With four races remaining in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series regular season, many teams will need to add a new tool to their arsenal of wrenches, widgets, and gadgets in their pit areas: a trusty calculator.
While each of the four Full Throttle Series classes have intriguing plots and subplots regarding who will and won’t qualify for the Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship, perhaps the most competitive top 10 battle will be in Funny Car.
As many as eight teams, from sixth all the way down to 13th in the points order, will be racing hard to grab one of the final spots in the playoff field in the final four races of the regular season.
Next up for those who are trying to break into the top 10 is the NHRA Sonoma Nationals, July 27-29 in Northern California, just north of San Francisco. Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock), and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are the defending winners of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event that will be televised on ESPN and ESPN2.
“We won’t give up on the Countdown until somebody tells me it’s impossible for us to get into the top 10,” proclaims reigning Funny Car champ Matt Hagan.
Sixth-place Courtney Force, who raced to her second final-round appearance of the season in Denver, sits only 128 points from 11th-place Tim Wilkerson in the series standings. Defending world champ Matt Hagan is 13th in his Aaron’s/Mopar Dodge Charger, 152 points back of 10th-place John Force.
There are a lot of scenarios that teams can work up on paper, but at the end of the day, it will all come down to performance on the track. For Hagan, his team needs a quick turnaround in that department if he’s going to be able to defend his world championship title. So far in 2012, he hasn’t advanced past the second round and has suffered eight first-round losses and one DNQ.
“We won’t give up on the Countdown until somebody tells me it’s impossible for us to get into the top 10,” Hagan said. “And even then, our Aaron’s team will never quit trying to get better and win. We have 10 more Full Throttle races left, and that means we have a shot at winning 10 trophies. That’s our goal. We don’t give up; we never will.”
"Our goal is to just keep winning rounds, and if we do that, we’ll jam our way into the top 10 no matter what anybody else does," says Tim Wilkerson.
Wilkerson, who posted a runner-up finish in Norwalk and surged ahead, knows that 70 points stand between him and 10th-place Force. With a great record of success at the four remaining races of the regular season – including multiple wins in Sonoma and Seattle – he knows that the time is now or never. Of his 30 final rounds, nine have been at those four races.
“We went from almost out of contention to right back in it, and we have four races left in the regular season to make the playoffs,” Wilkerson said. “I’d rather be the hunted instead of the hunter, though, so our goal is to just keep winning rounds, and if we do that, we’ll jam our way into the top 10 no matter what anybody else does. That’s the only way to think about it and approach it because right now, there are eight great teams legitimately fighting for the last five spots in the Countdown, and you can do the math. It’s going to be a very interesting stretch of racing here between now and Labor Day.”
As has been seen before in the Countdown with current series points leader Robert Hight in 2009 and Hagan last year, if a driver can qualify for the Countdown, a championship title is certainly within reach. Force hopes that he can hang on to have a shot at winning world championship title No. 16.
“We’re 10th in points,” Force said. “You gotta be in the top 10 [to make the Countdown]. At the end of the day, you know that if you make the Countdown, anything can happen.”
In Top Fuel, Bob Vandergriff Jr. is in the 10th spot, with Clay Millican 23 points behind in 11th. Terry McMillen is 115 points back in 12th, and rookie Khalid alBalooshi, who earned his first round-win in Denver, is 13th in the Al-Anabi Racing dragster, 117 out of 10th.
Rodger Brogdon is 10th in Pro Stock, but the Houston driver has decided to skip the Western Swing to test. He will surely drop out of the top 10 during that three-race span. A strong run at his home track in Denver pushed V. Gaines into 11th, eight points behind Brogdon. Four-time world champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. also is in the mix, sitting 12th in his JEGS.com/Mopar Dodge Avenger, 26 points out of the top 10. Lucas Oil Ford Mustang driver Larry Morgan is 13th, but only 27 points out of the playoff picture.
Veteran rider Steve Johnson is 11th in Pro Stock Motorcycle and trails 10th-place Shawn Gann by 36 points. The two-wheel teams only have three races until their Countdown field is set, so those crews have even less time to make a move. Rookie John Hall is 64 points out of the top 10, and Jerry Savoie, who qualified for the Countdown last season, is 13th, 82 points back of Gann.
* TICKETS: For tickets for the NHRA Sonoma Nationals, call Sonoma, 800-870-RACE (7223), or log on to www.racesonoma.com.
* ON TV: ESPNHD will televise two hours and 30 minutes of qualifying coverage at 7 p.m. ET on Saturday, July 28, and ESPN2HD will televise three hours of eliminations coverage at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday, July 29.
* LUCAS OIL SERIES: The NHRA Sonoma Nationals will feature competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where some of the future stars of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series are born. Lucas Oil Series qualifying begins at 8:15 a.m. on July 27; eliminations begin at 8:15 a.m. on July 28 and continue through July 29.