There are two events remaining in NHRA’s 2020 Camping World Drag Racing Series season. This weekend the tour encamps at Houston for the postponed Mopar Express Lane NHRA SpringNationals presented by Pennzoil. Next week marks the series finale, the Dodge NHRA Finals presented by Pennzoil on The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
All four championships are coming down to the wire in Sin City: Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle as title chases ebb and flow. With his victory last weekend at the CAPCO Contractors team’s home race outside Dallas, reigning two-time titleholder Steve Torrence holds the reins in the Top Fuel category over Doug Kalitta, holding a 764-713-point advantage. In Funny Car’s all-Don Schumacher Racing battle, Matt Hagan owns four points over Jack Beckman. Three-time and reigning Pro Stock champ Erica Enders used a semifinal result to leap Jason Line for a 696-665 advantage while Matt Smith, who uncharacteristically departed in the first round of Pro Stock Motorcycle, leads teammate Scotty Pollacheck by 50 points, 503-453.
That sets the stage for the penultimate NHRA round in Houston this weekend, where the entire drag racing community will take sufficient time to mourn the loss of Cruz Pedregon Racing’s co-crew chief Eric “Hopsing” Lane, who perished while on a side trip with the team earlier in the week. It’s a tragic loss for all, as Lane was beloved for his always-cheerful personality as much as his immense talents at the computer and mechanically wrenching on Pedregon’s Dodge Charger, which currently holds tenth-place points in the Funny Car standings.
While Lane’s death casts a pall in the pits, there’s so much at stake in Houston before next weekend’s finale half a country away. In truth, only Torrence, Kalitta and Don Schumacher Racing’s Leah Pruett have a chance for this year’s Top Fuel title. The 51 points between Torrence and Kalitta, together with Pruett’s 148-point lag, forces all three entities to have perfect weekends in order to earn the first Camping World dragster title in 2020.
Behind these three, there’s plenty of room for racers to move up or slide down, depending on who has their acts together and who gets lucky with the combination they bring to the water box. Billy Torrence, who lost to son Steve last Sunday, holds fourth place points and lags his kid by 166 points, while Shawn Langdon of Kalitta Motorsports is fifth (-273), Antron Brown holds sixth (-306), rookie Justin Ashley is seventh (-311), Terry McMillen is eighth (-328) but not on the entry list, while Clay Millican is ninth (-383) and Tony Schumacher rounds out the top 10, 470 points behind Steve Torrence. There are 15 Top Fuel cars on the entry list.
The Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car party continues unabated in Houston, the team having racked up its 12th straight victory in Dallas with Beckman (over Hagan) in his Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, the vehicle choice for all four DSR entries. Still, Beckman’s Dean Antonelli/John Medlen-led squad still have to overcome the four-point lead Hagan and his Dickie Venables team have earned with their last two final round appearances.
Tommy Johnson Jr., third in points and 77 behind Hagan, will be looking for victory at his sponsor’s home race. MD Anderson Cancer Center, through the generosity of Doug Chandler, has their name on Johnson’s car at no cost to the Center, and the driver is hoping to help gain even more notoriety for the hospital with a victory this weekend. He’ll have to answer to the fourth DSR Hellcat SRT driver, Ron Capps. The 2016 champ is still in the game despite lagging his teammate Hagan by 174 points. Both he and Johnson Jr. will need perfect weekends to put a dent in either Matt Hagan’s or Jack Beckman’s title aspirations.
Behind this quartet, Tim Wilkerson is 224 behind Hagan in his Ford Shelby Mustang, while fellow Ford Mustang racer Bob Tasca III holds 538 sixth-place points, also 224 behind Hagan.Kalitta Motorsports’ J.R. Todd is seventh in his Toyota Camry (-236), Alexis DeJoria’s Camry is eighth (-348), Paul Lee’s Camry holds ninth-place points (-411) with the saddened Pedregon team in tenth. There are 17 cars entered, including Bobby Bode III’s debut in a Ford Mustang. Dad’s not entered so we assume the son takes over his ride in Houston.
As expected, the standings in always-competitive Pro Stock are tight from first to tenth. While five-time Pro Stock champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. owned the start of the season, the soon-to-retire Ohioan hasn’t had the necessary good fortune to retain top billing in this mostly-Chevrolet Camaro class – there’s a single Dodge Dart and a smattering of Ford Mustangs. Erica Enders has taken control of Pro Stock as it heads to its next-to-last race of the year, holding 31 points over arch-rival and pending retiree Jason Line, both three-time champions. Coughlin is third, 93 points behind Enders and needing two perfect weekends to earn his sixth Pro Stock championship.
Last weekend’s winner in Dallas, Matt Hartford is happily throwing a wrench into the title fight in fourth place, 181 behind Enders, while Greg Anderson lies fifth, 208 points back. Alex Laughlin is sixth (-228), Chris McHaha is seventh (-314), Eric Kramer holds eighth place and is 325 points behind Enders, but hounded by Aaron Stanfield in ninth (-328) and Bo Butner, who is 331 points behind the current leader. Pro Stock has 20 cars on the grounds, all capable of taking one of 16 elimination slots, which should make the door-slammers as much fun as ever to watch. Pro Stock did not race at Houston in 2019, so there could be some massive swings in the standings here, depending on who’s on their game.
Pro Stock Motorcycle points leader Matt Smith had an uncharacteristic weekend in Dallas, exiting in the first round when the No. 1 qualifier was unable to get his EBR to fire. He’s still got a 49 point advantage on teammate Scotty Pollacheck and 59 on six-time and reigning titleholder Andrew Hines, leader of three Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson Screamin’ Eagle motorcycles. Hines’ teammates Angelle Sampey (-93) and Eddie Krawiec (-114) are next in the standings. Combined, this trio own 13 PSM titles.
Angie Smith (-194), who joined the 200mph club last weekend, Ryan Oehler (-200), both riding EBR motorcycles are next in the pecking order. Steve Johnson is 230 points behind Matt Smith and Jerry Savoie, who won last weekend, needs to make up 234 points, both riding Suzuki motorcycles. Hector Arana Jr. is tenth in the standings, he and his Buell are 249 points behind the leader. There are 16 entries this weekend in Houston, so no one will be left out of Sunday eliminations, no matter the challenges they might face.
As with all NHRA races – except the U.S. Nationals – held after the series’ Return to Racing, there will be only two qualifying efforts on Saturday and four rounds of eliminations come Sunday. Precipitation is expected on Friday that could affect Lucas Oil Sportsman competition, but currently the forecasts call for a scant 10 percent chance of rain on both Saturday and Sunday. Temps on Saturday will be more conducive to quick runs, expected in the mid-70s, with a 10-degree hike on Sunday that will help those who run better when it’s warm outside.