Since the beginning of the season Josh Hart and the R+L Carriers team have been working towards winning their first NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series Top Fuel world championship. After 15 regular season races crisscrossing the country Hart and his Ron Douglas tuned 11,000-horsepower Top Fuel dragster will have six races starting this weekend at the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway to make that dream a reality. For a team owner and driver who believes and has proven “Anything’s Possible,” the NHRA Countdown is a perfect playoff for Hart and his R+L Carriers team.
“We didn’t have the success we wanted in the regular season but thanks to the NHRA Countdown we made up 361 points coming out of Indy when they reset the standings,” said Hart, who will enter the playoffs as the No. 10 seed. “There are six races left and we are 121 points out of first place. That is a very manageable deficit to overcome with some race wins. I feel good about our chances heading into Maple Grove Raceway.”
In his rookie season Hart turned heads winning twice and racing to nearly half a dozen semifinals in a limited schedule. In 2022 Hart invested heavily into new equipment and spent the season racing the full schedule for the first time in his career with limited success. This year with a young team and the support of R+L Carriers and TechNet Hart has raced to a final round in Chicago as well as a handful of semifinal finishes. The results have not been what Hart wanted in the regular season, but the flashes of success have the multiple time Top Fuel and Top Alcohol Dragster winner focused on the positives.
“We have made good runs in qualifying and we have had some really strong race days,” said Hart. “We just need to have everything come together on the same weekend. When you look at the forecast for this weekend, we could see some great conditions and those play into our hands. I know my crew chief Ron Douglas can throw down with any of these other teams.”
Hart and the R+L Carriers team will be looking for their first round at Maple Grove in their third appearance at the track located an hour outside of Philadelphia. In 2021 Hart lost to Billy Torrence in the first round and Torrence went on to win the race and the following year Hart was ousted by Antron Brown who races to the semifinals before he was beaten by eventual winner Austin Prock.
“We have run into some tough matchups this season and lost some close races to the eventual winner of the race,” said Hart. “I am getting better behind the wheel and every pass down the track we get more data so I am focusing on the fact that we will be better in the Countdown than we were in the regular season. The playoffs are about momentum and I feel like if we get off to a good start this weekend we will be right in the mix.”
History could be on Hart’s side considering Robert Hight raced to the 2009 Funny Car championship from the No. 10 seed. That season Hight was winless in the regular season with just one final round appearance. He took the win at the first playoff race and jumped to third place in the points and a second consecutive playoff win moved him into first place. He held on to win his first championship and paved the way for the playoffs to be a wide-open competition.
“You look at what Robert did in 2009 and that definitely gives us hope,” said Hart. “I think we have a chance and that is all anyone can ask for. We need to make our own luck and just take every run as an opportunity to get better. We start with two runs on Friday at the Pep Boys Nationals we need to be one of the quickest race cars off the trailer. We are going to take it one round at a time and just keep working hard.”
Hart would also like to start the playoffs the same way he started the season with a win at a Pep Boys sponsored event. Prior to the Gatornationals Hart and his R+L Carriers team won the Pep Boys All-Star Callout race and its $80,000 top prize. This weekend’s event, the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals, would be another great opportunity for Hart to stand in another Pep Boys’ winner’s circle.
“It seems like forever ago that we won the Pep Boys All-Star Callout, but I would definitely like to stand in another one of their winner’s circles,” said Hart. “I am out here to compete with the best of the best and these next six races will be a great test for our team. We had some time after Indy to get prepared and now it is time to get after it. I got to talk with Big Daddy Don Garlits before this race and I am ready to go.”
The R+L Carriers Top Fuel team will be on track on Friday for two qualifying runs at 3:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. with two more qualifying runs on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Final eliminations will start on Sunday, September 17 at 10:30 a.m. ET. The race will be televised nationally on FOX.