Looking to end his season on a good note, Robert Hight powered to the top in Funny Car on Saturday, qualifying No. 1 at the final race of the season, the Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
Mike Salinas (Top Fuel), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Karen Stoffer (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also qualified No. 1 at the final race of the Countdown to the Championship and the 2021 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season. World championships will be decided in all four classes on Sunday.
Hight was already the provisional No. 1 qualifier in his 11,000-horsepower Auto Club Chevrolet Camaro SS, but improved on his top run to close out qualifying on Saturday, going an impressive 3.886-seconds at 329.34 mph. It gives Hight his third top spot this season and 71st in his career, setting up a first-round matchup with Jim Campbell in eliminations. Hight may not be in the title picture this year, but he’s still determined to finish strong to close 2021.
“This is probably the best car I’ve had all year going into raceday,” Hight said. “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.”
Ron Capps finished second in qualifying with a run of 3.908 at 329.83, giving him a lead of 67 points over defending world champ Matt Hagan going into eliminations. With the points-and-a-half scenario in Pomona, Capps has more than a two-round lead over his Don Schumacher Racing teammate as he aims to win a second world title. Hagan qualified seventh, meaning they could face off in a huge second-round matchup. Alexis DeJoria qualified third with a 3.919.
Salinas lowered the boom even more in Top Fuel, ending qualifying with a spectacular run of 3.676 at 330.23 in his 11,000-horsepower Scrapper Racing dragster. It gave Salinas, who has advanced to final rounds in three of the past four races, his second No. 1 spot of 2021 and the eighth in his career. He’ll start raceday against Steven Chrisman in the first round of eliminations, trying to end his 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 tomorrow 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 tomorrow.”
Points leader and three-time defending world champ Steve Torrence took the second spot with his run of 3.698 at 317.05, putting him on a good path to win his fourth straight world title. His chief competitor, Brittany Force, qualified 13th, and Torrence will take a commanding 116-point advantage into eliminations. That puts him more than three rounds ahead of Force heading into Sunday. Leah Pruett qualified third with a 3.706 at 327.59.
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In the hunt for his fifth world championship, qualifying couldn’t have gone any better for Pro Stock points leader Greg Anderson. He made the quickest run in all three qualifying sessions, capped off by his 6.558 at 209.85 in his HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro. That run came in the first session on Saturday and it gave the all-time Pro Stock wins leader his 12th No. 1 qualifier this year and the 118th in his stellar career. He’ll open eliminations against Mike Callahan and with a 47-point lead over defending world champion Erica Enders. The two four-time world champs could potentially meet in a must-see semifinal matchup, but Anderson feels good heading into Sunday.
“Quite honestly, we’ve made three flawless runs in qualifying,” Anderson said. “I’ve got all the confidence in the world my car is going to be great tomorrow. That’s a good feeling and a confidence-builder and you’ve got to have that going into raceday when there’s so much on the line. I’ve got the best horse that’s going to line up tomorrow and hopefully, I can ride it like a champion and come away with a championship. It’s been a special year and to cap it off (with a championship), it would mean more than any of my other championships.”
Kyle Koretsky qualified second with a 6.571 at 208.49 and Dallas Glenn’s run of 6.580 at 209.33 gave the standout rookie the third spot. Matt Hartford was fourth, giving KB Racing the top four spots, while Enders took fifth with a 6.589 at 209.04.
After advancing to back-to-back final rounds in Pro Stock Motorcycle, Karen Stoffer made a big move during the final qualifying session, going to the No. 1 spot with a run of 6.751 at 199.11 on her Ray Skillman Auto Group/Big St. Charles Suzuki. The standout pass gave Stoffer her first No. 1 qualifier of the season and the fifth in her career. Stoffer will open eliminations against Kelly Clontz as she looks to finish off her 2021 campaign on a strong note.
“The job is to turn on the win light and we want to do that four times tomorrow,” Stoffer said. “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 Matt Smith to second, as the points leader and defending world champ went 6.778 at 201.25. Eddie Krawiec’s 6.810 at 199.55 put him third, while championship contenders Steve Johnson and Angelle Sampey followed in fourth and fifth, respectively. Smith will take a 41-point lead over Sampey into raceday and faces Ryan Oehler in the first round. He could potentially face Sampey in the second round and Johnson, who is 45 points out of first, in the semifinals.
Eliminations for the Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona begin at 10 a.m. PT on Sunday.