Story By: NHRA – INDIANAPOLIS, IN – The stage is set for the standouts in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series.
After a thrilling and record-setting regular season in 2022, dreams of a coveted NHRA world championship come down to the final six races, as the Countdown to the Championship playoffs begin at this weekend’s 37th annual Pep Boys NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway.
Championship dreams will be made over the next six races, as the Countdown to the Championship starts at this weekend’s 37th annual Pep Boys NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway, kicking off a memorable stretch of three straight race weekends.
That includes stops at zMAX Dragway for the Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals in Charlotte and World Wide Technology Raceway in St. Louis for the NHRA Midwest Nationals. The next two stops include a visit to the famed Texas Motorplex in Dallas for the Texas NHRA FallNationals on Oct. 13-16 to finish off the track’s Stampede for Speed, and then The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the NHRA Nevada Nationals on Oct. 27-30. The road to the finals concludes with the must-see 57th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals on Nov. 10-13 at Auto Club Raceway, where the stars in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle will put it all on the line for a chance at championship glory.
For Funny Car points leader Robert Hight, who is seeking a fourth world title in his 11,000-horsepower Auto Club Chevrolet Camaro SS, the Countdown to the Championship marks a chance to win when the spotlight is the brightest.
“It’s really about the next six races and getting hot or being very, very consistent,” Hight said. “What we like are these fall races that we’re going to have and there’s a potential for some really cool conditions. But now the real work starts. We have to take it one weekend at a time, one run at a time and as I’ve said before, it’s going to take another two or three wins to get that championship. That’s what we’re looking for, so I really feel good about where we’re at and I can’t wait to get your reading this weekend and get back to it.”
Hight opens the playoffs with a 20-point lead over defending world champion Ron Capps, while other standouts competing in the Countdown to the Championship include three-time world champ Matt Hagan, Bob Tasca III, 16-time world champ John Force, J.R. Todd, who won the title in 2018, Alexis DeJoria, two-time world champ Cruz Pedregon, Tim Wilkerson, Blake Alexander, and Jim Campbell.
In Top Fuel, Brittany Force is after her second world title in her 11,000-horsepower Monster Energy/Flav-R-Pac dragster, starting the Countdown to the Championship as the points leader. She’ll have to hold off 11 top-flight drivers in the loaded Top Fuel ranks, as 12 total competitors are racing for a world title. That list, in order of points standings, includes Mike Salinas, who has four wins in 2022, Justin Ashley, four-time defending world champ Steve Torrence, rising star Josh Hart, three-time world champ Antron Brown, Leah Pruett, Shawn Langdon, veteran Doug Kalitta, Tony Schumacher, who has eight world titles, Clay Millican and Austin Prock.
“Our biggest objective coming out of Indy was leaving with the points lead, and we did just that,” said Force, who has picked up four wins during the 2022 season. “Everything resets in the Countdown, but we’re in the position we want to be in heading to the opener in Reading.”
Erica Enders has been driven by a fifth world title in Pro Stock, putting together a dominant regular season that has included six wins and eight final round appearances. But she may have to raise her game yet again in the playoffs, with the Countdown to the Championship field consisting of an incredible 15 drivers. Following Enders in the points standings is teammate Aaron Stanfield, who has two wins in 2022, defending world champ Greg Anderson, Kyle Koretsky, Dallas Glenn, Troy Coughlin Jr., Mason McGaha, rookie Camrie Caruso, Matt Hartford, Fernando Cuadra Jr., former world champ Bo Butner, Deric Kramer, Cristian Cuadra, Chris McGaha, and Fernando Cuadra Sr.
With championship-caliber drivers at every turn, Enders knows the championship may come down to the final day in Pomona, but she’s enjoyed a remarkable career thriving in those moments in her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro.
“There’s definitely a lot of butterflies at this time, but we’ve been in the situation so many times, and what better position to be in than having been in eight of 13 finals this year and winning six,” Enders said. “We’ve had a tremendous regular season here at Elite Motorsports and every point is going to matter (in the Countdown). I’m going to try to have the most positive attitude I possibly can and there’s no group that I would rather go to battle with than the guys that stand behind me. I’m ready for it. I think if I had to choose, I would rather be in the position that I’m in, you know, having the people chase me because I feel like they know what we’re capable of. It’s our job to show the world that we can do it.”
Pro Stock Motorcycle’s Matt Smith is the only defending world champ entering the Countdown to the Championship as the points leader. But that doesn’t guarantee an easy road to a sixth championship on his Denso Auto Parts motorcycle. He’ll open the postseason with a 20-point lead over second-place Joey Gladstone, with the rest of the playoff field including Steve Johnson, three-time world champ Angelle Sampey, Eddie Krawiec, Karen Stoffer, Angie Smith, Jerry Savoie, Marc Ingwersen and Ryan Oehler.
Smith, though, has a gameplan in place as he prepares for a sixth title, which would tie him with Andrew Hines and Dave Schultz for the most in Pro Stock Motorcycle history.
“I mean, it’s, it’s always good when you enter the Countdown as the points leader, but I think the biggest thing in the Countdown is you just you have to go semifinals or better,” Smith said. “Every race you go to if you’re going to be a contender, you’ve got to be up there, and like I told somebody the other day if I can have a runner up at all five races. I would take that and probably win the championship.”
2022 NHRA COUNTDOWN TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP
- Sept. 15-18: 37th annual Pep Boys NHRA Nationals, Maple Grove Raceway, Reading, Pa.
- Sept. 23-25: 14th annual Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals, zMAX Dragway, Charlotte.
- Sept. 30-Oct. 2: 11th annual NHRA Midwest Nationals, World Wide Technology Raceway, St. Louis
- Oct. 13-16: 37th annual Texas NHRA FallNationals, Texas Motorplex, Dallas
- Oct. 27-30: 22nd annual NHRA Nevada Nationals, The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas
- Nov. 10-13: 57th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals, Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Pomona, Calif.