It all comes down to the Big Go. One of the wildest Funny Car regular seasons since the Countdown to the Championship came into being wraps up at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals with everything on the line. Ron Capps remains the favorite to take pole position entering the Countdown, but the real intrigue exists at the bottom of the table, where Alexis DeJoria holds a tenuous lead on 10th place.
The top seven spots are spoken for, but drivers from eighth all the way to 14th are still in the mix for a playoff spot. Drivers in the top 10 will race for a chance at a title in the Countdown for the Championship, and the U.S. Nationals’ unique point structure gives racers a chance to earn a maximum of 195 points.
Starting with Tim Wilkerson, I’ll go through each of the seven drivers still in contention for a playoff spot and what they need to do to clinch. For some, it’s as simple as qualifying. For others, it’s going to take a lot more work. Let’s take it from the top.
Wilkerson leads Cruz Pedregon, who sits in 11th place, by 140 points. At this point, all the Funny Car veteran needs to do is qualify for the Big Go to get into the Countdown. There are currently 18 cars entered in the U.S. Nationals, but Wilkerson seems a safe bet to make the field. Even if Pedregon maxes out on points (a big ask), it won’t leave enough available for DeJoria and J.R. Todd to force Wilkerson out of the top 10.
The Kalitta Motorsports driver is in a similar position to Wilkerson thanks to his race win in Sonoma. He can be passed by any of the drivers still in the hunt, but if he qualifies (very likely) the odds of a second driver passing him are low. He’ll earn 45 points even if he loses in the first round (15 points for a qualifying lap + 30 points for a first round loss), which makes him a safe bet to get into the Countdown.
Spoiler alert: She's not going to need to get to 867 points. DeJoria holds a 12-point lead over Pedregon, but that could evaporate before eliminations on Monday depending on what happens during qualifying. Here's the good news: The former Indy winner controls her own destiny thanks to her win in Brainerd. If DeJoria enters Monday with the points lead, she just needs to stay on pace with Pedregon to make the dance. One more thing to keep an eye on, given how tight the points are: Her next oil down penalty will be worth 10 points.
A round win is worth 30 points at the U.S. Nationals, so all Pedregon needs to do is go one round more than DeJoria to get into the Countdown. That is, assuming the contenders behind him don’t do even more damage. He can make up the 12-point deficit in the five qualifying sessions via the 20 qualifying bonus points available (a maximum of four per session), but since he’s earned just five all year, it’s likely it's going to come down to Monday. Here's the bottom line: Pedregon likely needs to go a round deeper than DeJoria while none of the racers behind him go more than a round further.
Jim Campbell certainly enters this race as an underdog, but that's hardly breaking news. He’s reached the semifinals twice this season, including as recently as the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals in Denver. That's all without making a run quicker than 4 seconds this season. If he does that again here, while DeJoria and Pedregon lose in the first round, he’ll get into the Countdown.
Competing in only 13 out of the first 17 races of the season have hurt Jonnie Lindberg’s chances of making the Countdown, but that's the past. With one race to focus on, this would be an excellent time to find the form that helped him get to back-to-back final rounds in his first two races. The 3.90s that got the job done early in the season haven’t been good enough as of late, but Lindberg badly needs a run to the semi’s or better for a legitimate shot at a Countdown spot.
Del Worsham will need a deep run on Monday to get into the Countdown again. He has just one round win in his last eight races, and hasn’t made a three-second pass since May. For Worsham to hop into a Countdown spot, he’ll have to find a little bit of magic at the Big Go. For starters, he’ll need to at least reach the semifinals for the first time this season.