Story By: NHRA – INDIANAPOLIS, IN – The NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series regular season came to a thrilling conclusion on Monday at the world’s biggest drag race, the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals, setting the stage for an epic Countdown to the Championship.
The six-race playoffs open next weekend with the 38th annual Pep Boys NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway and also includes races in Charlotte, St. Louis, Dallas, Las Vegas and Pomona. The points reset for the Countdown to the Championship includes an added wrinkle in 2023 with the addition of bonus points earned during the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge.
The specialty race took place on Saturdays at 12 races this season, adding a bonus purse and bonus points to the equation for the first time. Nobody took advantage more than Top Fuel points leader Justin Ashley, who won the bonus race six times. In all, he earned 21 bonus points – 10 more than second-place Steve Torrence – and Ashley will open the playoffs with a 30-point advantage over the four-time world champ (2,121 to 2,091), looking to win his first world title.
“We accomplished our goal. We’re going into the Countdown as the number one seed and we feel good about that,” Ashley said. “There are no easy draws when it comes to the Countdown. Our team is really running well right now and everyone’s hitting their groove. We’re happy that we finished number one, it’s going to give us the best advantage that we could possibly ask for. However, it’s going to be tough out there. It’s going to be a grind. It’s going to be an absolute fight.”
Indy winner Antron Brown is 44 points behind Ashley in third, while Leah Pruett and defending world champ Brittany Force round out the top five at 58 and 68 points behind Ashley, respectively. Doug Kalitta (2,046), Mike Salinas (2,033), Austin Prock (2,025), Clay Millican (2,013), Josh Hart (2,000), Shawn Langdon (1,992) and Tony Schumacher (1,982) round out the loaded Top Fuel playoff field.
In Funny Car, Ron Capps finished the regular season on a huge high, winning the last two events to take the points lead into the Countdown to the Championship. That includes an incredible win on Monday at the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals and Capps also gets a boost by earning a class-best 14 points in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge during the regular season.
Going for a third straight Funny Car title – something that hasn’t been done since John Force wrapped up 10 straight championships in 2002 – Capps will open the playoffs with a 24-point lead over Hagan (2,114 to 2,090), earning four more Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge points. Robert Hight will start 38 points behind Capps, with Bob Tasca III 48 points back in fourth and J.R. Todd 56 points from the lead in fifth. Alexis DeJoria (2,047), Chad Green (2,036), Tim Wilkerson (2,020), John Force (2,015), Cruz Pedregon (2,000) and Alex Laughlin (1,990) round out the field, and Capps knows the challenge ahead.
“There’s so many good cars right now,” Capps said. “We know the hitters, but you go down the list of everyone in the Countdown and it’s a car that can win on any Sunday. Funny Car is unbelievable right now and we just hope to keep the momentum with our hot rod. It’s going to be a throw down.”
Dallas Glenn enjoyed a dominant regular season in Pro Stock, winning four times, a career-best for the former NHRA Rookie of the Year. He earned eight bonus points in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge – five more than second-place Matt Hartford – giving Glenn a 25-point lead (2,108 to 2,083) heading into the Countdown to the Championship.
Hartford, meanwhile, has plenty of momentum after winning the U.S. Nationals and is confident he can compete for a championship.
“Everyone says that Dallas Glenn has had the best car this year but that’s not true. He’s been the best driver, but I’ve got the best car,” Hartford said. “I just need to continue to focus and not make mistakes and you’ll see that in the Countdown.”
Reigning world champion Erica Enders will start her quest for a sixth world championship 32 points behind Glenn, while Troy Coughlin Jr. is 41 points out of first. Deric Kramer rounds out of the top five, trailing Glenn by 52 points, and the rest of the playoff field includes Aaron Stanfield (2,048), Greg Anderson (2,035), Kyle Koretsky (2,024), Camrie Caruso (2,011), Cristian Cuadra (2,000), Bo Butner (1,990), Fernando Cuadra Jr. (1,980), Jerry Tucker (1,970), Mason McGaha (1,960), Chris McGaha (1,950) and Fernando Cuadra (1,940).
Gaige Herrera’s 2023 regular season in Pro Stock Motorcycle included an incredible six event wins and four victories in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge, handing the talented rider 13 bonus points and nine more than second-place Matt Smith. He’ll enter the postseason with 2,113 points, 29 more than Smith (2,084), who comes off a victory at the U.S. Nationals on Monday.
“The way I see it, this championship is Gaige’s to lose,” Herrera said. “The whole class gained on him (with the points reset). Now, we just need to get him out early. I wasn’t sure if a seventh (championship) was possible this year, but now I know I can do it.”
Hector Arana Jr. is 37 points back of Herrera, with Eddie Krawiec (2,062) and Angie Smith (2,056) rounding out the top five. The rest of the playoff field includes Steve Johnson (2,042), Chase Van Sant (2,032), Marc Ingwersen (2,020), Jianna Evaristo (2,010), Kelly Clontz (2,000), Ryan Oehler (1,990) and Chris Bostick (1,980).
COUNTDOWN TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS STANDINGS
(includes bonus points earned in Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge)
1. Justin Ashley 2,121
1. Ron Capps 2,114
1. Dallas Glenn 2,108
|Pro Stock Motorcycle
1. Gaige Herrera 2,113
Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge Bonus Points
Top Fuel: Justin Ashley 21; Steve Torrence 11; Antron Brown 7; Doug Kalitta 6; Austin Prock 5; Leah Pruett 3; Mike Salinas 3; Brittany Force 3; Clay Millican 3; Shawn Langdon 2; Tony Schumacher 2.
Funny Car: Ron Capps 14; Matt Hagan 10; J.R. Todd 8; Alexis DeJoria 7; Chad Green 6; Bob Tasca III 6; Robert Hight 6; John Force 5; Blake Alexander 2; Terry Haddock 2
Pro Stock: Aaron Stanfield 8; Dallas Glenn 8; Troy Coughlin Jr. 7; Deric Kramer 6; Erica Enders 6; Greg Anderson 5; Kyle Koretsky 4; Matt Hartford 3; Camrie Caruso 1.
Pro Stock Motorcycle: Gaige Herrera 13; Angie Smith 6; Hector Arana Jr. 6; Matt Smith 4; Steve Johnson 2; Eddie Krawiec 2; Chase Van Sant 2; Chip Ellis 1.
COUNTDOWN TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE
- Sept. 14-17: 38th annual Pep Boys NHRA Nationals, Maple Grove Raceway, Reading, Pa.
- Sept. 22-24: 15th annual Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals, zMAX Dragway, Charlotte.
- Sept. 29-Oct. 1: 12th annual NHRA Midwest Nationals, World Wide Technology Raceway, St. Louis
- Oct. 12-15: 38th annual Texas NHRA FallNationals, Texas Motorplex, Dallas
- Oct. 26-29: 23rd annual NHRA Nevada Nationals, The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas
- Nov. 9-12: 58th annual In-N-Out Burger NHRA Finals, In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip, Pomona, Calif.