Steve Torrence clinched his second straight Top Fuel championship Sunday at the Auto Club NHRA Finals, locking it up in the semifinals of the final day of the season at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
Torrence came into the event with a slim lead over 2017 champ Brittany Force and, after Torrence beat Cameron Ferre in a heated first-round battle and Force dispatched Antron Brown, the two ended up paired in round two, where Torrence beat her, 3.74 to 3.77.
The victory over Force was not the winner-take-all that it should have been as Torrence was still required him to run in the semifinals against Richie Crampton to lock out third-place Doug Kalitta. It didn’t matter whether he won or lost against Crampton as long as he didn’t cross the centerline, incurring a five-point penalty that would have left the door open –- just a crack though –- for Doug Kalitta.
Torrence didn’t win –- losing on a 3.76 to 3.75 holeshot- – but he also didn’t cross the centerline, locking up the title. Kalitta ran right behind him and beat Leah Pritchett.
“It’s been really special to be part of a team like ours; it’s not the driver who really does anything," he said. "The guys who work on this car – Richard Hogan, Bobby Lagana, and the rest of the Capco boys – are the ones who deserve all of the credit,” he said. “It’s special to win one championship but to be able to win two and do it back to back, I can’t thank everyone enough.
“The ladder today played out good for us because we were going to decide who was the champ in the second round or at least who had the best chance at it. The guys gave me the racecar and I did the job I needed to do when I needed to. Then in the semifinals against Richie we were just racing defensively, racing not to lose rather than to win, but we were ver aware of what was at stake."
Torrence and ‘them Capco boys” – led by crew chief Richard Hogan and Bobby Lagana Jr. -- kicked off his season with a runner-up at the Winternationals but hit a rough patch, winning just five rounds over the next four events before resuming the kind of dominating performances that carried him to six straight Countdown wins and an easy championship last season.
He won five straight events, starting with the Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte -- where he assumed the points lead that he would hold through the end of the 18-race regular season -- and followed by wins in Atlanta, Richmond, Chicago, and Topeka. His winning streak was stopped in the final round in Bristol, where he lost to Mike Salinas, but he picked right back up at the next event, in Norwalk with another win, followed by two more wins, in Epping and Denver, making for an otherworldly 27-1 record over seven events
Torrence finished the regular season in Indianapolis as the top seed for the Countdown, but any thoughts about him sweeping all six events as he did in 2018 ended early at the first Countdown event in Reading, where he lost in round one to Clay Millican and dropped to third in the standings.
He got back to second place with a runner-up behind his father, Billy, in St. Louis, then regained the lead by winning in the tour’s return to Charlotte in the fall. A surprising first-round loss in Dallas and a final-round loss to Force in Las Vegas kept it interesting for the last several races before he nailed down the title on the final day of the season.