One world championship down, three to go in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Steve Torrence locked up his second championship, and first in Top Fuel, since the last time I checked in with you. That means we still have three titles to pass around in Funny Car, Pro Stock, and Pro Stock Motorcycle. One (Pro Stock) appears mostly academic: The other two? Not so much.
Let’s start with the simplest.
Tanner Gray leads Jeg Coughlin Jr. by 140 points — 10 more than he led Coughlin by at the NHRA Toyota Nationals in Las Vegas. That bodes well for Gray, who only needs to lead Coughlin by 120 points on Sunday to become the youngest Professional champion in NHRA history. He can do that by earning six qualifying points, whether that be through the six he’d gain by qualifying fifth or sixth or the three he’d gain by qualifying 13th-16th combined with three bonus points over the course of the weekend.
TL;DR: If Coughlin doesn’t pick up 19 points on Gray during qualifying (and Gray qualifies for the race), the 19-year-old racer will become the champion on Saturday night. Gray holds the second tiebreaker (most round-wins during the Countdown to the Championship), so it’s irrelevant that Coughlin could bring their head-to-head matchups to a tie on race day if the two became tied on points.
One of the best matchups of the weekend effectively comes down to two racers, though not mathematically. Let’s start with the math. Tim Wilkerson and Ron Capps will be eliminated if J.R. Todd qualifies for the Auto Club NHRA Finals — period. That doesn’t mean all hope is lost, of course.
As long as Robert Hight limping into the field at the finals in 2017 remains fresh in the mind of fans and teams alike, you can bet Wilk and Capps will show up to do a job this weekend. With that said, Todd knows he holds all the cards at the table. So, let’s break down what the driver of the DHL Toyota Camry needs to do to hold off Hight to win his first-ever NHRA championship.
First: Todd owns the second tiebreaker the same way Gray does. He enters Pomona with 16 round-wins during the postseason (Hight boasts 11, therefore he cannot pass Todd), making their potential tie in head-to-head matchups a moot point. That’s relevant because Todd leads Hight by 76 points, and if the Yella Fellas can extend that lead by 14 points (not statistically likely, but possible), it becomes a three-round lead. Turn that scenario on its head (Hight cuts the lead by 15 points) and the Auto Club racer needs to go two rounds further than Todd.
That’s a lot of points to make up during qualifying. A racer can earn 26 points during the first two days of a race weekend (16 bonus points and 10 by qualifying first) and will pick up at least three if they qualify in the bottom four spots of the field. That means the most points someone can pick up on an opponent is 23.
Hight averages 3.83 bonus points per race and a No. 6 qualifying spot (same in the Countdown), while Todd picks up 2.3 bonus points a contest and generally qualifies in the No. 7 position (No. 5 in the Countdown). It’s important to remember that what’s happened in the past doesn’t predict what will happen in the future, but if we use past performance as a guide map, Todd will enter race day up 71.
At that point, Todd only needs to win two rounds to become the Funny Car champion. For Hight to win back-to-back titles, Todd needs to lose in the first or second round and Hight must go three more rounds than the DHL Toyota Camry. That’s a tall task, but given what happened at the NHRA Toyota Nationals just two weeks ago, it’s certainly within the realm of possibility.
TL;DR: Todd can lock up his first championship as early as the semifinals if he does not lose more than 14 points to Hight during qualifying OR if Hight loses in the same round or earlier than Todd at any point during competition.
Hight can win back-to-back championships by picking up 15 more bonus points than Todd and then going two more rounds than Todd on Sunday.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
This is the juiciest of all the championship scenarios we’ve been treated with this season — and not just because of how close the battle at the top is. Only four points separate No. 1 rider Matt Smith and defending champion Eddie Krawiec and there are still six riders mathematically in the hunt for the title. How could this get better? Oh, I’m betting at least five are still in contention on race day. Strap in, baby.
Andrew Hines, who enters in sixth, will mostly ride as a blocker for teammate Krawiec. At 113 points out and only 120 points up for grabs on race day, it would take a miracle for him to get back into title contention — particularly because his Harley-Davidson Street Rod has run so darn poorly during the Countdown to the Championship.
The same is not true for Jerry Savoie (101 back), Hector Arana Jr. (62), and LE Tonglet (61). Savoie has not had a very consistent bike, but he’s capable of winning the Auto Club NHRA Finals and throwing a wrench into everyone else’s plans — including his teammate’s. That’s Tonglet, in case you’ve been neglecting one of the best classes NHRA has to offer. Let’s start with Savoie, since he has got the longest odds of the five bikes I feel have a realistic chance of hoisting the trophy.
Savoie needs to keep pace with everyone else during qualifying and then will need help on trophy day to stay in the hunt. Unless he picks up 11 points on Smith during qualifying (don’t count on it), Savoie must win the race to have a shot at his second world title and first since 2016. Frankly, that might suit everyone else chasing the trophy just fine — depending on who he beats. That would score him 150 total points and give him a 120-point pole vault up the ladder.
Will that be enough to get him to the top of the field? Only if Smith and Krawiec bow out in the first or second rounds of competition and perform poorly during qualifying. Stranger things have happened, but that’s what’s going to have to happen for Savoie to leap from the upside down and onto the stage with a big check at the end of the season.
The scenario for Arana and Tonglet is just about the same, so I’ll lump them together (I’m sure they appreciate that). With a round coming at 30 points apiece at the Auto Club NHRA Finals, the pair should have one goal in mind: eliminating the crooked numbers at the end of those “60s” during qualifying by any means necessary. That will be a lot easier for Arana than Tonglet, the former of whom shines during qualifying and the latter — well, he has got more of a race-day bike.
Both want to pick up two points for two different reasons. Arana only needs to get to a 60-point deficit on Smith because he holds the head-to-head tiebreaker against the fellow EBR rider, while Tonglet does not hold the same tiebreaker and wants to get the deficit under 60 points. The goal remains the same: pick up a couple of points so they “only” need to go two more rounds than the leader on race day. No problem!
Krawiec enters the final race of the season with a similar mindset: earn five more points than Smith, who he somehow has yet to race this season, to pull in front entering race day. Nobody boasts more bonus points than Krawiec (92, or 6.6 a race). He accumulates 2.6 more per race than Smith, which is a great place to start when chasing down your fifth Pro Stock Motorcycle championship. Once he has done that, he can just worry about matching his rival round for round.
Frankly, all Smith must do is qualify reasonably well and go rounds on Sunday. There’s no magic number — not with Krawiec nipping at his heels. If he goes out and gets all but four qualifying points and wins the race, he’ll be the champion. So, uh, go get ‘em buddy.
TL;DR: Smith becomes the champion if he goes the same number of rounds to Krawiec without losing four points off his lead during qualifying.
Krawiec wins his second straight championship if he picks up five more bonus points than Smith and then matches him round for round on race day. He’ll also have to go to at least the semi’s if Tonglet or Arana win the race.
Tonglet will win for the second time if he earns two more qualifying points than Smith and then goes two more rounds than Smith and Krawiec. He must also outgain Arana in this scenario.
Arana becomes a first-time champion if he earns two more bonus points than Smith and goes two more rounds than both the leader and Krawiec while also outgaining Tonglet on race day.
Savoie must win the race and do a lot of praying because all these dudes above him need to lose early — especially Smith and Krawiec.
Hines needs to pay his teammate and Smith to not show up this weekend. Let me know how that goes.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 12:45 p.m. and 3:15 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 9, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Nov. 10, at 12:00 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 11.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 800-644-4444. Tickets also are available online at www.NHRA.com/tickets. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. All students can save 50 percent on general admission at the gate with a student ID. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate.