Erica Enders qualifying Pomona 2016

POMONA, CA — In the ever-evolving new world of Pro Stock, improvement is the No. 1 goal.

Two-time champion Erica Enders nailed that goal every time at the season-opening NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series race, the Circle K NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona.

Enders improved in every qualifying session with her Elite Motorsports Mopar Dodge Dart, ending up No. 9 for Sunday’s eliminations.

“I think we have a lot to be optimistic about,” Enders said. “We have slowly picked away at it through these four qualifying sessions. We made a pretty big change for that last run just to see how the car would take it. It adapted well, so that gives us a little confidence going into tomorrow.”

Enders started off the new era in Pro Stock — one that includes fuel-injected engines with a 10,500-rpm rev limit — with a pass of 6.676 seconds at 208.62 mph, but in the subsequent three qualifying sessions, her elapsed time dropped: 6.669, 6.652, and finally 6.651 seconds at 207.62 mph, which was her best pass.

“When we put this whole program together we knew it would take a little time to get acclimated as far as building the horsepower is concerned and tuning the EFI, and drive-ability is a huge change for me,” Enders said. “We’re all learning and this is just the beginning.”

Enders won the 2014 and 2015 championships with a powerful combination of superb horsepower, excellent tuning, and terrific driving. A switch to Dodge for 2016 may force her team to do a little catch-up, but Enders is the same driver who set an NHRA record last year by winning three consecutive final rounds on holeshots.

“We certainly have a lot of work to do, and Pro Stock is really interesting in that aspect,” Enders said. “You don’t always need to have the fastest car to win; we’ve proven that many times before. My job remains the same tomorrow, and that’s to do my best behind the wheel and cut some good lights and hit my shift points and hopefully drive this Elite Motorsports Mopar Dodge Dart to the winner’s circle. That’s our goal.”

Her first battle comes against new Elite teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr., who qualified No. 8 with a pass of 6.645 seconds at 208.55 mph.

“Figures” Enders said. “It’s all right. You know it’s bound to happen when you have 25 percent of the field under one canopy. We were hopeful that wouldn’t be the case, especially at this first event. We have pretty equally matched hot rods, so I guess we’ll see who the best driver is tomorrow.”

Race day eliminations will air live from 2-5 p.m. PT on FOX Sports 1.