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New format has Josh Hart’s attention heading to PlayNHRA Virginia Nationals

With three Professional qualifying sessions on Saturday and final eliminations on Sunday, the PlayNHRA Virginia NHRA Nationals has a lot of teams looking forward to the unique format, including Top Fuel's Josh Hart.
17 Jun 2024
Posted by NHRA.com staff
Josh Hart

The NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series is heading back to Virginia Motorsports Park after a one-year hiatus for the PlayNHRA Virginia NHRA Nationals, June 22-23, and NHRA Top Fuel championship contender Josh Hart and the R+L Carriers team are eager to get back on track. 

The event will feature a new schedule with three Professional qualifying sessions on Saturday and final eliminations on Sunday, a dramatic departure from the traditional two qualifiers on Friday and two on Saturday or in some cases one Friday pass and two Saturday runs. The new format creates opportunities and challenges for all the Professional teams.
“I like that the NHRA is trying something new,” said Hart, a two-time Top Fuel national event winner. “We ran a similar format at the PRO preseason event with three qualifiers in one day and then the race the next day. It was well received, and I am glad the NHRA is mixing it up. I am looking forward to getting back to Virginia Motorsports Park. Every team wants to get as many qualifying runs as possible. I think getting three in a row could give us a good start for race day.”
Hart and the R+L Carriers Top Fuel team have only competed once before at the East Coast track, which is known to have one of the country's smoothest and fastest racing surfaces. In 2022, Hart raced to the quarterfinals as the No. 13 qualifier, outrunning Clay Millican in the first round before dropping a wild pedalfest to Mike Salinas in the second round. Both Top Fuelers lost traction and repeatedly tried to regain control with Salinas getting to the finish line just in front of Hart.
“We got around Clay in the first round with a good run, and then in the second round, we had our hands full with Salinas,” said Hart. “These race cars create so much power when you smoke the tires, it takes a lot of patience and finesse to get them back under control. They are some of the most challenging race cars to drive when things are going perfectly, and when they don’t go perfect, it is a wild ride.”

Hart and his R+L Carriers team have been working towards a consistent tune-up that will carry them through the summer months and into the 2024 Countdown to the Championship playoffs. The points standings in Top Fuel will be reshuffled after the NHRA U.S. Nationals, but Hart wants to improve his standings now during the back half of the regular season. He is looking for his first final round and win of the year, and the conditions and qualifying schedule could play into the hands of R+L Carriers Top Fuel crew chief Ron Douglas.
“Getting three runs on Saturday could be really good for our team,” said Hart. “We can make two runs on race day-like conditions, which could be a little warmer. We have a good tune-up for that, so we could be at the back of the pack going into the final qualifier, which will have the best conditions. We could take a swing in that final session, which could help us on race day. Really, we just need to take what the track gives us and be consistent.”
One thing that has been consistent with the R+L Carriers team has been Hart’s ability to get his race car off the starting line first. Hart has been one of the top “leavers” in the Top Fuel category all season, posting solid reaction times. The ability to react almost instinctively to the Christmas Tree is something Hart has dedicated himself to over the past two seasons.
“Everyone on this team has a job and role to play in getting round-wins,” said Hart. “The best thing I can do is cut a good light to give our R+L Carriers team an immediate advantage. I have 10 guys behind me who are doing their job to make sure the race car goes down the track as quickly as possible. If I keep doing my job, and they keep giving me a good race car, the win lights will take care of themselves. This weekend, we will be starting another back-to-back situation, so we want to make the most of these two days on the track.”
The two-day PlayNHRA Virginia Nationals will lead into the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Norwalk, which is one of the major hubs for Hart’s primary sponsor R+L Carriers. For Hart, having a long weekend in Virginia would go a long way to building positive momentum heading to Norwalk.
The R+L Carriers Top Fuel team will be on track three times on Saturday, June 22, making qualifying runs at noon, 3 p.m., and 6 p.m. The quickest 16 Top Fuel dragsters will start final eliminations at noon ET on Sunday, June 23.