, 198.17; 4. Tony Schumacher, 3.692, 327.43 vs. 13. Rob Passey, 4.032, 297.48; 5. Shawn Langdon, 3.696, 327.11 vs. 12. Krista Baldwin, 3.864, 319.90; 6. Mike Salinas, 3.697, 334.73 vs. 11. Leah Pruett, 3.716, 331.69; 7. Steve Torrence, 3.698, 332.92 vs. 10. Josh Hart, 3.714, 332.34; 8. Doug Kalitta, 3.708, 324.51 vs. 9. Antron Brown, 3.710, 330.47.

Funny Car _ 1. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.857, 331.77 vs. 16. Terry Haddock, Ford Mustang, 4.126, 266.16; 2. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 3.862, 330.23 vs. 15. Steven Densham, Mustang, 4.040, 306.60; 3. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.865, 330.80 vs. 14. Bobby Bode, Mustang, 3.948, 306.88; 4. J.R. Todd, Toyota Supra, 3.870, 333.33 vs. 13. Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 3.945, 318.77; 5. John Force, Camaro, 3.873, 324.28 vs. 12. Blake Alexander, Mustang, 3.944, 288.89; 6. Ron Capps, Supra, 3.889, 332.59 vs. 11. Jim Campbell, Charger, 3.944, 298.54; 7. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.912, 326.08 vs. 10. Chad Green, Mustang, 3.941, 321.19; 8. Alexis DeJoria, Supra, 3.917, 327.03 vs. 9. Paul Lee, Charger, 3.933, 321.35.

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Jeff Arend, 4.137, 310.77; 18. Jason Rupert, 4.192, 297.09; 19. Jeff Diehl, 4.553, 194.83.

Pro Stock _ 1. Erica Enders, Chevy Camaro, 6.579, 208.75 vs. 16. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.654, 207.08; 2. Aaron Stanfield, Camaro, 6.580, 208.07 vs. 15. Fernando Cuadra, Ford Mustang, 6.649, 206.61; 3. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.585, 207.69 vs. 14. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.643, 206.13; 4. Kyle Koretsky, Camaro, 6.595, 205.98 vs. 13. Mason McGaha, Camaro, 6.639, 207.88; 5. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.599, 208.14 vs. 12. Fernando Cuadra Jr., Mustang, 6.625, 206.73; 6. Troy Coughlin Jr., Camaro, 6.600, 207.40 vs. 11. Camrie Caruso, Camaro, 6.613, 207.69; 7. Cristian Cuadra, Mustang, 6.605, 207.30 vs. 10. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.611, 206.80; 8. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.606, 207.50 vs. 9. Dallas Glenn, Camaro, 6.610, 207.85.

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Shane Tucker, 6.680, 205.69; 18. Alan Prusiensky, 6.680, 205.29.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 1. Matt Smith, Buell, 6.785, 202.27 vs. 16. Katie Sullivan, Suzuki, 6.957, 193.52; 2. Angelle Sampey, Suzuki, 6.807, 198.64 vs. 15. Hector Arana Jr., Buell, 6.937, 196.87; 3. Angie Smith, EBR, 6.816, 200.77 vs. 14. Jianna Evaristo, Suzuki, 6.929, 194.86; 4. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.819, 196.73 vs. 13. Ryan Oehler, EBR, 6.929, 194.86; 5. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.829, 198.00 vs. 12. Gaige Herrera, Suzuki, 6.908, 193.49; 6. Joey Gladstone, Suzuki, 6.836, 197.48 vs. 11. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.902, 195.82; 7. Eddie Krawiec, Suzuki, 6.846, 197.02 vs. 10. Chris Bostick, Suzuki, 6.890, 194.49; 8. Marc Ingwersen, EBR, 6.847, 196.39 vs. 9. Chip Ellis, EBR, 6.849, 197.68.

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Freddie Camarena, 6.973, 193.96; 18. Kelly Clontz, 6.999, 193.57; 19. Michael Phillips, 7.166, 189.10; 20. Rick Newport, 11.553, 142.34.


Sept. 15-18 _ Pep Boys NHRA Nationals, Maple Grove Raceway, Reading, Pa: Austin Prock (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Joey Gladstone (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Sept. 23-25 _ Charlotte NHRA Nationals, zMAX Dragway, Concord, N.C.: Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car) and Aaron Stanfield (Pro Stock).

Sept. 30-Oct. 2 _ NHRA Midwest Nationals, World Wide Technology Raceway, Madison, Ill.: Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Oct. 13-16 _ Texas NHRA FallNationals, Texas Motorplex, Ennis: Justin Ashley (Top Fuel); Ron Capps (Funny Car); Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Oct. 27-30 _ NHRA Nevada Nationals, The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Nov. 10-13 _ Auto Club NHRA Finals, Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif.

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 (1995) 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 includes Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, Rome (N.Y.) Daily Sentinel, Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller Times, NASCAR Wire Service, Ford Racing and Used Car Dealer magazine).


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 30 2022
No Comment