With 23 NHRA Mello Mello Drag Racing Series events now in the books, the stage is set for the epic conclusion to the Countdown to the Championship at the Auto Club Finals at Pomona, California. With points-and-a-half on the table, the number of competitors still alive mathematically outnumbers those who are not, creating high drama right up until the sun sets on raceday.
While a standard national event awards a maximum of 130 points (including eliminations, qualifying position bonuses, individual qualifying session bonuses, and show-up points), the U.S. Nationals and the Auto Club Finals make available 191 points in all — 30 points per round in eliminations, a total of 16 points for the low qualifier in each session, 10 points for the No. 1 qualifier, and 15 show-up points. Thusly, each and every session of qualifying will be paramount to racers’ championship hopes, delivering just the kind of climax the NHRA intended when increasing the points opportunities at the season finale. For those in Top Fuel and Funny Car, in particular, an early-round exit could spell disaster for their championship hopes, with less than two rounds separating the leaders from their nearest challengers.
In Top Fuel, reigning world champion Steve Torrence leads 2017 series champion Brittany Force by just 16 points, or just over half a round of racing on Sunday. Doug Kalitta is 55 points out, Billy Torrence 86, and Leah Pritchett 135. Both Austin Prock and Mike Salinas. Nos. 6 and 7, are still within range mathematically, with only Antron Brown, Richie Crampton, and Clay Millican eliminated.
Robert Hight is vying for his third Funny Car title, but has a pair of Don Schumacher Racing drivers nipping at this heels, thanks in part to back-to-back victories by Matt Hagan at Dallas and Las Vegas. Jack Beckman, with just one win on the season, at Maple Grove, sits 46 points back of Hight, while the resurgent Hagan is back 56, John Force 72, and Bob Tasca 104. Only those five and No. 6 Ron Capps remain in contention, as reigning series champion J.R. Todd, Tommy Johnson, Jr., Shawn Langdon, and Tim Wilkerson will all be racing for personal pride and their teammates at Pomona.
In Pro Stock, a red-hot Erica Enders, who has won two races thus far in the Countdown — including the most recent event in Las Vegas — has a sizable edge over teammate and second-in-points Jeg Coughlin: 92. Bo Butner is 113 back of Enders, Jason Line 116, and Matt Hartford 118. Greg Anderson and Deric Kramer are both within range, would need to move heaven and earth to claim the crown.
Andrew Hines possesses the largest lead of the four professional categories, 115 points ahead of second-place Jerry Savoie in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Eddie Krawiec is 116 behind, while Matt Smith and Karen Stoffer trail by 117 and 124, respectively. The remaining competitors in the two-wheeled category have been eliminated.