Indianapolis - KLR Group driver Erica Enders continues to impress in the ultra-competitive Pro Stock class, reaching the final of the 58th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Auto-Plus at Lucas Oil Raceway on Sunday.
But Enders fell in the final round against teammate/crew chief/friend Dave Connolly, who won for the third time at the U.S. Nationals.
"It's a bittersweet day, for sure," Enders said. "I'm happy for Dave and the entire team, of course. He's one of my best friends, and it's great to be in victory lane with him and all the GK guys. But I'd much rather be the one holding the trophy."
Enders came to Indy on a two-race winning streak, and she secured the No. 1 qualifier for the Big Go. She then beat Kurt Johnson, Rodger Brogdon and V Gaines before matching up against GK Motorsports teammate Connolly, who serves as crew chief with Tommy Utt on Enders' Chevrolet.
Connolly left first with a slight .011-second advantage and then made a pass of 6.589 seconds at
210.05 mph. Enders' worst elapsed time in the first three rounds was 6.559 seconds, so it appeared she could easily overcome Connolly's early lead.
But she slowed to a run of 6.580 seconds at 210.31 mph and fell .002 seconds short of her first U.S. Nationals victory.
"I've got to be honest with you: If you told me we left a hundredth apart, I'd say she's a winner," Connolly said. "Anybody can look at the ETs and figure that out."
Still, Enders raced to her third consecutive final and fourth in the last seven races. Plus, she's earned No. 1 qualifiers at Indy and Brainerd, as well as setting track records at Sonoma and Brainerd.
Sunday, she moved up to fourth in the Pro Stock points standings on the eve of the Countdown to the Championship. Clearly, she's one of the drivers to beat for the 2012 title.
"We still have an awesome hot rod, and I'm excited for the Countdown," Enders said. "My guys have worked their butts off all year, and we're not going to slow down for anyone. We've all worked hard to be in this position, and I'm going to do my best for them, just like they do their best for me.
"I've heard people say we're the car to beat for the championship, and I'm honored to hear that. But nothing is given in Pro Stock. You have to earn everything you get, and that's what we plan on doing."
Enders started Sunday by beating No. 16 qualifier Johnson with a pass of 6.557 seconds at 210.41 mph. She then took out Brogdon with a run of 6.559 seconds at 210.10 mph to advance to the semifinals.
There, she beat Gaines with an ET and speed identical to her run against Johnson. That put her against Connolly, who knew he had an uphill battle.
"She drives incredibly consistent," Connolly said. "She's hard to rattle, and didn't rattle in the final. She was .026 and had out-run us four-hundredths every round. Do the math. That should've been enough, for sure."
Source: KLR Group