CONCORD, NC — As the first batch of Top Fuel competitors rolled into the zMAX Dragway prep lanes, the track temperature was marked as the coolest of the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing season at 86 degrees.
He signaled a go-ahead for the playoff rounds at the 14th running of the Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals.
The red, white and blue themed grandstands slowly disappeared behind the growing crowd as the engines roared right away.
After a series of Pro Mod and Top Alcohol eliminations, the track was set for Top Fuel’s elite dragsters to take their spot for the semi-finals. The track temperature (98 degrees) had warmed up noticeably in the morning.
The first semi-final clash was between points leader Justin Ashley and Doug Kalitta, who took their respective lanes on the drag strip.
The Phillips Connect team celebrated 3.691 seconds later as Ashley secured her spot in the Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals final.
Antron Brown and Clay Millican then decided who would fight Ashley in the final elimination round of the day. Brown kicked off the start in his Matco Tools dragster, stealing the spot with an ET of 3.687 seconds.
“It was an amazing race there,” Brown said. “We just have to step up and keep doing what we’re doing. We still have some left in the tank.
Brown and Ashley will head into the prep lanes for the final.
On the Funny Car match between Matt Hagan in his Dodge Charger and Alexis DeJoria in his Toyota Supra. DeJoria continued the momentum she had built up throughout the day, beating Hagan with an ET of 3.887 seconds.
In their 119e on the race track, Ron Capps and John Force battled it out for a spot in the semi-finals. Capps, the winner of the NHRA US Nationals, accelerated right away, scoring a 3.899-second ET on the 3.915-second Force run.
“Any run with him is all-time,” Capps said, referring to Force. As for his final elimination against DeJoria, he said, “I can’t wait for it, because a Toyota wins anyway.”
The Pro Stocks have ended the semi-final elimination round, with Aaron Stanfield and Troy Coughlin Jr. waiting for the green light to appear.
Stanfield beat Coughlin with an ET of 6.571 seconds, placing at least one Elite Motorsports car in the final.
Points leader Erica Enders and Matt Hartford prepared for their shot on the tape and in a Pro Stock points reshuffle, Hartford took the light of victory.
Hartford’s 6.568-second run beat Enders’ 9.312-second ET after the points leader rocked the tires of her Chevrolet Camaro.
“Totally unexpected for this round,” Enders said. “I guarantee you we will rally.”
Hartford and Stanfield will meet for the final round.
Results of the second round of eliminations
The second round of eliminations at the Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway resulted in several upsets in the Top Fuel and Funny Car categories, knocking out several key championship contenders early in the day.
Josh Hart lit his tires in the first Top Fuel game, helping Clay Millican advance to the semifinals.
A fierce shootout between Brittany Force and Antron Brown followed, with both drivers seeking crucial playoff points at second and fourth in the standings. The Matco Tools dragster fought hard against Force’s Flav-R-Pac machine, taking a surprise win with an elapsed time of 3.733 seconds.
However, looking back at their five matchups this season, Brown has beaten Force in all of them.
“It’s heartbreaking for this whole team,” Force said as she reached the end of the drag strip. “We really struggle when it matters.”
Force looked to Steve Torrence in the next round as his last remaining hope for the weekend, as Torrence took on points leader Justin Ashley. As fate would have it, Ashley took the win with an ET of 3.697 seconds.
“We’re happy,” Ashley said. “We have to take it one round at a time.”
The final shootout was between Mike Salinas and Doug Kalitta, but despite matching reaction times, Kalitta fought his way to the finish line first with an ET of 3.696 seconds.
The Funny Cars were next to roll past the crowd as the sun began to break through the clouds in Concord, North Carolina
Matt Hagan lined up in the left lane – today’s favorite lane – for his solo elimination.
The second game was between ninth in points Alexis DeJoria and points leader Robert Hight. In another surprising turn of events, Hight chased DeJoria’s Bandero/Rokit Toyota Funny Car to the line as DeJoria ran an ET of 3.918 seconds.
DeJoria beat Hight by a hundredth of a second.
Ron Capps and Bob Tasca III faced off next, with Capps successfully starting and Tasca puncturing a tire shortly after the green light.
Capps emerged victorious with an ET of 3.885 seconds.
Last up for the Funny Car division were Chad Green and John Force, who currently sits fourth in points. With Hight eliminated, the opportunity to catch up on valuable championship points awaited the 16-time champion on the track ahead.
Force knocked down the victory light, posting an ET of 3.918 seconds.
Finally, the Pro Stocks rumbled to the starting line, with the first clash between Troy Coughlin Jr. and Kyle Koretsky on tap. Coughlin ended Kortesky’s hopes for another win at the Charlotte track when he clinched the win with an ET of 6.570 seconds.
Matt Hartford beat Dallas Glenn with an ET of 6.552 seconds in round two.
Glenn’s KB Racing teammate Greg Anderson was battling the Janac Bros/JC3 Energy sponsored car of Aaron Stanfield. Stanfield kicked off the start two-hundredths of a second faster than Anderson and stole a berth in the semifinals.
“We were a bit behind the 8-ball. We can’t make mistakes from now on,” Anderson said, referring to his championship hopes.
Pro Stock points leader Erica Enders faced Cristian Cuadra and once again topped her elimination, finishing her run at 6.545 seconds ET.
The semifinals are next for the Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals.
Results of the first round of elimination
Brittany Force was in the second pair to hit the track, taking on Spencer Massey in her Flav-R-Pac dragster and taking the win with an elapsed time of 3.670 seconds.
“Man, to turn this victory into a light in the first round, I’m pumped. But we still have a long way to go,” Force said in his post-elimination interview.
Points leader Justin Ashley had a smile on his face during the early morning driver introductions, later using the positive energy from his No. 1 qualifying position to earn a first-round win over Alex Laughlin.
Ashley’s 3.688-second ET was the fastest of the Top Fuel session.
The pressure was on Mike Salinas as he watched his two best championship opponents race towards their respective victory lights. His Scrappers Racing dragster was pitted against Leah Pruett’s Tony Stewart Racing machine, and luckily for him, he clocked an ET of 3.696 seconds and a win.
Josh Hart, Clay Millican, Doug Kalitta, Antron Brown and Steve Torrence were the final winners of the first round of eliminations.
The Funny Cars were the next to roll down the Strip.
The first clash was between Alexis DeJoria and JR Todd, with DeJoria hitting a career-best speed of 334.7 mph and taking the win with an ET of 3.878 seconds.
“It’s also my best personal ET. Really excited about it all the way,” DeJoria said. “We really needed this round win.”
Terrific points leader Robert Hight was next, facing Jim Campbell. To no one’s surprise, Hight continued his hot streak and stole the victory light from Campbell, clocking an ET of 3.869 seconds.
Iconic Funny Car driver John Force took his place in the left lane, taking the solo playoff race as the weekend’s No. 1 qualifier. Luckily, he had gotten the all-clear before he even took off from the start line, as his John Force Racing machine ran into a problem and clocked an ET of 7.621 seconds.
Then Ron Capps, third in the points race, turned on a victory light against Blake Alexander, clocking an ET of 3.889 seconds in his NAPA Auto Parts-sponsored Funny Car.
Other first-round winners included second-placed man Matt Hagan and Chad Green.
Pro Stock competitors began rolling into their respective lanes as track staff cleared clutch dust from the drag strip.
Kyle Koretsky started a hot streak early at the Nationals in Carolina, earning the win over Mason McGaha with an ET of 6.563 seconds. The KB Racing driver is looking for his second career win – Koretsky’s first victory came here in Charlotte last year.
Smoke billowed into the air as another KB Racing steed burned him on the track.
Facing Chris McGaha, Greg Anderson scored an ET of 6.558 seconds as his main title rival and weekend No. 1 qualifier Erica Enders watched from the start line.
After choosing to go last in eliminations, Enders confidently went into her matchup against Larry Morgan. At a top speed of 210 mph, Enders hit an ET of 6.550 seconds and took the win, posting the lowest ET of the session.
Cristian Cuadra, Matt Hartford, Dallas Glenn, Troy Coughlin Jr. and Aaron Stanfield also picked up wins.