After a disappointing 2021, Robert Hight got off to a strong start to open his 2022 NHRA Funny Car campaign, rocketing to the provisional No. 1 spot on Friday at the NHRA Winternationals at Pomona.
Justin Ashley (Top Fuel) and Erica Enders (Pro Stock) are also the provisional No. 1 qualifiers at the first of 22 races during the 2022 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season.
Hight, a three-time world champion, powered to an impressive run of 3.882s at 330.89mph to take the top spot in Funny Car. If it holds, it would give Hight, who struggled to an eight-place finish last year, his 72nd career No. 1 qualifier and an ideal way to what he hopes is a rebound season.
“My team really worked over the winter to look at what we did in 2021 and how that went so badly,” Hight said. “We had no consistency. We could throw down a few times and won a couple of races, but there was no consistency. Basically, we went back to our whole clutch set-up we had in 2019, when we kind of just ran away with the (title) and so far, so good. It’s a good job by the team and things are good at JFR right now with the four cars, and we’re looking forward to the whole season.”
Now racing for the new Tony Stewart Racing team, Matt Hagan raced to the second spot with a run of 3.886s at 329.34mph. Hagan is a three-time Winternationals winner and will look to add to that this weekend, while reigning world champ Ron Capps is third after his run of 3.903s at 328.30mph. Capps, who is the defending event winner, is also in new territory after forming his own team in the off-season.
Ashley paced the field in Top Fuel with an impressive run of 3.676s at 331.45mph. Ashley, who advanced to the final round of the Winternationals a year ago, is seeking his first career No. 1 qualifier.
“The run felt great and it’s exciting to get back in the race car,” Ashley said. “When you’re able to go down there and go right to the top and run as good as we did, it’s exactly what we were looking for. It’s a great way to kick off the weekend. I think this is the best Top Fuel field in a decade, so to be able to qualify No. 1 would be amazing. We still have tomorrow to go and we’ve got a lot of really good cars behind us that are going to try and improve, but our team is going to try to do the exact same thing and even improve upon today.”
Mike Salinas is currently second after running 3.677s at 329.02mph, while Brittany Force, who had 12 No. 1 qualifiers a year ago, is third with a 3.722s at 332.10.mph Four-time defending world champ Steve Torrence sits in the fourth spot.
Four-time Pro Stock world champ Enders started her 2022 season off in impressive style, jumping to the No. 1 spot in Pomona with a stellar run of 6.521s at 210.44mph in her Chevrolet Camaro. With hopes of competing for a fifth world championship, Enders will look to open the year with her 24th career No. 1 qualifier in what is Pro Stock’s 900th career race.
“We were definitely excited, considering how the year ended last year,” said Enders, who is seeking her first Winternationals win. “We knew we had to go to work and had to find some power in the engine department and getting our Rick Jones Race Cars tuned up. My guys went to work really hard. It takes an arm of people to get this stuff right.
“The KB Racing guys had big, big power last year. Greg (Anderson) was on the pole the majority of the races then it still came down to the wire on winning the championship. Our goal was to come out swinging. I feel like we have something to prove and we’re not backing down.”
Aaron Stanfield, who is the defending winner of the event, is currently second after going 6.527s at 210.37mph and Kyle Koretsky is a spot behind with his run of 6.528s at 209.20mph. Defending world champ Greg Anderson, who is also seeking his 100th career victory, sits fourth.
Qualifying continues at 12 p.m. PT on Saturday.