QUALIFYING ROUND RECAPS
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q3 (11:53 a.m.): Hector Arana Jr. showed out (heck, so did his dad) with a stout 6.845-second pass at 196.44 mph. The Lucas Oil TV racer made one of four runs in the 6.80s during a great session of racing for the two-wheel category. His father, Hector Arana Sr. ran a 6.863, to join him in the top three and pick up two bonus points in a return to form for the team. Harley-Davidson rider Chip Ellis had trouble starting his motorcycle … and then made the third-quickest run of the session (6.899). So, maybe that’s the secret to success in the final session.
PRO STOCK Q3 (12:19 p.m.): Love close racing? Then you probably enjoyed the third session of Pro Stock. The top six spots in Pro Stock are separated by .005 second – and Jeg Coughlin Jr. holds the top spot with a 6.628. He’s followed by Jason Line (6.628 – he’s slower, so that’s how it works), Matt Hartford (6.629), Drew Skillman (6.631), Tanner Gray (6.631 – again, speed) and Chris McGaha (6.633). That’s how the cookie crumbles in Pro Stock. Steve Graham holds the bump spot with a 6.715 and is trailed by Val Smeland, Joey Grose and Tom Huggins.
TOP FUEL Q3 (12:50 p.m.): Steve Torrence added three more points to his lead with a blistering 3.702 that, while it did not move him ahead of rival Clay Millican’s Friday 3.699 nonetheless was satisfying, especially the booming 333.33-mph top speed that came with the run. Millican could only run 3.754, the sixth-best of the session. Behind Torrence in the session were Brittany Force, with a best-of-event 3.723 and Antron Brown, who clocked a 3.741. Doug Kalitta (3.742) and Leah Pritchett (3.744) showed just how competitive the session was.
FUNNY CAR Q3 (1:25 p.m.): Tommy Johnson Jr., who earned his first No. 1 of the season a few weeks ago in Dallas, raced right to the top of the pack with a 3.899 pass in the Make-A-Wish Dodge. After a pair of 4.3-second passes Friday, J.R. Todd and the DHL team gave their championship hopes a defibrillator-like jump start by racing to a 3.911 to take the qualifying lead from Jack Beckman’s 3.922 before T.J. stripped him of the pole on the last run of the session. Eleven cars are qualified in the threes and 15 of the 16 cars are qualified in the threes or 4.0s, from Johnson’s 3.89 to Richard Townsend’s 4.060, with Jeff Arend on the bump spot with a 4.119 in Peter Russo’s car.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE (2:18 p.m.): The Harley-Davidson riders scored three of the six available bonus points, but not the ones that go to the top runner. Hector Arana Jr. delivered three bonus points with a 6.871-second burst, followed by 6.9 and 6.937 hits from Eddie Krawiec and Chip Ellis. The weather, including a slight cross wind, kept most riders from making significant improvements – but Ryan Oehler did step up by .008 second. Mark Paquette hung on to become the bump spot and will race Arana in the first round thanks to a 6.99 pass in the second round. Karen Stoffer, Katie Sullivan, Freddie Camarena, Anthony Vanetti and Maurice Allen all failed to make the cut.
First-round pairings (lane choice first): Hector Arana Jr. vs. Mark Paquette; Eddie Krawiec vs. Ron Tornow; Hector Arana vs. Ryan Oehler; Chip Ellis vs. Kelly Clontz; Andrew Hines vs. Scotty Pollacheck; Angie Smith vs. Jerry Savoie; Steve Johnson vs. Angelle Sampey; LE Tonglet vs. Matt Smith
PRO STOCK Q4 (2:42 p.m.): Jeg Coughlin Jr. earned the fifth No. 1 qualifier of his career, matching a career high in a single season for the veteran racer. He didn’t pick up on his 6.628 pass from the third qualifying session (neither did just about anyone else, it should be noted) but that didn’t stop Coughlin from earning the green hat. He’s followed by Jason Line and Matt Hartford in the qualifying order. Chris McGaha made the quickest run of the final session with a 6.647 burst and is in the No. 6 position.
First-round pairings (lane choice first): Jeg Coughlin Jr. vs. Steve Graham; Jason Line vs. Kenny Delco; Matt Hartford vs. Fernando Cuadra; Drew Skillman vs. Vincent Nobile; Tanner Gray vs. Alan Prusiensky; Chris McGaha vs. Deric Kramer; Bo Butner vs. Alex Laughlin; Erica Enders vs. Greg Anderson
TOP FUEL Q4 (3:10 p.m.): The back and forth between Clay Millican and points leader Steve Torrence continued as Millican had the quickest run of the round, 3.714, and Torrence the second best at 3.723 as their championship battle continues and could reach its climax Sunday. Leah Pritchett made her fourth straight 3.7-second pass (3.783, 3.781, 3.744, 3.731) as did Antron Brown (3.766, 3.766, 3.741, and 3.742) and promise to give Torrence and Millican a handful in eliminations. The bump spot ended up at 3.939 with Greg Carrillo, who bumped out Terry Haddock with his final pass.
First-round pairings (lane choice first): 1 vs. Greg Carrillo; 2 vs. Shawn Reed; Brittany Force vs. Mike Salinas; Leah Pritchett vs. Troy Buff; Antron Brown vs. Blake Alexander; Doug Kalitta vs. Richie Crampton; Billy Torrence vs. Terry McMillen; Scott Palmer vs. Tony Schumacher
FUNNY CAR Q4 (3:55 p.m.): Tommy Johnson Jr. put the hammer down on the Funny car field, bettering his earlier 3.89 with a stunning 3.87 to solidify his second No. 1 of the season. Bob Tasca III also looked strong for raceday with a 3.924, the second-best pass of the session while championship challenger J.R. Todd ran a solid 3.926, tied with John Force but at a slower speed. Ron Capps finally broke into the threes with a 3.971 to become the 12th driver in the three-second zone. Jeff Arend remained on the bump spot with a 4.119 in Peter and Helen Russo’s entry.
First-round pairings (lane choice first): Tommy Johnson Jr. vs. Jeff Arend; J.R. Todd vs. Richard Townsend; Jack Beckman vs. Jim Campbell; Bob Tasca III vs. Jonnie Lindberg; John Force vs. Ron Capps; Courtney Force vs. Cruz Pedregon; Robert Hight vs. Shawn Langdon; Tim Wilkerson vs. Matt Hagan
PRO STOCK NO. 1 QUALIFIER JEG COUGHLIN: "As the Countdown narrows to Sunday and Pomona every round counts and every point counts. We're going to need some help from other competitors if we're going to catch Tanner Gray because he has a very sizable lead, but I think we still have an opportunity to do it. I'm really excited for our team though going into eliminations as the No. 1 qualifier. We've got great weather, a great track and a great fan base.
"Having four qualifying sessions all in similar weather conditions certainly provides a confidence boost for us, but at the same time it's a boost for all the other 15 race teams, right? So, I guess we'll take that with a grain of salt."
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE NO. 1 QUALIFIER HECTOR ARANA JR.: "We made a really good pass in the very first session and right there it gave us the confidence boost to go as fast as we've gone in the third session. We didn't have to mess around with anything after that because we already had a good baseline. We did have a little bit of a mishap in the second session, but we were able to get back on track in the third session and then just leave the bike alone for the last run.
"This EBR body is really comfortable and it's just so great aerodynamically. It's great not just because it's safer and doesn't wiggle around so much, but it's just great to ride and to work on."
TOP FUEL LOW QUALIFIER CLAY MILLICAN: “It’s just crazy that our car has been this good for so many races in qualifying. It goes really quick and I keep saying this –- I’ve probably said it six of the 10 times that I’ve [been low qualifier] -- my green to yellow hat ratio is off. The yellow hats pay money and the green ones don’t.
“We came into today with a plan. Our first pass, a 3.75, was backed off just to make sure that we didn’t have any problems after the blower explosion yesterday. The last one was definitely to see what we could do with the sun on the racetrack. That was actually the same supercharger and short block that was in the car from the explosion.”
FUNNY CAR LOW QUALIFIER TOMMY JOHNSON JR.: “Our car has been running so well as of late. You come into the Countdown and you have to bring everything you’ve got for all of the races and you want to perform at your best, and we’ve done that except on Sundays. We’ve had a good car on Sunday, but an outstanding car of Fridays and Saturdays.
“To come out here and go a [3.]94 then a .92 then an .89 and then an .87, you go into Sunday with a ton of confidence. We came in here swinging and wanted to put up as many good runs as we could and go out and try to win rounds, but I don’t think it could be any better than it has been so far.”
If timing is everything, Clay Millican and crew chief Dave Grubnic picked a lousy year to be in the championship hunt given points leader Steve Torrence’s unprecedented run of four straight victories to open the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
“Any other year we’d be in the thick of it with a runner-up, two semi’s, and a second round,” said Millican, who at least had the Friday satisfaction of outqualifying Torrence and getting halfway to what would be his 10th No. 1 spot of the season. “There’s not much we can do. They have been unbelievable. What they’ve done is incredible. I’m proud of him and his whole team, but we’re having a heck of a year and definitely want to finish as high as we possibly can. Whatever that position is, I want it to be as high as it could be. If that’s second place, it’s second place. That would be my career best finish in NHRA.”
Millican has won five Top Fuel championships in IHRA competition but his best NHRA finish is sixth, which is where he finished last season and in 2013 as well. As crew chief Grubnic noted yesterday, all they can do Is going out and run as hard as they can and earn whatever qualifying points are available, and Millican is determined to enjoy the ride.
“Grubby definitely has the hard part of this deal trying to get those three points every run,” he said. “My job really starts on Sunday; for me, qualifying is just absolute fun, the ultimate roller coaster. I just need to stage her nice and shallow and keep it straight going down the racetrack.
“All I can do is go out there and stomp on that loud pedal,” he added, with the perpetual smile resurfacing. “If this was NASCAR racing I could give him the chrome horn [spin him out]. I know we need to win every race and Stevie to probably not show up in Pomona. I don’t think that will happen.”
Terry Haddock is back in Top Fuel for the first time since the Richmond event in early June, parking his new and still-teething Funny Car after checking out both entry lists and gauging his chance of qualifying in either.
“Our Funny Car has been making strides, but it’s just not there yet,” he said. “We’re struggling; we’ve made 10 runs but only thee good runs but one of those was my career best, a 4.09, in St. Louis. Funny car is where my heart is, but I need to survive financially.”
It’s been a busy year for Haddock, the hard-working, low-profile Texan with a Rodney Dangerfield chip on his shoulder. He’s made a long career out of racing smart, surviving race to race by qualifying for the field on a shoestring and using the round money to get to the next event but, lately, becoming better known for giving inexperienced drivers a solid ride in which to learn the ropes. He did it before, with his former wife, Jenna, and this year has helped one of his sponsors, Jim Maroney, enjoy a successful five-race rookie career in the dragster while simultaneously helping fellow Texas Terry Totten on his own car and letting him occasionally drive the Haddock dragster. Both Maroney and Totten are nominees for the Auto Club Road to the Future award given annually to the season’s top rookie.
“Jim has done phenomenal -- he left on everybody he raced and has some of the best reaction times in the class – and I’m real proud of that,” said Haddock. “We got him licensed and gave him a competitive ride and he did really good, which I feel is a reflection on our team. Terry [Totten] has less money than me and a car without all of the good stuff on it, but we’ve gotten him to run 4.10s. He can’t afford to try to run 3.90s or .80s, but we’re giving him a smart tune-up to stay out here.
“I’m hoping that I can continue to attract guys who want to run Top Fuel and put them in my car to give them a solid foundation to start their career,” he added. “I don’t have the money that most of these guys out here have, so being able to run [the Top Fuel car] and have someone pay to drive it just helps my overall effort.”
“The wheels just fell off,” is Friday low qualifier Jack Beckman’s colorful way of explaining the inexplicable fall of the Infinite Hero team in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs, where they’ve scored just one round win in four playoffs events and one in just five since winning the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in Brainerd.
“Going into Indy we had three first-round losses,” he said. “One other team had four and a couple had five, but there was no one tougher in the first round than us, so, suddenly, we can’t get out of first round.
“I could be 1,000 things,” he lamented. “[Team owner Don] Schumacher always says it’s typically a 2x4 smacking you upside the head –- meaning the problem is usually where you think the problem might be; it’s staring you in the face and you just have to find it -– but when you look at 47 different graphs and colors on the computer, the one that is the problem area might not be flashing and that’ the problem area and can be difficult to diagnose. It’s not any one thing.
“We retired one chassis. We lost our primary pressure plate. NHRA backed down the track prep. Any one of those three things could be the problem. It took us so long time to run consistently quick; we could run quick, but it was a hit and miss deal. From the end of ls year through the first six races of this year, we probably had the most consistent Funny Car. The chassis, bellhousing, and track prep put us in the position where we chasing it for the next 10 races and couldn’t get out of the second round 10 races in a row. We win Brained and then can’t get out of the first round. You want to talk frustrating? We do press releases and you try to put a positive spin on the situation, but you run out of euphemisms. It sucks. I hate this. I’m lucky to do this, but all these years later, leaving the track after losing in the first round is still a punch in the gut.
“We’re out of the championship race this year. Realistically, our goal is to get into the top five. There’s still two trophies up for grabs, but I’m happy with the fact that no one’s dragging their chins over our season.”
It was a late night for Robert Hight worrying about a world championship, but this one didn’t involve working on the AAA Funny Car.
No, drag racing’s No. 1 Dodgers fan and current points leader was glued to the television set in his hotel room watching his team battle the Boston Red Sox through an epic 18-inning must-win Game 3 of the World Series. The game, the longest in World series history, didn’t end until well after midnight but it ended with a happy Hight after Max Muncy’s walk-off homer in the bottom of the eighth.
“Oh yeah, I watched all the way to the end,” said Hight, who is friends with the Dodgers’ Justin Turner and previously raced a Dodgers-themed car at the Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona. “It was crazy. The longest game I’ve watched but it was worth it.”
Hight has a lot more at stake than just his pride in his hometown team; he also has a big bet going with NHRA announcer and Boston Red Sox diehard Brian Lohnes.
Deal!— robert hight (@roberthight7000) October 23, 2018
It's one bet he doesn't want to lose, but one for which he's probably trade another Funny Car world title, and even though his prime challenger, J.R. Todd, had a rough Friday, not getting down the track on either run in the DHL Toyota, Hight remembers how he won his title last year, qualifying on his final pass at the Finals then going on to win.
"Look what we did last year in Pomona," he cautioned. "I don't wish anyone bad luck and I'm sure not counting them out."
He's also not counting out his Dodgers, who play Game 4 today.
Jim Campbell and the Jim Dunn/7-Eleven team didn’t qualify for the Countdown this year and with only one round-win to their credit it’s probably unlikely they’ll win an event this year, but for Campbell, in his second year driving for the iconic Funny Car team owner, a three-second run would help salve a lot of disappointment and after a recent rash of 4.0s passes, it may come soon.
“We had some runs that should have been threes but didn’t make it all the way,” he explained. “In St Louis, it was on a low 3.90 and ran out of fuel at 930 feet and still ran 4.01 [at just 297 mph]. We were running alongside [Terry] Haddock and he was having some problems that held us up from staging, so we burned a lot of fuel waiting on him. I don’t blame him; I think the starter just should have let us stage. When it gets to 45-50 seconds, it’s time. The next week we ran 4.05 in Dallas but it dropped some cylinders and kicked the rods out.”
Campbell does have a trio of three-second runs to his credit from 2016 when he was driving Del Worsham’s car, including matching 3.977s from Indy and the Auto Club NHRA Finals, but he’d like to get one with Dunn. Their best together is a 4.003 recorded in St. Louis last year.
“It’s coming around,” he said. “We run OK in qualifying but we’re struggling on raceday. My lights are getting better, though, so I’m feeling good about what’s ahead. I watched Funny Car Summer [a 1972 film about Dunn] last Sunday and it was so cool to see Jim when he was a young, feisty guy and now he’s an older feisty guy, and nothing’s changed. As hard as he can be on me, I love driving for him. He’s a legend who just keeps pushing me to try to be better.”
Campbell has been working on his starting-line focus and getting his right foot position in the best on the throttle without squeezing it while staging. The team has also installed a tighter return spring on the throttle linkage to guard against Campbell nudging the throttle while staging, allowing him to get his foot into position for the green.
Matt Hartford might not be running for a championship, but the Arizona native hopes he can hurt some feelings on a part-time basis. He advanced to the semifinals at the AAA Texas FallNationals before turning on the red light against Tanner Gray but feels his Chevy Camaro has turned a corner since a disappointing Western Swing at the midpoint of the season.
“We didn’t perform the way we wanted to during the Western Swing,” said Hartford. “But I think we definitely learned a lot when we were out there. I think everybody out here – you hear it a lot – that everyone has the smartest crew chief and the best people. But I think what it shows is how high the level of competition is. I think we’ve found a good baseline for ourselves now.”
There’s still room for improvement in terms of average elapsed time, where Hartford ranks near the bottom of the sheet during the Countdown (small sample size noted), but the NHRA SpringNationals winner certainly has the parts and pieces necessary to get it done. Hartford leases an engine from Elite Performance but does most of the tuning himself.
“I don’t see any reason why we can’t go out here and hurt some feelings of some Countdown contenders this weekend,” he said. “I’m very confident in what we’re doing here.”
He’s currently qualified third with a hit of 6.641 seconds backing him up. That’s stout, particularly at altitude, and Hartford has another pair of attempts to pick away at his tune up.
Erica Enders is all but out of contention for her third world title despite an excellent Countdown to the Championship. She, like many others, have fallen victim to an even better campaign from Tanner Gray. Enders is also the victim of some bad luck. Enders got into a bit of second-round rut after racing in final after final early in 2018.
“It’s been disappointing to be honest,” she said. “I think this season has been in a step in the right direction especially after the past two seasons, but I’d give us a C+ if I had to give us a grade.”
Enders alluded to a significant change made to her Melling Chevy Camaro near the beginning of the Countdown that spelled her improvement. She’s got the quickest average elapsed time during the playoffs (6.555), a full .003 second better than Jason Line and .008 quicker than Pro Stock leader Gray. Her reaction time average has been as good as ever (.023), but not quite as good as Gray (.02).
That shows how tight the category is. Enders has had a better package than Gray overall but hasn’t managed to get as many round wins whether it’s through bad luck, bad timing or (as usual) a little bit of both.
“We’ve struggled a bit with this new tire,” Enders said. “We feel like we’ve gotten a better handle on it now, but we just wish we could have done that earlier in the season.”
Tackling the tire has been a problem for just about every Pro Stock team. The problem isn’t the tire per say, it’s trying to apply power correctly to that tire at every drag strip. The team that solves these Goodyears first, and does it consistently, will be borderline unstoppable.
Alex Laughlin is back in a new-old car. Let’s clarify that: He’s in a 2014 Chevy Camaro that had only 25 runs on it when it was purchased by Elite Performance. Part of the performance problem that dogged Laughlin much of this season had to do with a Camaro that was long in the tooth, a problem that has now been solved.
“My old car had more than 2,000 runs on it,” Laughlin said. “We went over every single thing on that car and just couldn’t find anything wrong with it. Then we switched to the Dodge Dart for a few races and we found out pretty much immediately that the problem was the car. So, now we’re back in a car that feels just like my old car in terms of my view and everything like that.”
Laughlin finally feels like he’s back in contention, albeit too late to contend for a championship. He missed out on the Countdown to the Championship and then sat out the first two races of the postseason. Laughlin is back on tour for the final two races of the season and hopes to come back with ferocity in the 2019 season.
“It’s just nice to have a car that’s competitive again,” he said. “Obviously there are times when the driver loses races. I’ve done it myself. But it’s just so frustrating when you lose a race you never had a chance to win.”
Laughlin enters the final qualifying session in the No. 10 position on the back of a 6.643-second hit. He can still improve on that, though the weather appears uncooperative.
Angie Smith did not perform well at the starting line in 2017. The veteran Pro Stock Motorcycle racer averaged a .062 reaction time, turned on the red light six times and beat herself up about performing well below her own standards. This year, Smith leads the two-wheel category in reaction time average (.022) and only has two red lights. That turnaround isn’t temporary.
“We made some big changes in the clutch department,” said Smith. “I was seeing the light too soon last year and that was really messing with me. At first, (husband and tuner Matt Smith) didn’t believe that I was seeing it as quickly as I was telling him, but we looked at some video frame by frame and you could see me looking at the light and hitting it as soon as the tree came down and turning on the red light. So, I think that convinced him that we needed to change something.”
That change, without getting too technical (we’re writers, not mechanics) came down to slowing the bike down. Smith said it best: It’s a lot easier to slow the bike down than it is to slow down the rider. That’s paid dividends. She’s raced with two different clutches this season (the switch was made in Brainerd, for those looking to dice up the numbers further) and has performed admirably.
“I was a little nervous before making the change, but it actually went really well,” said Smith. “I’m just really glad that I’m racing more consistently now because that wasn’t who I am last year.”
Smith averages a .046 light over the course of the last three seasons with nine red lights. That shows (at least in this writer’s opinion) that 2017 was the odd year out if you’re looking for one. Right now, Smith is racing at a high level – and her starts are a big reason why.
Ryan Oehler keeps moving in the right direction (7.032, 6.99, 6.988) – but he’s not happy with his 60-foot times. The rookie Pro Stock Motorcycle racer stayed in the field with his third pass but has yet to make a 60-foot hit quicker than 1.1 second. That’s frustrating for a rider who’s also a tuner.
“The adjustments I had to make on the EBR are fairly drastic,” said Oehler. “What’s weird about these bikes is that when you get up on the wheelie bar, your rear wheel is technically your front wheel. So, that changes the way you’re tuning the bike and how you’re running the axle. What’s great about this EBR is that the aerodynamics are so much better than what I was running before.”
The rider builds his own engines, along with his dad, and is one of two teams (the other being Matt Smith Racing) to run his particular clutch setup. This wheel-driven clutch is more finnicky, but it’s what Oehler is familiar with and he doesn’t want to make a major adjustment during a race.
“People have offered to help me make the change, but I don’t want to do it and then test during a race,” he said. “If they want to make the change and then go test, that’s one thing. But you know, we’re here and then taking a redeye home on Sunday and going back to work on Monday. It’s a tough deal, but it’s what we signed up for.”
That means Oehler continues to pick away at his tune-up, particularly at the 60-foot block, as he chases a spot higher up a very deep Pro Stock Motorcycle field.
Racers talk about picking up little points all season long, but it’s not until the Countdown to the Championship that you get to see those impact the title chase. So far, Eddie Krawiec has done an excellent job of chasing those bonus points. He’s earned six of a possible nine bonus points and is qualified second entering the final session of action.
“I’ve lost championships by two points and I’ve won championships by single digits, so I have firsthand experience with this,” said Krawiec after claiming the provisional pole on Friday. “For us, the goal is to just control our own destiny the best way we can and pick up the maximum amount of points.”
It’s also about getting his bike set up as well as possible. That’s something of his teammates have done quite well. Chip Ellis is qualified fourth with a 6.899 and Andrew Hines is qualified fifth (6.911). The Harley-Davidson team is certainly looking to get Hines into the 6.80s, joining the rest of the squad.
“We came off the truck with a good, solid run and getting all those little points is a big deal,” he said. “With the points battle the way it is right now and everything being so tight with the top three racers, we’ve gotta be on our game every single run.”
So far, so good for Krawiec. The most important thing for him: getting some good runs in on Sunday.
The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway allows cars to make the entrance to the racetrack through this fabled arch before heading down the dragstrip.
A full house packed The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the final day of qualifying.
Before the action kicked off, event sponsor Toyota hosted an autograph session with its drivers, including Doug Kalitta, Antron Brown, JR. Todd, Richie Crampton, Shawn Langdon, and Cruz Pedregon.
The Mello Yello autograph session included special appearances by Top Fuel points leader Steve Torrence, who was joined by multi-time NHRA Top Fuel champ Joe Amato and legendary female Top Fuel tuner Alison Lee.
Alan Reinhart was joined by former world champ Del Worsham to teach some fuel-racing basics to the fans in the popular Nitro School feature.
A special four-car Nostalgia Top Fuel exhibition gave the fans a look back in time. Among those taking part is newly crowned NHRA Hot Rod Heritage champ Mendy Fry.
With Halloween coming up, a number of teams in multiple categories were in the costume mood.
Jackie Fricke’s Alcohol Dragster team was yabba-dabba-do with their Flintstone theme.
The pirates of Pro Stock Motorcycle (Team Liberty)
Wizard of Oz themed for Scotty Pollacheck and team
And for Ron "the Rat" Tornow ... what else?
Qualifying today will set the field for Sunday, as it always does, but everyone will be watching to see who points leader Steve Torrence draws in round one, as the championship could very well be decided there. Torrence added one point to his lead Friday, gaining four qualifying bonus points to Clay Millican’s three, giving Steve-o a 170-point lead entering the day. He needs to leave the event with a 191-point lead to luck up the title, so you can bet that Millican and crew chief Dave Grubnic will be fighting for every little point today and trying to better their 3.699 run from Friday.
Three-second passes came cheap Friday and five drivers – low qualifier Jack Beckman, Courtney Force, Tommy Johnson Jr., Tim Wilkerson, and Shawn Langdon – rolled a pair of threes on their first two passes. There’s a chance that the long-awaited all-three-second field could be produced today as the top 14 cars are all in at 4.06 or better and that does not include second-place J.R. Todd or Gary Densham, both of whom have three-second passes under their belts. Nineteen drivers are battling for the 16 spots.
Greg Anderson got off the mat during the first day of qualifying at the NHRA Toyota Nationals at a drag strip he loves to race at. Anderson won the K&N Challenge in April, hosted at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and boasts a class-leading seven wins at the facility. The veteran racer’s Chevy Camaro has been … uncooperative during the Countdown, averaging the 10th quickest elapsed time over the past four races. He might not be a factor in the championship hunt in 2018, but he can still close out the season with a bang.
Eddie Krawiec is very much in the championship hunt for the second year in a row. The defending Pro Stock Motorcycle champ earned five bonus points on the first day of racing and leads the field entering Saturday. He’s closely followed by Hector Arana Jr., but the drop in performance from there is staggering – perhaps indicating today’s session will feature racers getting closer to the current leader in the clubhouse. Krawiec, of course, has other ideas.