Looking to become the first driver in NHRA history to win four straight races at Sonoma Raceway, Funny Car’s Robert Hight secured the No. 1 position in front of a capacity crowd on Saturday at the 34th annual Denso NHRA Sonoma Nationals.
Leah Pruett (Top Fuel), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also qualified No. 1 at the 12th of 22 races during the 2022 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season and the second stop of the three-race NHRA Western Swing.
Hight’s run of 3.825s at 332.75mph from Friday in his Auto Club Chevrolet Camaro held up, giving the Funny Car points leader his third No. 1 qualifier this season and 74th in his career. In addition to his three straight wins at Sonoma, Hight also has five victories in 2022, including two in a row, and he will open eliminations against Jeff Diehl on Sunday.
“There’s a lot on the line, but we just need to take it one round at a time,” Hight said. “You’ve got to try to be perfect and you have to be aggressive out there. To win rounds and come out on top, you’ve got to be on edge, and I’ve got the best guys in the business behind me to get this done. We’re very confident right now because we’ve won the last two races and we qualified No. 1 here, but you have to continue to take it one round at a time because the competition is so good. There’s a lot of good cars right now so to do what we’re doing makes it that much more special.”
Defending world champ Ron Capps qualified second with a 3.846s at 334.48mph and Alexis DeJoria qualified third with a 3.867s at 330.63mph.
In Top Fuel, Leah Pruett earned her first No. 1 qualifier this season and 12th in her career when her pass of 3.689s at 327.59mph in her Rayce Rudeen Foundation Top Fuel dragster stood up. Pruett closed out qualifying with a solid run as well, giving her confidence heading into eliminations. She’ll start race day against Jim Maroney and after finishing as runner-up in Sonoma last year, Pruett will try to finish the job on Sunday and pick up her second consecutive win this season in the process.
“It’s extremely exciting to qualify No. 1 and it shows just difficult it is for anybody,” Pruett said. “We know exactly where we’re at. It feels like the work has been validated and we’re just going to keep digging on that. If we’re able to do what we did in Denver and make it to the final and possibly win it, that’s when we’re really going to see it come full circle. We are racers and we are finally feeling like we get to race, and that’s what is most exciting for us.”
Doug Kalitta stayed in the second spot with his 3.694s at 331.45mph and points leader Mike Salinas jumped to third after going 3.696s at 332.67mph on Saturday.
Enders grabbed the No. 1 spot from Elite Motorsports teammate Troy Coughlin Jr. on Saturday, as the Pro Stock points leader jumped to the top with a standout run of 6.506s at 210.97mph in her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Camaro. It gives Enders, the four-time world champion, her third No. 1 qualifier of the season and 26th in her career and she will open eliminations against Fernando Cuadra Jr. Enders will also try to pick up her first win at Sonoma Raceway — something that has eluded her thus far.
“It’s been a dream season to this point,” Enders said. “It’s always big to qualify on the pole. The other two we have this season we’ve carried…all the way through on Sunday and got it done. Hopefully, the trend continues, but the field is stacked and it’s super tough. We’ve got work to do and this is my favorite place to race, but we’ve never had super successful Sundays. We’re hoping to change that tomorrow. We just have to have a positive mindset and work really hard together, and one thing I have is the best team in the world. I wouldn’t want anyone else behind me, that’s for sure.”
Defending world champ Greg Anderson, who has six wins in Sonoma, made a big move on Saturday into the second spot with a run of 6.518s at 209.43mph, while Coughlin will start race day from third thanks to his 6.521s at 210.90mph.
Sampey put on an incredible show on Saturday in Pro Stock Motorcycle, making the quickest run of each session and blistering the track record with an incredible pass of 6.700s at 200.95mph on her Mission Foods/Vance & Hines Suzuki. That run closed out qualifying and also tied the third-quickest run in class history, putting Sampey in a prime position heading into eliminations. It’s her third No. 1 spot of 2022 and 56th in her career as she looks to leave Sonoma with the points lead in the class.
“I’m still trying to be better and trying to improve, and I’m lucky to have a really successful team behind me,” Sampey said. “My focus is just on trying to get down the track and Andrew [Hines] has done a wonderful job tuning my bike. I’m really glad to have had some success with him tuning this bike. If we leave the starting line right, it’s going to be fast. This is an amazing class to compete in, but you have to be on your game all four rounds if you want to be successful.”
Steve Johnson, the points leader and provisional No. 1 qualifier on Friday, took the second spot with a 6.743s at 198.73mph and Joey Gladstone moved to third with a 6.757s at 200.26mph.
Eliminations for the Denso NHRA Sonoma Nationals begin at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday at Sonoma Raceway. Television coverage on the FOX network begins at 4 p.m. ET.