Now that is the Erica Enders we are used to.
For the first time since her back-to-back championship winning seasons in 2014 and 2015, Enders is a true threat to return to the top of the Pro Stock mountain. After proving competitive throughout much of this season, Enders has found her groove when it matters most with a win and now three-straight No. 1 qualifier awards as she earned the pole position Saturday at the 12th annual NTK NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway.
Enders was quickest in three of the four qualifying sessions and second quickest in the other leading to her third top qualifier award of the year – all coming in the last month.
“If we can continue the run that we are on from St. Louis last weekend, I would be really thrilled,” Enders said. “I have a great hot rod underneath me and if I can just do my driving job, there is no reason why we can’t win.”
Enders drove her Melling Performance / Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro to the top of the charts with a 6.506-second pass at 211.86 mph from Q2 on Friday night, maintaining that time on Saturday to earn her her 22nd career pole position.
“In that Friday night session Jeg (Coughlin) went to the pole right in front of us. He is my teammate and Rick (Jones) came on the radio and said, ‘if you do your job we are going right back to the top,’” Enders said. “When you hear that confidence from (the team) it definitely helps me. It reminds me of our good run in 2014 and 2015. I feel like we are back in championship form. We just have to execute.”
Enders’ Elite Motorsports teammate Jeg Coughlin qualified second with a 6.524 at 210.37 mph and Jason Line qualified third with a 6.534 at 211.53 mph. Matt Hartford (6.546) and Alex Laughlin (6.548) rounded out the top five. Laughlin was the only driver to unseat Enders during a qualifying session, out-pacing the eventual pole sitter in Q3 Saturday afternoon.
Coming off of her first win of the season, Enders entered the weekend second in the Countdown to the Championship standings, just a handful of points behind Line. With additional bonus points coming as a result of a dominant weekend in qualifying, Enders has cut that gap even more and will look to try to overtake the Pro Stock points lead on Sunday with three races to go.
That is a far stretch from where she and her team were earlier this year with a roller coaster season leading to plenty of doubts entering the Countdown to the Championship.
“At the beginning of the year we definitely had some serious struggles and then, during midsummer, a lot of parts failures. I began to doubt that we would have an opportunity to be in this position this deep into the Countdown,” Enders said. “But here we are and it is our job to capitalize on it. My crew chiefs are really confident. They are way more confident than me and that helps my confidence in turn. So I am thankful for that.”
Now, coming off of a run of strong qualifying sessions and a win, Enders is as confident as ever in what this team can do entering Sunday and the final three races of the Countdown.
“You’ve got to believe it to be it,” Enders said. “It is like the David and Goliath story. You can have things stacked against you, the other teams can definitely run with us and drive with me, so we just have to believe it and go out and execute. That is my plan.”
Enders will face Cristian Cuadra in round one on Sunday.