LAS VEGAS, NV — Defending Pro Stock champion Erica Enders-Stevens and her Elite Motorsports team broke out of their early seasons struggles in a big way, storming to a second consecutive victory in the K&N Horsepower Challenge on Saturday at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Enders-Stevens beat Chris McGaha, Jason Line (on a holeshot), and Vincent Nobile en route to winning the special race for the Pro Stock class.
“The swag is back and the confidence was definitely back after we tested in Charlotte,” Enders-Stevens said. “We had a very successful test, and everything started to come together. My crew chiefs called me several times this week, and just hearing the confidence in their voices gives me a peace of mind and allows me to be confident and perform to the best of my ability.”
And she extended her winning streak to 14 rounds in Las Vegas, including the 2014 Horsepower Challenge, both national events last year, and Saturday’s race.
“Fourteen rounds in a row, that’s very awesome,” Enders-Stevens said. “All the credit goes to my guys. They work so incredibly hard, and I’m so proud of them and I’m honored to be their driver.”
Enders-Stevens has two No. 1 qualifiers in 2015 but had yet to visit the winner’s circle until Saturday.
“We have struggled, there’s no doubt about that, at the beginning of this year,” Enders-Stevens said. “We stayed after Charlotte and tested on Monday and finally figured this hot rod out. The new tire had been giving us a little bit of an issue, but (crew chiefs) Rick and Rickie Jones and Mark Ingersoll thrashed at it, and their determination and perseverance turned this whole deal around.”
Enders-Stevens snared the No. 2 qualifying position for Sunday’s SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals with a pass of 6.617 seconds at 208.94 mph in Friday’s second qualifying session. That set up a promising day in the K&N Horsepower Challenge, a race pitting Pro Stock’s best against each other for a $50,000 prize.
Enders-Stevens started off against McGaha, and as McGaha slowed to a 17.154-second run at 46.29 mph, she got the win light with a pass of 6.690 seconds at 207.98 mph.
That matched her against Line, who had secured the No. 1 qualifier for the national event this weekend, but Enders-Stevens got the jump with a .017-second reaction time (to Line’s .033 light), and her 6.652-second pass at 207.88 mph was enough to hold off Line’s quicker run of 6.648 seconds at 208.62 mph.
After a quick turnaround for the final round, Enders-Stevens outran Nobile with a pass of 6.650 seconds at 208.01 mph to his 6.694-second run at 207.62 mph.
“We had about a 35-minute turnaround going into the final,” Enders-Stevens said. “Vincent was kind enough to wait; he was already buckled up when we pulled up, and I wasn’t even in the car yet. We were certainly thrashing, but my guys did a great job. They kept their heads together, and that’s what it’s all about: Pulling together, pulling your weight, and getting it done when you need to.”
Her victory also meant Frank Savarese of Fort Wayne, Ind., won a ’15 Toyota Tacoma as part of a K&N sweepstakes. K&N pairs lucky fans with each Horsepower Challenge driver, and Savarese drew Enders-Stevens’ name on Friday.
“He drew my number, and he told me afterward that he was hoping to draw us,” Enders-Stevens said. “I said, ‘Well, we’re coming in with a great car.’ After the first two qualifying sessions on Friday, I said, ‘We’re going to have a race car. If I can do my job as a driver, I’m hopeful you can leave with that awesome Toyota truck.’ ”
Enders-Stevens will go for her second consecutive double-double in the Las Vegas national event. She was due to race No. 15 qualifier Matt Hartford, but Hartford broke the engine during qualifying and will not be able to make the call for Sunday’s first round.
She’ll face the winner of the race between No. 7 qualifier Larry Morgan and No. 10 qualifier Jimmy Alund in the second round.