Just nine points separate Scott Palmer, Mike Salinas and Richie Crampton, three standout Top Fuel drivers competing for what could possibly be the final two spots in the upcoming NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship. With the final regular-season spots to be determined at this weekend’s prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, it adds one more thrilling layer to the world’s biggest drag race.
The top 10 advance to NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series’ six-race playoffs and Palmer sits ninth in his 10,000-horsepower CatSpot/Tommy Thompson Motorsports dragster, just seven points in front of Salinas, who holds a slim two-point lead over 2014 Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals winner Richie Crampton. Palmer is after his second straight playoff berth, hoping to add to a strong regular season that has already included his first career final round appearance.
“Our sponsor is Tommy Thompson and his No. 1 instruction to us is to always have fun,” Palmer said. “That’s what we’re going to do at Indy and we believe that mindset will help us run at our best. If we do the best we can, we will make it into the playoffs. The difference between this season and years past is that we’re a good team now that no one takes lightly. When people race us they know we are going to put up a number and that they’re gonna have to run strong to beat us.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), J.R. Todd (Funny Car), Drew Skillman (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of a race that will be broadcasted on the FOX national broadcast network and Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including a live broadcast of Monday’s finals on both FOX and FS1 on Monday, Sept. 3. It is the 18th of 24 races during the 2018 season and racing on drag racing’s grandest stage could bring out the best in Salinas.
It will be his first time racing at the Big Go, but Salinas has built up strong momentum in his Scrappers Racing dragster. Competing in his first full season, Salinas advanced to his first career final round in Bristol and has posted back-to-back semifinal appearances heading into Indy. But Salinas also insists he feels no pressure heading into the biggest race of the year.
“Actually, it’s pretty awesome to be honest,” Salinas said. “This is what we’re here for and I love it. I love the pressure of racing the best guys in the world. But we’re going there to win, not just to get some points. That’s our mindset for every race and this is a big one for us. We’re happy to be in the position where we have a chance to do this and we need to capitalize on it. We’ve got a very competitive racecar and we’re excited. Bring it on, let’s go.”
With the points-and-a-half system in play (150 points to the winner) at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, it sets the stage for a number of dramatic possibilities. The trio of Palmer, Salinas and Crampton could all finish in the top 10 should they all have big weekends and Terry McMillen and Brittany Force struggle. McMillen leads Palmer by 90 points, while Force has an 86-point advantage over Palmer. Crampton, meanwhile, posted an early-season win in Gainesville and has made three Countdown appearances in his young career. Getting a fourth in his Craftsman dragster will require Crampton coming up big, much like he did in 2014 at Indy.
“For me, it’s the first time coming into Indy not really securely in the top 10, so you’re definitely aware of the situation,” Crampton said. “But that being said, as a driver, I’m just going to come here and do my job and let the points take care of themselves. There’s enough pressure as it is and I definitely want to secure a spot in the Countdown. We’ll do our thing and I’m confident that my Craftsman/Toyota team, led by Connie (Kalitta) and Rob Flynn, will be good.”
Funny Car’s J.R. Todd got his first Indy win in 2017, something he’ll try to repeat against points leader Courtney Force, defending world champ Robert Hight and Brainerd winner Jack Beckman.
Drew Skillman would like his first Pro Stock win of 2018 to happen at Indy against the likes of points leader Greg Anderson, four-time 2018 winner Tanner Gray and Erica Enders.
Defending Pro Stock Motorcycle world champ Eddie Krawiec will look for another Indy win to jumpstart his title hopes against points leader Andrew Hines, LE Tonglet and Hector Arana Jr.
Drivers in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Series also will look to become winners of the prestigious event. The fastest Super Stock cars will challenge for ultimate bragging rights and bonus purse during the popular NHRA Dodge HEMI Challenge as well. After Nitro qualifying, stick around to see the El Arabe Racing “Majestic” jet car driven by Juan Cantu. Known for their exciting pre-run flame shows and after burner pops, jet cars are thrust driven vehicles propelled by jet engines.
Those in attendance will also have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with a few of the most renowned names in drag racing during the NHRA Legends Tour. This will feature meet-and-greets, autograph sessions, and a variety of other activities. A star-studded lineup of legends is scheduled to attend the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, including Don Prudhomme, Don Garlits, Shirley Muldowney, Al Segrini, Tom Prock, Darrell Gwynn and Terry Vance.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers. Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
A special Monday edition of the SealMaster NHRA Track Walk also will take place prior to final eliminations, where many of the sport’s most celebrated drivers will walk alongside fans down the historic dragstrip. Fan-favorite vintage racecars will be on display in the Hot Rod Junction, along with several autograph sessions featuring the biggest stars of the sport will be featured.
The first of five Mello Yello Series qualifying sessions is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 31. Two more sessions will take to the track on Saturday, Sept. 1 at 4:15 p.m. and 7:15 p.m., and the final two qualifying sessions will take place on Sunday, Sept. 2 at 12:00 p.m. and 3:45 p.m. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 3.
FOX national broadcast and FS1 will televise coverage of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, starting with qualifying on Sunday, Sept. 2 on FS1 at 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. EST. The broadcasts continue on FS1 with two hours of live coverage of eliminations on Monday, Sept. 3 starting at 11 a.m. EST, continuing live on FOX at 1 p.m. EST.
Tickets for the world’s most prestigious drag race can be purchased by calling the NHRA Ticket Sales Center at (800) 884-NHRA (6472), or online at www.NHRA.com/tickets. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate.