NHRA Top Fuel's most successful driver to have never won a series championship moved closer with his second consecutive national event victory. 

Doug Kalitta headlined the champions at the Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway. He picked up win No. 52 by knocking off speed merchant Mike Salinas in the final round. 

Joining Kalitta was Bob Tasca III (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock), and Gaige Herrera (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Kalitta, who led the first day qualifying at the second stop on the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Series, started from third on the qualifying grid. He used wins over Steve Torrence, Shawn, Langdon, and Leah Pruett to reach the final round. 

In the final round, he overcame a Salinas holeshot with a 3.696, 333.49 run to win and take over the championship point lead. 

“We had to tune it up for the final, and Mike was right there,” said Kalitta, who picked up back-to-back wins for the first time since 2016. “It was a good day for all my guys. I’m glad I’m along for the ride for whatever we end up with. It’s a great start (to the Countdown) for us, and I just have a ton of support from everyone who has followed me over the years."

Sunday's win marks the second for the Mac Tools-sponsored team's backup dragster, which was pressed into action when the team's primary car was damaged last weekend in Reading, PA.

“We’re just going to keep plugging away," Kalitta continued. "We’ve just got to keep going rounds, and it’s a matter of getting and staying consistent. I just want to try to stay ahead, however we have to do it. Everyone in this class is driving the wheels off these things, and there’s a bunch of great cars. It’s tough, and you’ve got to take advantage of the opportunities when you get them. I’m happy to be here, and it’s a good spot to be in, for sure.”

Championship contender Tasca remained in the championship talk as he scored a resounding victory over points leader Robert Hight in the final round. 

Tasca did it impressively, using a holeshot and a 3.933, 329.26 in his Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Mustang to fend off Hight's 3.932, 326.95. This win marked Tasca's third victory of the 2023 season and the 15th of his career, propelling him to second place in the points standings.

“It was a big win for our program," said Tasca, who pulled to within 25 points of Hight. "I said on TV, I wish the fans could have had a live feed to my pit. Every person on our team, crew chiefs included, thrashed to swap the engines. For me, that is the most gut-wrenching part of racing. There is nothing I can do. I'm at home when I'm in that car, and the stage bulb is on because I know I have a shot at it. So, this win is dedicated to the team.

"I think we're somewhat racing with a chip on our shoulder this year. How many people in this room would have thought Bob Tasca would be (25 points) out of first? The bottom line is we've really come together as a team, probably more so than any point in my career, and the car really sees it. I'm so impressed with the car they've given me. I've always wanted to win at all the Bruton Smith tracks, and I know he's smiling down from above. I've thought the world of their family; our families have been close, and it's really cool to have a trophy from every Bruton Smith track."

Anderson, the 100-plus national event winner, proved he's still got the fire in the belly by driving to win No. 102 over teammate and regular-season champion Dallas Glenn. 

The Hendrickcars.com-sponsored driver turned in a 6.554-second elapsed time at 209.23 for the victory. His road to the final included victories over Elite Motorsports drivers Jerry Tucker, Cristian Cuadra, and Erica Enders.

After the season he's had, it seems unnatural to associate Herrera with any first-time victory in Pro Stock Motorcycle. However, that's what the sophomore NHRA competitor did, picking up his first Countdown to the Championship victory in the 500th event since the class became an official category. He had already won seven times this season.

Herrera ran a 6.726, 201.34 mph to win against Hector Arana Jr., who had a red-light start. With this triumph, Herrera reclaimed the points lead and scored his sixth win of the season, recovering from an early elimination in the playoff opener.

Herrera returned to his familiar surroundings atop the championship point standings, where he now leads Matt Smith by 52 points, the equivalent of over two rounds of competition. 

The NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series returns to action Sept. 29-Oct.1 with the NHRA Midwest Nationals at World Wide Technology Raceway in St. Louis.