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Erica Enders clinches playoffs spot, will battle for another Pro Stock championship

Erica Enders | Indy 2016 US Nationals

INDIANAPOLIS, IN — Erica Enders and her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge team secured their chance to race for a third consecutive championship during the U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway.

Enders, who won the 2014 and 2015 NHRA Pro Stock titles, wrapped up a spot in the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs when teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. lost in the first round. Coughlin got some good news in the second round when Alex Laughlin lost, landing Coughlin in the Countdown as well.

“This is pretty amazing,” said Enders. “We’ve had our fair share of challenges, but now to have both of our Elite Performance/Mopar Dodge Darts in the Countdown to the Championship is huge. I hate it for Alex because he’s one of the nicest guys out here, but I’m excited for Team Mopar. The championship is a tall order, but we’re prepared to dig deep.”

Enders, Coughlin, and Laughlin battled for the final two spots in the top 10 of the Pro Stock points standings, as only the top 10 are eligible for the championship when the Countdown begins in two weeks in Charlotte.

Enders had rallied from 11th in points after the race in Sonoma to ninth two races later. She won on holeshots in the first round in the last two races to help her cause, beating Laughlin in E1 in Seattle and Shane Gray in E1 in Brainerd, Minn.

Enders, the defending U.S. Nationals champion, displayed her driving skill again in the first round at Indy on Monday. Against the higher-qualified Gray, Enders left first with .014-second reaction time, but her pass of 6.680 seconds at 207.02 mph wasn’t enough to hold off Gray. He had a .029 light and then made a pass of 6.644 seconds at 208.14 mph to reach the second round.

“It’s no secret we’ve had some struggles this year, but I believe in my team,” Enders said. “They’ve proven time and again that when the pressure is on, they rise up and perform. I have no doubt that we’ll be able to do that again come Charlotte and beyond.”

The points will be reset heading into the Countdown, with Enders starting in ninth place, 100 points behind the leader.

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders flashes driving skills in Brainerd semifinal finish

Erica Enders | Brainerd 2016 | NHRA Pro Stock

BRAINERD, MN — Pro Stock champion Erica Enders stared down the pressure and responded in championship fashion — again.

Enders won on a first-round holeshot for the second race in a row and advanced to the semifinals of the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals on Sunday at Brainerd International Raceway before falling to points leader Jason Line. But she put up a fight in that race, too.

“We tried,” Enders said. “If you’d have asked me after Friday whether we’d go to the semifinals, I’d have never thought it was possible, but Saturday went a lot better, and we made strides in the right direction on Sunday.”

Drivability issues hampered Enders and her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge team on Friday before she made two solid passes Saturday to claim the No. 11 qualifying spot. That put her up against Shane Gray in the first round, but Enders pulled off a 024-second reaction time and made her pass of 6.619 seconds at 207.94 mph hold up.

Gray, the No. 6 qualifier, had the third-quickest run of the round at 6.593 seconds at 209.36 mph, but it wasn’t enough.

Enders also won on a holeshot in the first round in Seattle, beating Alex Laughlin to take over the No. 10 spot in the Pro Stock points standings. After beating Allen Johnson in the second round, Enders climbed over teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. to ninth in the points.

“To have a turnaround weekend like we did, to make up the ground on Alex, to solidify our spot in the Countdown is extremely important to me,” Enders said. “It was an exciting day.”

Unofficially, Enders is 13 points ahead of Coughlin and 49 ahead of 11th-place Laughlin. The top 10 race in the Countdown to the Championship, which is locked in after the next race, the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.

“It was definitely a fun weekend,” Enders said. “Another positive note is our Hemi powerplant stayed together, and that’s going to be crucial going into these last seven races. We’ll try to continue to spread the gap, and game on come Charlotte.”

Enders left first on all three higher-qualified opponents she faced Sunday. She had a .013 light against Johnson and made her pass of 6.656 seconds at 207.40 mph hold up as No. 3 qualifier Johnson slowed to a 6.732-second pass at 189.34 mph.

Line, the No. 2 qualifier, was nearly five-hundredths behind on the starting line, as Enders had a .024 light to his .072 reaction time, but Enders fell just short after a pass of 6.644 seconds at 207.75 mph couldn’t hold off Line’s 6.595-second run at 209.79 mph.

“E2 and E3 didn’t go like we thought they would, as far as e.t. is concerned, and I did not do my job against Jason,” Enders said. “All it takes is .022 to win that round, and that makes me mad because I’m better than that 97 percent of the time I let the clutch out. Just one of them deals. It’s got to be your day.”

It felt like old times for most of the day, as Enders raced to her second semifinal of the season. Enders and her team reached the semi’s regularly in 2014-15, but 2016 has been a struggled with the switch to electronic fuel injection and Dodge.

“We were all a little bit out of shape, it seems like, for going rounds on Sundays,” Enders said. “Everybody was huffing and puffing, trying to get things done before we got called to the lanes the next time. Before we fired (before the semifinals), I told (crew chief) Rick (Jones), ‘It’s fun to go rounds on Sunday, isn’t it?’ He said, ‘Heck yeah! We barely made it.’ I told him, ‘Believe it or not, we used to do this every week.’ He’s like, ‘I know, but we’re out of shape.’ “

Clutch holeshot win puts Pro Stock champ Erica Enders in Countdown position

Erica Enders | NHRA Pro Stock Seattle 2016

SEATTLE, WA — When the pressure is on, champions rise to the occasion.

When Pro Stock champion Erica Enders and her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge team needed to have a good performance in the first round of the 29th annual Protect The Harvest.com NHRA Northwest Nationals presented by Lucas Oil on Sunday at Pacific Raceways, they put one on.

Enders ripped off a .009-second reaction time against Alex Laughlin, winning a crucial round despite a slower elapsed time. And in beating Laughlin, who came into the race 10th in the points standings, Enders took over 10th, the final spot in the Countdown to the Championship.

“I said in my interview at the top end that it reminded me of the U.S. Nationals last year, racing Greg Anderson in the semifinals, where the winner of that round got to go into the Countdown in the No. 1 position,” Enders said. “If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: Under pressure, we are awesome together.”

Enders’ pass was 6.581 seconds at 209.39 mph, but her .048-second advantage on the starting line was enough to hold off Laughlin’s 6.569 at 210.90 mph.

“My guys gave me a good race car,” Enders said. “It wasn’t a great run. We feel like we could have definitely gone a .56 out there first round, and it was important to put a little bit of a spread on Alex. It’s not a big spread, but we will take what we can get at this point.”

Enders now unofficially leads Laughlin by nine points with two races before the Countdown.

Enders had another excellent reaction time in the second round, .031, and was in front of No. 14 qualifier Aaron Strong before she had engine issues. Strong had beaten No. 3 qualifier Greg Anderson in the first round.

“We got a break with Greg going out first round,” Enders said. “Performance-wise, we had him covered a little bit and shoulda, coulda, woulda gone to the semifinals at least today. Jeggie (Coughlin Jr.) and I had a chance to meet up in the semifinals. He had Bo (Butner) covered three-hundredths on the Tree, I had Aaron covered five and a half and everything went away.”

Reigning Pro Stock champ Erica Enders catches wrong kind of break in Sonoma

Erica Enders | NHRA Sonoma 2016 Pro Stock

SONOMA, CA — Two-time and reigning Pro Stock champion Erica Enders has been hoping the breaks start turning her way in this transitional drag racing season, but when her engine broke in the water box just seconds before her opening-round pass, even she couldn’t believe her misfortune.

“It’s almost like ‘what else could go wrong,’ ” said Enders, the most prolific female Pro Stock racer of all time. “It’s just a tough, tough way to end the day … before it even started.

“I fired up and rolled through the water box, and as I went to get the rpm up for the burnout, I heard a weird noise in the engine. I radioed the guys and they had me hold there for a minute at idle to see if it would clear itself up, but it was pretty obvious we had a problem. I had no choice; I had to shut it off.”

As disappointing as the moment was for Enders, the 21-time national event winner didn’t lose any ground in her quest to make the Countdown to the Championship field as her nearest rival in the points, good friend Alex Laughlin, also lost in the first round.

“We have three more races to catch Alex and get past him to make the playoff field,” Enders said. “It’s really the biggest goal we have right now, for our fans and sponsors to see us make it in.

“The guys are already tearing the Elite/Mopar Dodge Dart apart to see exactly what happened, and I know they’ll have us ready to go next weekend in Seattle.”

Enders trails Laughlin by nine points, or less than half a round of elimination action.

The 29th annual ProtectTheHarvest.com NHRA Northwest Nationals presented by Lucas Oil begins Friday, Aug. 5, at Pacific Raceways near Seattle.

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders holds head high after performance gains in Denver

ee-den16-sun

DENVER, CO — No one in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series hates losing more than two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders, but she can smile after the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals on Sunday at Bandimere Speedway knowing her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge team made strides toward the top of the Pro Stock charts.

Enders lost in the second round after an unfortunate parts failure slowed her pass, but she knows her Dodge Dart is now a contender.

“We’re certainly pleased with our performance gains this weekend,” Enders said. “It shows that our hard work is paying off. Having said that, we still have a long way to go.”

Enders qualified No. 2 in Denver, the best qualifying effort of the year for her and her team, which switched to Mopar for the 2016 season.

She beat Alan Prusiensky with one of the best passes in the first round, 6.970 seconds at 197.42 mph. That gave her lane choice against Allen Johnson for the second round, but Johnson’s good fortune in Denver continued.

The two friends and rivals got off the line almost identically, but Johnson sped to the win with a pass of 7.000 seconds at 196.53 mph while Enders lost elapsed time from her first pass and ended up with a run of 7.026 seconds at 195.62 mph.

“We had a parts failure that round,” Enders said. “We should have been able to go out there and run a .98 absolutely no problem because we took where the failure in the run happened and did a run completer from there. We were actually on a better run than Greg (Anderson) in that round and he went a .99.

“I think we would have been a solid to low .98. Should have, would have, could have, but it would definitely have been enough to beat AJ. This is just his lucky track.”

Johnson ended up racing to his 10th consecutive final round here, beating Vincent Nobile in the final.

Enders, meanwhile, looks forward to continuing the Western Swing next weekend in Sonoma, Calif.

“We’ll load up and go to Sonoma definitely with our heads held high because of the gains made here,” Enders said. “I’m looking forward to racing at sea level again, or closer to sea level, and kicking ass in Sonoma.”

Despite stellar driving effort, Erica Enders falls in Chicago first round

ee-chi16-sun

CHICAGO, IL — Route 66 Raceway will always hold special memories for Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge driver Erica Enders.

The track is where Enders scored her first Pro Stock victory in 2012, helping elevate her to superstar status in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

The 2016 race, the K&N Filters Route 66 NHRA Nationals on Sunday, won’t carry the same memories, but it could become a memorable event. Enders, the 2014-15 Pro Stock champion, has struggled this season as her team continues to develop their new Dodge Dart with fuel-injected engines.

Recent work, however, has helped Enders close the gap on the quickest teams.

“We definitely made some strides in the right direction this weekend,” Enders said after falling to Elite Chevy teammate Vincent Nobile. “It wasn’t evident today on the scoreboard because we were first out and we spun and the car went right and back left and just was not a happy race car. We did the best we could with what we had, and we will continue to work on it to get better.

“The better we get, the better we qualify, the farther back in the order we’ll get, and hopefully have a better outcome first round the further back we get.”

Higher-qualified racers get to choose when they’ll run in the first round, and they generally pick to be among the last to race. Enders qualified No. 9 and raced No. 8 Nobile, and they were the first pair down the track.

“The good news, just focusing on the positive, I had to race my teammate and at least Vincent went to the next round,” Enders said. “I sure would have liked to accumulate some points for this Mopar Dodge Dart to get back in the top 10. It wasn’t meant to be today.”

Enders flashed her driving prowess against Nobile, who had a .013-second reaction time but got off the starting line second because Enders was .005 on the Christmas Tree. Nobile, though, made a better pass, 6.643 seconds at 208.55 mph to 6.686 seconds at 208.36 mph, to get the win light.

“I set up to be .003 to .008 and I hit it right in the middle, so no regrets there,” Enders said. “I knew I had to be good on the Tree.”

Reigning Pro Stock champ Erica Enders maintains focus through tough stretch

Erica Enders | NHRA Pro Stock Norwalk 2016

NORWALK, OH — Reigning back-to-back Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders completed the 2016 schedule’s only stretch of four consecutive races with a positive outing in her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge Dart.

The stretch of races wasn’t kind to the most prolific female racer in class history as she bowed out in the opening round in the first three of the four events. But that turned a bit Sunday when she dismissed bitter rival Chris McGaha with an end-to-end job in Round 1 and gave current points leader Jason Line a huge scare in Round 2.

“Taking McGaha down was a nice bonus,” Enders said. “I was definitely up for it, cut a good light, and just outran him. That was a positive step for us for sure.”

Enders left the starting line with a stellar .013-second reaction time and never looked back, crossing the top-end timer with a 6.728 at 205.76 mph to McGaha’s 6.734 at 209.23 mph.

That advanced her to the quarterfinals, where she ran into Line, winner of six of the first 11 races this year. Once again, Enders earned a huge starting-line advantage, leaving a whopping .051-second ahead of Line. The chase was on from there with Line barely catching and passing her near the finish line, winning with a 6.662 at 209.09 mph to Enders’ 6.737 at 205.57 mph.

“Those two KB Racing cars have been on it this year, and I knew I needed a big start to give us any sort of chance,” she said. “I hit the Tree really well and didn’t see him for a while, but his hood started creeping into my peripheral vision. I was pushing the gas pedal through the floorboard but he got us at the other end.

“We’re just having a tough time figuring out the HEMIs. I’ll still take my guys over any other group in the world. We won a lot together the past two seasons, including back-to-back championships, and we all enjoyed that time as a team. Nothing is going to change that just because we’re down a bit. This is a strong group, and to be honest, we’re not letting anything get us down. No one is super happy, but we’ve moved past beating ourselves up over it.”

Engine builders Nick Ferri and Jake Hairston, along with crew chiefs Rick and Rickie Jones, are happy to finally have a weekend between races to work on some things that they believe will help Enders and her teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. turn in better numbers.

“Four races in a row is tough on every one, every team, especially a team like ours that switched brands in the off-season and are still working on figuring things out,” Enders said. “Having a weekend off finally will give the guys a chance to get back home, maybe recover for a day or two, and then get back to work. I’m sure the dyno will get a severe workout between now and Chicago, and I would expect Rick and Rickie will want to test some more as well. We’ll be busy.

“These guys in this pit aren’t afraid of working hard and we will get this deal figured out. I feel like a breakthrough race is right around the corner. Maybe Chicago will be the place where the switch gets thrown and we start running for trophies again.”

The Route 66 NHRA Nationals take place July 8-10 at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Ill.

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders encouraged by progress in Bristol

Erica Enders | NHRA Bristol 2016

BRISTOL, TN — The win light didn’t come on in the lane for Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge driver Erica Enders, but a smile soon came over her face.

As the two-time Pro Stock champion slowed her Dodge Dart in the first round of the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals on Sunday at Bristol Dragway, crew chief Rick Jones relayed her the numbers: 6.716 seconds at 206.32 mph.

They weren’t record-setting, but they were encouraging.

“As I went through the lights and my crew chief called out the numbers over the radio, I radio’d back and said, ‘We went a .71?’ ” Enders said. “He was like, ‘Yeah!’

That was her best pass of the weekend as Jones and the team continue to tune on the new Dodge. It nearly pulled off an upset of Elite teammate Vincent Nobile, whose Chevrolet qualified No. 5. Enders was off first with a .027-second reaction time, but Nobile’s 6.688 at 207.75 mph ran her down.

Nobile’s improvement, as well as the steady progress of Dodge teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr., who raced to the semifinals in Bristol, has injected some much-needed confidence in Enders’ team.

“They’ve been working so incredibly hard trying to figure this Dodge out,” Enders said. “I’ve said before that we’re making strides in the right direction, but that run boosted the morale over there. Jeg being able to get to the semifinals is pretty exciting for us.

“We’ll pack up, go to Norwalk, and see if we can continue to run better and close the gap on those KB guys.”

Enders, who saw her two-race Bristol winning streak come to an end, races in Norwalk, Ohio, next weekend as her team continues to inch toward the front.

“I’m especially excited, even if it’s just seeing a trickle of light at the end of the tunnel,” Enders said. “We’ll continue to chip away at it. It only matters when we get to Indy.”

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