A victory at the 65th annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals is one that drivers covet the most, and all the stars in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series will get their chance to perform on drag racing’s grandest stage during the marquee event, Aug. 28-Sept. 2 at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis as they face their last chance to snag a spot in the Countdown to the Championship.
Terry McMillen is the defending event champ in Top Fuel, and he’ll need another long Monday to maintain his spot in the Countdown to the Championship playoff field. McMillen currently sits 10th and is one of five drivers fighting for the three remaining spots. Ahead of him are Austin Prock and Richie Crampton and behind him are Scott Palmer and Billy Torrence. That quest begins today with the opening round of Mello Yello competition, which is scheduled to begin with Pro Stock Motorcycle at 7:15 p.m. Eastern.
Points leader Steve Torrence has already locked up the No. 1 seed in Top Fuel and will be gunning for his second Indy Top Fuel win.
The battle for the 10th and final spot in the Funny Car Countdown is a pretty simple affair. Cruz Pedregon, who has won the U.S. Nationals three times but not since 1995, sits in the 11th spot and is going to have to hope for a monster weekend for his Snap-on Dodge team and a disaster for 10th-place Tim Wilkerson.
With a maximum of 195 points available – and 15 of those coming the first time a driver makes a run down the track in qualifying – Pedregon’s maximum improvement total over Wilk is just 180 and he enters the race 143 points back. Wilkerson would earn a minimum 31 points more if he qualifies, so Pedregon’s only real hope is that Wilkerson fails to qualify, which is unlikely. Wilkerson has qualified for every race since the 2012 meet in Reading, a streak of 163 events.
Three-time Indy winner Robert Hight could lock down his first No. 1 seed in the Countdown as early as the first qualifying session by making one of the session’s three quickest runs.
There is one playoff spot remaining in Pro Stock and just three points separate the current No. 10 seed Kenny Delco from 11th ranked Fernando Cuadra which means the outcome could easily be determined by qualifying points alone. Most will remember that Delco crashed his car in Denver and had a back-up brought from New York to California on short notice so that he could compete in the remaining Western Swing events in Sonoma and Seattle. That move could prove to be huge should Delco hold on to the final playoff spot.
At the front of the pack, current leader Bo Butner enjoys a 72-point lead over teammate Greg Anderson while Alex Laughlin is third, just 80-points back. Given the points-and-a-half format at Indy, it's entirely possible there could be some shuffling at the front of the field.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Andrew Hines has done no wrong this year and he's got a stranglehold on the top spot in the class after winning seven of the first nine races this year. Hines won Indy in 2012 and 2016 so he knows how to get the job done on NHRA's biggest stage.
So far, just four riders; Hines, Eddie Krawiec, Matt Smith, and Hector Arana Jr., have locked up Countdown spots in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Former Indy champ Jerry Savoie holds down the No. 10 spot with his White Alligator Suzuki and he'll have to fend off a challenge from Scotty Pollacheck, who is 32-points back and Joey Gladstone, who trails by 44-markers.
You can catch the action later this weekend on the FOX Sports 1, beginning at 2 p.m. Eastern on Sunday. All the action is broadcast live on NHRA.tv, and the full TV schedule is available here at any time.
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