The National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) will crown its Camping World Drag Racing Series champions at this weekend’s Auto Club Finals at Pomona, California, but before it can do so, battles will be waged on the racetrack from the very first session of qualifying to the close of raceday to garner the last few available points in an effort to secure a first, a second, or perhaps even a fifth, series title.
The Finals, like the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, awards points-and-a-half (the only event in the Countdown to the Championship to do so), thus affording 150 points for a race victory, versus the standard 100. Likewise, where rounds are traditionally worth 20 points apiece, Pomona is 30; additionally, one extra point is offered per position in each session of qualifying for the quickest four, and each final qualifying position is worth two additional points. With three qualifying sessions on tap, a driver could accumulate as many as 22 points before raceday.
So how does this all break down by class? Let’s take a look.
Steve Torrence enters the Finals with a commanding but not insurmountable lead in his quest for a fourth straight championship. Brittany Force, who it is worth noting does not have a team car in the class this season to help block for her, trails Torrence by 105 points. Given she and crew chief David Grubnic’s penchant for monster (no pun intended) laps in qualifying, it’s a strong possibility she could gain a few points here and there before Sunday. With a semifinal appearance worth 90 points and a runner-up 120, Force remains within reach should Torrence and company make a mistake in the opening round.
Mike Salinas trails by 172 points and is only alive mathematically, but would need Torrence and Force to accumulate virtually no points.
With a shocking early exit by teammate Matt Hagan in Las Vegas, Ron Capps put himself in the catbird seat for a second world title by advancing to the final round, giving himself a 58-point edge over Hagan, and 83 over surprise contender Cruz Pedregon. For Hagan, he simply would need to keep pace with Capps in qualifying and go two rounds further on raceday; for Pedregon, some extra qualifying points and advancing a couple of rounds further than his foes would get him within striking distance of the title.
J.R. Todd, John Force, Bob Tasca, and Robert Hight are still mathematically alive, but barring catastrophe by the top three, won be vying for the remaining two spots in the top five.
As Las Vegas proved — when Hagan, Force, and Todd all uncharacteristically lost in the first round — there are no sure-things in Funny Car, and despite a nearly two-round lead with only four rounds of racing left to contest, this is by no means a lock for Capps.
After the shenanigans we witnessed in Las Vegas — and at previous editions of the Auto
Club Finals — its anyone’s guess how this championship fight will go down.
Greg Anderson, after his round-one exit in Las Vegas and subsequent final round appearance by rival Erica Enders, has a scant 32-point lead over Enders as he vies for a fifth career championship. The math on this one is simple: if Enders can gain a couple of qualifying points over Anderson and go one round further on raceday, she can claim the title. Dallas Glenn, too, is not out of the race at 109 points back, but no doubt KB Racing will be concentrating all of its efforts on getting Anderson to victory lane so Enders has no chance to overcome his lead.
Nevermind the two heated rivals involved, this contest takes on an added layer of drama given the strong potential for qualifying strategies and team orders by both squads, and so in the end, the driver who can best rise to the occasion and defeat all-comers no matter the scenario will claim the #1.
Pro Stock Motorcycle
The two-wheeled title fight is shaping up to be the most intense of the four, with the top three riders all within one elimination round of one another. Matt Smith enters the finale with a lead of 20 and 30 points over Steve Johnson and Angelle Sampey, respectively. Johnson could theoretically make up the difference in qualifying points alone, but given the strength of Smith’s bike and others in the class, that’s unlikely. However, he needs only to keep pace in qualifying and turn on one more win-light than Smith to earn his long-awaited (and what would certainly be popular) first world title.
Sampey’s math is also simple: if she can gain a single qualifying point on Smith and go a round further than both he and Johnson, she can complete her triumphant return to the sport’s top step.