Three Down, Three to Go for NHRA Countdown to the Championship

Three Down, Three to Go for NHRA Countdown to the Championship

As teams encamp at zMAX Dragway for the NHRA Carolina Nationals, drying out after battling the dregs of Hurricane Michael, it’s time to look at who’s hot and who’s not.

Steve Torrence has eight wins in Top Fuel, but he’s been known to belly-flop in the past – 2017 being a prime example – and Clay Millican is just three points in arrears with plenty of racing left to run. Tony Schumacher, despite winning only once, has gone sufficient rounds to place third and only lags by 65 points.

Three Down, Three to Go for NHRA Countdown to the Championship

Newly-crowned Factory Stock Showdown champ Leah Pritchett has fourth-place points, but needs better qualifying and eliminations results to reduce her 224-point deficit. Three-time champ Antron Brown is still working with new crew chiefs as he pursues a fourth title; he’s 23 points behind Don Schumacher Racing teammate Pritchett.

While sixth-through-tenth places look to be out of the race for top honors, there’s plenty of movement that can occur over these last three contests that could change the final standings. Terry McMillen, Doug Kalitta, Mike Salinas, Brittany Force and Scott Palmer will all be looking to move up, either here, in Las Vegas in a couple of weeks or mid-November at Pomona.

Three Down, Three to Go for NHRA Countdown to the Championship

There are 18 dragsters on this weekend’s entry list, so we can look toward Richie Crampton, Dom Laguna, Pat Dakin, ageless Chris Karamesines, Kyle Wurtzel, Terry Totten, Lex Joon or Andrey Worm to create difficulties for the 10 Countdown drivers.

Eighteen Funny Car entrants will be gunning for John Force Racing’s Robert Hight, whose Chevrolet Camaro SS has moved ahead of Kalitta Motorsports’ J.R. Todd’s Toyota Camry with two victories in three Countdown races. Hight has 50 points on Todd, 133 on veteran standout Tim Wilkerson’s Ford Shelby Mustang and 136 on Don Schumacher Racing’s Tommy Johnson Jr., driving a Dodge Charger R/T. Showing that consistency counts, neither Wilkerson nor Johnson Jr has lifted a Wally trophy – yet – this year.

Three Down, Three to Go for NHRA Countdown to the Championship

Courtney Force, who entered the Countdown as No. 1 seed, has fallen all the way to fifth place despite her four wins on the season, which ties her with Hight and Todd. 2016 champ Ron Capps hit a fallow spot and is in sixth place, followed by his DSR teammates Matt Hagan and Jack Beckman. Still looking for win No. 150, John Force holds ninth place in points, while Shawn Langdon rounds out the top 10.

The “spoilers” in this class include Cruz Pedregon (Toyota Camry), Bob Tasca III (Ford Mustang), Terry Haddock and Dave Richards in Mustangs, local Bob Gilbertson and Dale Creasy Jr., all of whom would just love to shake up the flopper regulars with a win this weekend.

It’s a darn shame when only 14 Pro Stock cars show up for a big race like the NHRA Carolina Nationals, but that’s what we can expect this weekend. The four “outliers” in the factory hot rod class are Australian Shane Tucker, sole Dodge Dart driver Alan Prusiensky, Baron Stroupe and Mexican racer Fernando Cuadra, who intends to finish the season and come back for more in 2019, using Summit Racing equipment.

Tanner Gray has racked up a total of seven Wally trophies in his sophomore year, and will be heading to NASCAR in 2019. He has a surmountable 89-point lead over Vincent Nobile (3 wins); a surging Jeg Coughlin Jr. (3) is just one point behind Nobile, while Gray’s teammate Drew Skillman, without a win this year, holds fourth-place points and a lag of 134 points.

Three Down, Three to Go for NHRA Countdown to the Championship

Despite a single victory in 2018, Greg Anderson is fifth and just nine points behind Skillman; Erica Enders (1 win) is 15 points behind Anderson, whose teammate Jason Line holds 2,175 points, leaving him 234 points behind Gray and hoping for some kind of “Hail Mary” pass on the weekend. Last year’s champ, Bo Butner (1 win) is eighth, Deric Kramer (2) holds ninth-place points and double winner Chris McGaha is tenth. Consistency in this class truly is king.

Pro Stock Motorcycle has a huge, 23-motorcycle entry for this weekend’s contest, 22 of them chasing leader and WAR Racing Suzuki rider LE Tonglet, last weekend’s winner for his fourth Wally trophy of the year and the holder of 2356 points. Eddie Krawiec, who also has four wins this year on his Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson Screamin’ Eagle, is 47 points back, while double race-winner Matt Smith is just a single point behind Krawiec, riding a Victory motorcycle.

Hector Arana Jr., on an EBR Buell campaigned by his family, became the first NHRA PSM rider to eclipse the 200-mph mark at the season opener this March; by virtue of two wins and plenty of “little” points he’s in fourth place, needing another 103 points, while Tonglet’s team owner Jerry Savoie is in fifth place with 2247 points.

Although he hasn’t won a race yet this year, Andrew Hines has quietly ridden his H-D to sixth place (2233 points), followed by Suzuki rider Steve Johnson, Angie Smith (Buell), three-time class champion Angelle Sampey (Victory)and Scotty Pollacheck on a Suzuki. None of the bottom half of this Countdown field has visited NHRA’s winner’s circle in 2018, but they’ve all been consistent enough to make it to the Countdown. The lag from first to tenth is a surmountable 231 points, which can allow plenty of movement in these final three races.

Three Down, Three to Go for NHRA Countdown to the Championship

Among those looking to make their marks this weekend from outside the top 10 are series regulars Jim Underdahl (Suzuki), Hector Arana (Buell), Karen Stoffer (Suzuki) and Joey Gladstone (Victory). Part-timers Ronald Tornow and John Hall (Buell), Kelly Clontz on a Suzuki, Ryan Oehler and Mark Paquette, both riding Buell motorcycles, Maurice Allen (Suzuki), Anthony Vanetti (Suzuki) and veteran/spoiler Chip Ellis on the third Harley-Davidson.

With nasty Hurricane Michael moving out to sea, it looks like a good racing weekend for the NHRA crowd, with temps in the high 60s and low-mid 70s over the weekend. Not much wind is forecast and there’s only a 20% chance of rain on Sunday. Looks like proper weather for good speeds and ETs on a well-prepared zMAX Dragway dragstrip.

About Anne Proffit 203 Articles
Anne Proffit traces her love of racing - in particular drag racing - to her childhood days in Philadelphia, where Atco Dragway, Englishtown and Maple Grove Raceway were destinations just made for her. As a diversion, she was the first editor of IMSA’s Arrow newsletter, and now writes about and photographs sports cars, Indy cars, Formula 1, MotoGP, NASCAR, Formula Drift, Red Bull Global Rallycross - in addition to her first love of NHRA drag racing. A specialty is a particular admiration for the people that build and tune drag racing engines.

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