NHRA: Caruso, Ashley, Hight win at Phoenix finale
Camrie Caruso became just the second female Pro Stock winner in NHRA history, taking home the title at the final NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park. Justin Ashley (Top Fuel) and Robert Hight (Funny Car) also collected victories at the second race of the 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season.
The final day of the event played out before a full house, the second consecutive sold-out day at the event and third of the young 2023 season.
The last time that an NHRA national event venue announced its last race, Caruso was in the final round last year at Houston Raceway Park, where she faced off but lost to class victory pioneer Erica Enders. The result was different this time as she eked out the important victory over former world champ Bo Butner, winning wore-to-wire on a final 6.592 to 6.593 count. The win came in Caruso’s 21st career start; Enders took 122 starts to get her first.
“Honestly, I’m not gonna lie, I wasn’t really sure if I won or not because I’ll just focus on going straight,” she said. “I don’t really look around, but it was so awesome. I just went out there like it was another round and tried my best to do my job because I knew the guys were going to do theirs.
“I’m just excited and thankful. I was really hoping we’d start the year off with a really good bang. Honestly, everybody’s from [sponsors] Powerbuilt [Tools] and Tequila Commisario is here. There’s just a whole bunch of people here that I couldn’t have done it without, especially my team and our partners.”
Caruso is the 17th woman to win an NHRA Professional title and her victory was the 188th by females in NHRA Pro competition and 361st time overall.
Caruso reached the final of what could be the last event at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park by working her Dave Connolly-tuned Powerbuilt Tools Camaro past Deric Kramer, low qualifier Cristian Cuadra, and local favorite Matt Hagan for her second career final-round berth.
Butner opened his raceday ledger with a tight win over his Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage teammate reigning world champ Erica Enders, then took down Fernando Cuadra Jr. and red-lighting Kyle Koretsky to reach the final, the 54th of his career and his 26th in Pro Stock.
A pair of second-generation racers duked it out in the Top Fuel final where Ashley took down Shawn Langdon on a 3.70 to 3.73, saving his best run of the meet for the final round, where he collected his sixth career Top Fuel win and eighth overall.
“I knew before that round that [crewchiefs Mike Green and Tommy DeLago] were going to try and step it up because Shawn had been running so well, so I knew that they were going to try and take it from that .74 range to .70-.71 range,” he said. “.I couldn’t be happier when I looked at the time slip; it was just a total team effort.
“They’ve been tweaking things. They’ve been working on things and for it to go four rounds today and collect the win, maybe even more importantly, long run., we’ve got four more runs to collect data. I’m just really proud of our Phillips Connect/Toyota team powered by National Debt Relief after just a really, really awesome, fantastic fun day.”
Ashley, who opened his raceday from the No. 7 qualifying position, defeated Tony Schumacher – the winningest Top Fuel driver in event history with five previous scores – with a 3.74 then used a matching number to take out Gatornationals champ Mike Salinas in the second round. Ashley eked out a semifinal win over four-time world champ Steve Torrence, who fireballed his engine in a tight 3.74 to 3.74 contest, to reach his 12th career Top Fuel final.
Langdon bookended 3.71 passes around a tire-hazing second-round 4.00 to advance the DHL dragster past Antron Brown, low qualifier Doug Kalitta, and Leah Pruett to reach his 35h career Top Fuel final.
|Justin Ashley||Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel Dragster||Winner||W. 3.741 vs. 4.879 (Schumacher)
W. 3.743 vs. 3.750 (Salinas)
W. 3.740 vs. 3.743 (Torrence)
W. 3.705 vs. 3.732 (Langdon)
The Funny Car final pitted a pair of three-time world champions and last year’s top two finishers, reigning world champ Ron Capps and second-place Robert Hight, but Hight reversed that outcome easily, powering to a 3.93 after Capps lost traction early in his run. The victory is the 62nd of Hight’s career and gives him a narrow points lead.
“We better get used to that because this whole Funny Car field is stacked from top to bottom, and to win one of these races, you’re going to have to go through for hitters, and that’s we did that today,” said Hight.
“It’s a huge win. Some of the stuff that we’re working on right now is to fix what happened to us at Pomona last year and goes back to the final round in Las Vegas, where [Matt] Hagan got us, and then Pomona, where we lost in the second round. So Jimmy Prock, crew chief] didn’t go into the offseason just thinking well, ‘We’re on cruise control. even though we won eight races.’ You can just tell when Jimmy’s is on to something, and he’s got the confidence, and that gives me confidence.”
Hight reached his 97th career Funny Car final with a resurgent Flav-R-Pac Camaro, racing to passes of 3.91, 3.93, and 3.90 after failing to reach the three-second zone in qualifying for just the third time in the last 24 events. Hight trailered team boss John Force, low qualifier Bob Tasca III, and privateer Chad Green to reach the final. It’s the third time over the last two seasons that Hight has won after not running in the three-second zone in qualifying.
Capps, runner-up at the 2022 season finale in Pomona, powered his Dean Antonelli-tuned NAPA Auto Parts Toyota to his second final round in the last three events and the 138th of his career with passes of 3.91, 3.98, and 3.93 to defeat Alex Laughlin, Blake Alexander, and Saturday’s Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge winner Alexis DeJoria.
|Ron Capps lost to Hight in finals||NAPA Auto Parts Toyota GR Supra Funny Car||Finals||W. 3.912 vs. 7.591 (Laughlin)
W. 3.982 vs. 8.830 (Alexander)
W. 3.930 vs. 3.935 (DeJoria)
L. 5.534 vs. 3.930 (Hight)