If you know me, you know I’m a big fan of Joe Amato. It doesn’t matter his last win came 17 years ago, nor does it matter his most famous win came a year before I was born. That’s his 1990 victory at the Winston Finals in Pomona against Gary Ormsby, where “Joe Cool” beat Ormsby, ran low e.t. of raceday, and won the world championship in one fell swoop.
That killer moment is what all other finals attempt to live up to. It's tough, but race 24 of the 2017 season at the very least will try to give that 1990 classic a run for its money. While the Pro Stock Motorcycle title is all but decided, the other three professional classes remain tightly contested as we head to the final race of the season. It’s not quite the dead heat experienced in the 1990 season (both Amato and Ormsby had won 43 rounds through 17 races), but here’s how tight things are between the No. 1 and 2 seeds in each class.
First, Top Fuel: Steve Torrence holds a 20-point lead on Brittany Force. A round win is worth 30 points at the Auto Club Finals, so Force will pass Torrence if she can go one round deeper on Sunday, or if she out qualifies him on Friday and Saturday. Unlike in 1990, there are no bonus points awarded for low e.t., but there are points awarded for the quick run of each session, and they’re worth more in Pomona than they were anywhere else this season (except Indy).
Force can grab four points a session (there are the usual four sessions in Pomona), meaning she can make up a maximum of 16 points on Torrence during that portion of qualifying. She can make up an additional seven points if she qualifies No. 1 and Steve-O qualifies No. 16 (the same margin as any other race). That’s operating in the realm of possible, not likely, but Force could take over the points lead before raceday.
Doug Kalitta is still in the hunt, too, at 85 points back. Losing to Force in the second round in Las Vegas hurt his chances badly, but if Force and Torrence lose early on Sunday, he can get right back in it. The veteran Top Fuel driver was the victim of terrible luck early in the season, and we don’t have to talk about “The Run” in this column. Maybe this is finally the year a storybook ending is written where Kalitta gets to be the star.
In Funny Car, defending champion Ron Capps sits just 15 points behind Robert Hight. That is set up to be a tough battle between two teams with a little bit of bad blood after Hight took over the points lead by beating John Force at the NHRA Toyota Nationals. You’ve already heard all the talk, and I don’t need to add anything to it.
Here’s what matters: The driver (and crew) that performs better in Pomona gets to go home with a Funny Car championship. As for other potential contenders: It’s going to be tough, even for Las Vegas runner up Courtney Force, to be a factor. She is currently 125 points out, and it’ll take both Capps and Hight having terrible weekends for her to be in the mix.
The battle for the Pro Stock crown may rest in the hands of Greg Anderson, but he’s pursued by teammates Jason Line and Bo Butner. The defending champion, Line, sits 76 points behind Anderson, while Butner is 40 points back after falling to Anderson in Las Vegas. That makes this championship Anderson’s to lose – that's a lot of pressure for the veteran who is looking for his first title since 2010.
The tightness of the race makes qualifying especially important for Anderson, who can keep the gap between him and his teammates at multiple rounds if they don’t snag too many of those “little points.” All three Ken Black Racing drivers have done a masterful job of collecting qualifying bonus points during the Countdown. Line (27) leads the way, while Butner (24), and Anderson (24) round out the top three.
If that trend continues in Pomona, it’ll all come down to Sunday. That suits Anderson just fine. No one (other than Eddie Krawiec) has accrued more points in the Countdown to the Championship than the Pro Stock veteran through five races (527). That’s on the back of 16 round wins, an average of 3.2 a race. If he reaches yet another final in Pomona, this championship is likely locked up.
For the sake of inclusion, here’s what needs to happen for the not-mathematically-eliminated LE Tonglet to pull off a miracle in Pomona. First, Krawiec can’t qualify. As soon as he makes the field, it’s over. If Krawiec does not qualify for the first time since the 2007 Atlanta event, that leaves a potential 191 points on the table and 166 to make up, assuming Krawiec makes one qualifying pass and earns 15 points.
From there, Tonglet “only” needs 151 to pass the Harley-Davidson rider after he gets his 15 points for his own qualifying pass. This is where those little qualifying points come into play. If Tonglet earns at least seven qualifying bonus points and ends up as the No. 1 qualifier, he can win the championship as the winner or the runner-up of the Auto Club Finals.
The too long, didn’t read version: Krawiec can’t qualify for the first time in a decade, Tonglet must absolutely nail qualifying, and reach the final. Got it? How about your tickets? Good. See you in Pomona.