Billy Torrence won the Magic Dry Organic Absorbent NHRA Arizona Nationals. It was a great story. That win, his second career win and second in nine races, could comfortably be celebrated in February. There were still a whopping 16 races between the Phoenix-area event and the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, when the field is set for the Countdown to the Championship. Besides, Torrence isn’t running for a playoff spot. Right?
Running or not, here he comes with all the haunting fervor of Jack Nicholson in “The Shining.” His aw-shucks Texas charm masks what every Top Fuel competitor already knows: Billy’s coming for blood every time “the other” Capco Contractors Top Fuel dragsters rolls to the starting line. He’s in 10th place with eight races to go until the Countdown to the Championship begins, ahead of Scott Palmer and Terry McMillen and not far behind Richie Crampton and Austin Prock.
Of course, this is where his reduced schedule comes into play. Torrence is slated to race four times before the Countdown to the Championship is locked, meaning he has half as many opportunities to score points as do those around him. One of those opportunities pays more points (the U.S. Nationals), so if he wins in Indy and those around him race poorly … well, it’s possible.
But we’re not here to talk about what’s possible – well, that’s not all we’re here to talk about. So, let’s get the possible out of the way. It’s very possible for Torrence to make the Countdown. He’s averaging 73.3 points per race. His equipment is as good, if not better, than everyone else in the category and he’s an above average driver (.072 reaction time this season; .071 in 2018).
Let’s talk NHRA Power Rankings. Torrence boasts the fifth best NHRA Power Ranking in Top Fuel, below his son, Steve Torrence, Mike Salinas, Doug Kalitta and Jordan Vandergriff. He doesn’t need to worry about Vandergriff in terms of battling for a Countdown position, and the rest of those racers are comfortably in playoff positions.
Torrence’s 58.44 NHRA Power Ranking correlates to an expected points-per-race of 54.93. Without getting too technical, I don’t expect Torrence to continue grabbing points at this torrid pace. If he earns points at that expected pace, (and everyone earns points at their expected rate), he’ll enter the U.S. Nationals 128 points behind Richie Crampton. That’s not an impossible hill to climb, but it’s not far off from impossible given the 195 maximum points available to racers at the World’s Biggest Drag Race.
That’s assuming Torrence accrues points based on expectations built on a part-time schedule. His dragster has run at all the season’s hottest races (Richmond, Topeka) but not all the season’s coolest races (the Gatornationals, for instance) and that impacts his stats. That could mean his car is better than his NHRA Power Rankings indicate, compared to the rest of the category. Things get a little funky for part-time racers.
Yes, it’s a longshot for Torrence to make the Countdown – it should be. He’s not running all the regular season races. But it’s also … plausible? That’s also not particularly wild given how good his equipment is (you may have heard his son and teammate has won five races in a row) and how solid he is behind the wheel. That won’t make Prock, Crampton, McMillen and Palmer feel much better if he keeps one (or more than one) of them out of the dance, but Torrence is a unique case. NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing is a shark tank, and you best believe Billy is a great white.