Back in February, just days ahead of the O’Reilly Auto Parts Winternationals in Pomona, Dragzine laid out its picks for the NHRA Full Throttle championships, and call them calculate selections, call them hunches, or just outright guesses, but we picked ’em and we were prepared to stand by ’em. Our choices included Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Mike Neff (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock), Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle), and Danny Rowe (Pro Modified). So, with a thrilling 2012 season now officially in the books, how’d we do?
Our pick: Antron Brown
Like Brown himself, this one had us on pins and needles right down to the last 3 1/4 seconds of the season. Okay, so maybe the tension wasn’t quite as thick as it was for the driver of the Matco Tools dragster, but the outcome of the final round between Tony Schumacher and Brandon Bernstein would ultimately decide if we went oh-fer on our selections or put one in the win column out five.
Over the course of the season, Brown and teammates Spencer Massey and Schumacher battled back and forth at the head of the Top Fuel class, leaving little doubt this one was going to come down to the wire in Pomona. Brown, a former Pro Stock Motorcycle ace, won six races in 2012, went to 11 final rounds, qualified No. 1 three times, set the national record at an incredible 3.70-seconds, and amassed an impressive 49-17 round record. Two of those 17 losses came at the season’s final two races, and although he’d built up a healthy lead in the standings, an unfortunate incident in round one at Pomona opposite of Massey led to the championship being decided by a mere .0081 seconds in the final round.
Our pick: Mike Neff
The former tuner-turned-driver in the John Force Racing empire led the points standings for two races early in the season and never dropped lower than fifth. Neff began the Countdown fourth and jumped to second with a final round showing in Charlotte before dropping a spot to third with a second round loss to Tony Pedregon in St. Louis. The driver of the Castol GTX Ford Mustang won in Reading, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the the consistent performances by Jack Beckman and Ron Capps. In all, Neff tallied four race wins in seven final round appearances, failed to qualify once (Atlanta), and finished with a 36-18 round record. In the final standings, Neff trailed second place Ron Capps by 113 points.
Our pick: Greg Anderson
Of our five picks, it was certainly not the four-time Pro Stock champion that we expected to finish tied for the worst finish in the standings. The driver of the Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro opened the season in Pomona with a victory over Jeg Coughlin Jr. and, thanks to wins in Atlanta and Englishtown, didn’t relinquish the top spot in the standings until the Denver race in July. during that period, he also reached the final round in Phoenix, Gainesville, Topeka, and Chicago (where he lost to first-time winner Erica Enders). Anderson left Indianapolis third and in prime position for another title run in the Countdown to the Championship, but first round losses at Charlotte and Las Vegas and only a round win apiece at each of the other four Countdown races doomed Anderson, relegating him to a fifth-place finish, 391 points back from champion Allen Johnson.
Hines, a three-time champion of the two-wheeled category, entered the season hungry for hardware after putting together exceptional seasons year in and year out but remaining title-less since 2006. Little did anyone know at the season opener in Gainesville just how the season would go, but it stands to reason that in any other season in recent memory, Hines would have easily grabbed a fourth title. It just so happened his teammate and the reigning class champion stood in the way.
Hines and Eddie Krawiec won all but one of 16 races on the Pro Stock Motorcycle schedule, and Hines took six of those. He reached 11 final rounds, qualified No. 1 four times, went 46-10 on the season, and advanced to at least the quarterfinals at every race. In the final tally, Hines concluded the season 82 points back of Krawiec, who amassed an incredible nine wins and a 50-7 win/loss record.
Our pick: Danny Rowe
Rowe, the championship runner-up a season earlier, began the year with high hopes for another run at the title, and despite a second round loss to Leah Pruett and her turbo entry at the season opener in Gainesville, things were still bright for the California native. Rowe went a round further at the next race in Charlotte and then one round further in Houston, scoring a win over Kenny Lang in the final. He followed that with another victory in Englishtown over eventual champion Troy Coughlin. Unfortunate first round losses at Bristol and Norwalk and a missed event at Indianapolis due to a rescheduling set back his title hopes, and although the driver of the Sterling Bridge ’68 Camaro put together solid outings at Dallas, St. Louis, and Las Vegas to close the year, he ultimately finished fifth in the standings, 49 back of Coughlin.
At one for five, we batted right at .200 and kept ourselves on the Mendoza line (baseball fans will know what we’re talking about here). In truth, despite just 20 or so challengers per class, picking the champion in any category is as difficult as predicting the weather 10 months out. The NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship format creates exciting drama in the final six races, and as has been proved many times, anything can and will happen in that short playoff span.
Who were your picks at the beginning of the year? How did your favorite drivers finish?