THE STATS DON'T LIE, OR DO THEY?
Neither NHRA Top Fuel points leader Steve Torrence nor closest rival Doug Kalitta probably should put a lot of stock into the class’ statistics for the Countdown to the Championship. After all, the saying is that “People use statistics like a drunk uses a lamppost – more for support than illumination.” Just the same, the numbers tell a thought-provoking story.
In the previous 11 Countdowns, seven of the “regular-season winners” have finished as the champion.
That’s an encouraging thought for Torrence, who stumbled to third place after the Countdown opener at Reading, Pa. He lost to his own father, Billy Torrence, in the final round at St. Louis but defeated Kalitta at Charlotte to regain the lead.
That 7-in-11 statistic is not an especially reassuring one for Kalitta. Surely when he left Indianapolis, he figured his toughest task would be to stop Torrence, winner of all six Countdown events last season and impressive winner of nine races in 13 final rounds this year. Kalitta also has the unpleasant distinction as the driver to fall the farthest from his No. 1 seeding to the final standings. In 2014, he entered the Countdown as the top driver and finished the season as No. 5. But he has four second-place finishes in final standings, proving he knows how to put up a noble fight. Ditto for Tony Pedregon in Funny Car before he won two titles.
Several active drag-racing champions representing a combined 46 crowns have finished No. 2 on multiple occasions: Greg Anderson (Pro Stock, six times), Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) five times, Ron Capps (Funny Car) and Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle) four times, and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) and Jason Line (Pro Stock) three times. Jeg Coughlin (Pro Stock) and Funny Car’s Jack Beckman, John Force, Matt Hagan, and Robert Hight all have finished as No. 2 twice.
Consider that in Top Fuel, the class’ two most successful drivers – eight-time champion Tony Schumacher and three-timer Larry Dixon – were No. 2 several times: Schumacher on five occasions and Dixon four times.
So which statistical narrative will Kalitta or Torrence follow? Maybe neither will fall into either category.
The one noticeable statistic in this year’s Countdown is that in the first two playoff races, the Top Fuel winners were the Nos. 9- and 10-ranked drivers: Richie Crampton at Reading and Billy Torrence at St. Louis. In Funny Car, the winners were No. 4 Jack Beckman, who hadn’t won a race all season, and No. 10 Shawn Langdon.
Billy Torrence could become the first to win the Top Fuel championship and not attend all the races. He skipped eight of the first 18. But he won two of the 10 “regular-season” races he entered and was runner-up at two more. So that’s a whole new statistical category that could factor into future Countdowns.
Brittany Force, the current No. 3 ranked driver and Friday’s provisional No. 1 qualifier here, won her 2017 Top Fuel championship from the No. 6 position at the start of the chase. That’s the farthest back any driver in her category has come to win a title in the Countdown era.
In the other three pro classes, the numbers are all over the map. Only John Force and Ron Capps have won Funny Car championships as the No. 1 seed, and Matt Hagan has come from as far down the list as six (2011) and seventh (2014) to score titles.
In Pro Stock, five times in 11 years has the top-ranked racer become the champion – but the top driver from the “regular season” has earned the championship in each of the past four years.
The prospects are dimmer statistically for Pro Stock Motorcycle racers. Only three times has the top seed claimed the title (Krawiec twice, in 2011-12, and Hines in 2014).
NHRA Pro Stock owner-driver Alan Prusiensky, who’s recovering from a violent, back-breaking qualifying crash Oct. 11 at Charlotte, isn’t sure if he’ll be able to meet his latest goal. He wants to race in November at Pomona, Calif. - #DragRacingNews #nhra https://t.co/5kXtS8Iujl pic.twitter.com/JL01ZyrYWx— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) October 23, 2019