WHAT TO EXPECT IN THIS WEEKEND'S NHRA CHAMPIONSHIP BATTLES
The racers in contention for the four NHRA pro crowns ought to have a massive dose of them as the 2019 campaign comes to a close this weekend in Pomona, Calif. None of the four divisions is as yet decided, which adds an extra level of excitement at the Fairplex speedway.
That said, disaster would have to strike Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) for them not to end the weekend atop their categories.
Robert Hight still has a good day’s work to do to fend off the challengers for the Funny Car gold. The tightest race is in Top Fuel, where Steve Torrence leads Brittany Force by a mere 16 points despite having enjoyed a nine-win season to date.
The pressure to capture a championship is ratcheted up even further at the Auto Club NHRA Finals. Just like the U.S. Nationals, the Finals is a race that offers at 1.5 times their usual distribution. At all but those two events, the maximum points a racer can earn is 130. At Indy and the Finals, that number is 191, meaning that every qualifying session could prove decisive, and every round of eliminations will be pressure-packed.
Let’s break down who stands where entering the weekend.
Torrence swept the six Countdown to the Championship events last season to capture Top Fuel in a runaway. This year, he went on a five-race streak in the spring and early summer then enjoyed another run at Norwalk, Epping, and Denver. Then the overwhelming lead was wiped out with the Countdown reset.
But the Texas superstar has been to the Winner’s Circle only once in the Countdown (Charlotte), and Force’s victory at Las Vegas has pulled her to within 16 of the lead. That’s virtually a non-existent gap between them, given that each round of eliminations will be worth 30 points instead of the usual 20.
And that’s not the only driver who should concern Torrence. Doug Kalitta, who won Pomona to kick off the season and later added the U.S. Nationals, is only 55 off the pace. Torrence’s dad, Billy, a four-time winner, is still in contention at -86. Leah Pritchett is 135 off the pace. Austin Prock and Mike Salinas, who have combined for three non-Countdown wins, each has a distant shot at walking off with the title.
In all, the eight winners of Top Fuel events this season are are still mathematically in contention.
Robert Hight began the season with a Pomona win, then added Gainesville, Houston, Topeka, Sonoma and the second Charlotte race. Great season, right?
Yet Hight hasn’t been able to pull away from the field, as Jack Beckman, whose only victory came at Reading to kick off the Countdown, is just 46 points behind. Matt Hagan, Beckman’s Don Schumacher Racing teammate, is back in the title hunt on the strength of wins at the past two events, Dallas and Las Vegas.
Sixteen-time Funny Car kingpin John Force trails Hight by 72 points but has yet to score a Countdown victory. Bob Tasca III, like Force has yet to win in the Countdown, is 104 off the leader’s pace. Three-time ‘19 winner and former champ Ron Capps is sixth, but he trails Hight by 160 points.
Other winners this season are Shawn Langdon, Tommy Johnson Jr., and J.R. Todd.
Bo Butner has the most wins this season, four, and is still in contention. Also still in the picture are Greg Anderson, Deric Kramer, Jason Line, and Jeg Coughlin Jr.
But they all face an uphill battle when it comes to catching points leader Erica Enders, whose two victories in 2019 have come in the past four contests.
That’s pretty much perfect timing for a championship charge as Enders seeks to add another trophy to her 2014-15 titles. She’s got the equivalent of a three-round lead over Coughlin, her teammate, and five-time Pro Stock titlist. Butner is 133 behind, Line 116 and Matt Hartford 118. Anderson and Kramer, the winners of five events combined, are long shots to overhaul the rest of the contenders.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
Andrew Hines is solidly in charge in his bid for a sixth bike crown. He should be, given that he’s won eight of the 15 events to date for the two-wheel class and is up by 115 over the second-place rider.
The star of the Countdown is that second-place pilot and is 2016 champion Jerry Savoie, who entered the playoffs with the momentum of an Indy win and added titles at Reading and Dallas. Four-time champ Eddie Krawiec hasn’t won this season, yet is in contention and 116 points behind Hines. Las Vegas winner and former champ Matt Smith enters Pomona coming off a Vegas win and trails by 117, while St. Louis victor Karen Stoffer is 124 in the hole.
It's another episode of Fix Flip Fuel, the new reality/documentary featuring life on and off the track for rookie Top Fuel driver @TheJustinAshley , who runs a successful fix & flip business on New York's Long Island. #DragRacingNews #FixFlipFuel #nhra - https://t.co/pVHz50Hx3P— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) November 13, 2019