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What the teams said ahead of the Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil:

“I think there’s a lot going on mentally for a driver going into the Countdown. There’s really no easy way to go about it, but I do know that being in that number one spot, it’s yours to lose. That’s a tough spot to be in." --Shawn Langdon
13 Sep 2019
Jacob Sundstrom, NHRA National Dragster Associate Editor
Feature
Steve Torrence / John Force

John Force Racing

John Force Racing doubled-up for the first time in its history in 2017 as Brittany Force and Robert Hight both won championships. 2018 was not so kind to JFR as Hight stumbled at the season-ending Auto Club Finals and Force was one of many Steve Torrence laid waste to in his dominant NHRA Countdown stretch. Both look to rebound in the NHRA Countdown opener. 

Brittany Force

“We had an awesome weekend in Indy a couple weeks ago. The Advance Auto Parts team set the track record, we grabbed another No. 1 qualifier and went some rounds on race day. I’m happy. I feel like we have our race car back and I’m feeling good in the car. We feel confident heading to Reading and we’re going in from the No. 4 position and ready to move up in the points and fight for another championship.

“I’m excited for Reading. It’s the first race in the Countdown and I have some history at the track. I’ve won there once and I’ve been the No. 1 qualifier, so I’m hoping we can add to that. David Grubnic and Mac Savage, and the entire Advance Auto Parts team, we all want to get back in that winner’s circle.”

Austin Prock

“I’m pretty proud of how things are going right now. We had a bit of a tough start in qualifying at the Chevy Performance U.S. Nationals but we put up some competitive numbers to get in the competition. We ended with another semifinal appearance for the second consecutive week to follow up that win in Seattle,” said Prock. “I think if we can keep this pace up, going to the semifinals and getting into the finals, we’ll be able to run for the championship. We have more work to do but everybody is working hard at it and I’m excited to see what we can do.

“I’m looking forward to Reading. It’s the first race of the Countdown and it will be a great chance to move up in the points,” Prock said. “We are going to need another strong weekend to contend for the championship and I believe this Montana Brand / Rocky Mountain Twist team can do that.”

Robert Hight

“We didn’t leave Indy with a win but we left with the No. 1 spot heading into the Countdown and that feels pretty good. It’s a first for us and I’m proud of that. Jimmy Prock, Chris Cunningham and the Auto Club team have been putting in the hard work all season to have the best race car out there and I think we’ve shown that all season long. I went to Indy to get in some testing earlier this week before going to Reading and I’m feeling confident. We figured some things out and we’re going to have a strong car this weekend.

"Reading is this weekend, it’s the first of six races to the championship and I’m looking forward to getting there. The last time I won here was in 2011, so you know, I’d definitely like to get a win here again, extend my points lead before going to the next one. It’s really go-time now and to get a couple more wins under our belt, that would really set us up for winning the Funny Car title and give me the best season of my career.”

John Force

"God, when I get in that car, I’m alive again. It’s like my heart starts working and everything is good. So, don’t let anybody tell you that you’re too old. Get up and stay alive and keep moving.

“Racing is what I love to do,” he said. “I’m trying to fight the old man (in me) every day. You know, I started hearing, ‘you’re 70, this thing is over,’ and it’s really true what they say, it’s how bad you want it.”

Austin Prock

READ MORE: Who does Tricky Tipster think has what it takes to bring home the Wallys from Reading?

Kalitta Motorsports

J.R. Todd brought a championship trophy to the Michigan-based team in 2018 and Doug Kalitta holds the most promise to do the same in 2019. Kalitta has yet to win a title in his incredible career but enters Reading as the No. 2 seed in Top Fuel behind defending world champion Steve Torrence. 

Doug Kalitta

“This is pretty exciting for me, just to have another opportunity to do the Countdown and see how it ends up. We worked hard to have a good position to open the playoffs. My guys are really working their tails off on my Mac Tools Toyota right now and it’s running well. We’re looking forward to the Countdown. It’s what it’s all about for my team and everybody out here. So we’re going to give it our best.”

“Obviously, my guys are going to have plenty of skip in our step heading into the Countdown – including me. We just have to keep our head down and win rounds and try to prevail. It’s going to be a lot of fun and I can’t wait to get to Reading and get this going. It’s going to be another great opportunity.”
 
J.R. Todd

"[We're looking to] win another championship. Our car is back on track. We’re going to have to do what we did last year, go out there and try to go to every final round possible and win as many races as possible. My DHL Toyota guys and everyone at TRD have never given up. We’ve got our ducks in a row now and it’s time to get after it.
 
"We have a shot of winning like we did last year. We have a championship-contending Camry. It’s going to be tougher than it was last year because we’re starting a little further back this year (eighth compared to fifth in 2018) and there are more cars out there capable of contending for the championship. It’s going to be a battle, but we’re up to the task.”

Shawn Langdon

“Our goal is to win races and win a championship. We’re close. We have a great car in qualifying. I think we just need some minor improvements on race day. We can get this car in the Winner’s Circle. I think we’re very capable. I think we have a top-three car right now. I feel really good going into the Countdown.”
 
“Starting in the ninth spot, it’s crucial that we don’t lose early at Reading. Really, you can’t lose early at any of the Countdown races, but to have a chance at the end, we really can’t start slow. We’ll go to Reading with the same temperament that we closed out the regular season with. We just want to maintain the quality of car we had at Indy. Our Global Electronic Technology Camry responded well to the changes we were making. We found some weak spots and we found some spots where we could be a little more aggressive on. I feel really good about the quality of car that we have.”
 
“I think there’s a lot going on mentally for a driver going into the Countdown. There’s really no easy way to go about it, but I do know that being in that number one spot, it’s yours to lose. That’s a tough spot to be in. There are a lot of eyes on you and you don’t want to make mistakes. I like being an aggressive driver and I feel like coming from the ninth spot, I can express my competitive nature and aggressive driving style. Hopefully, we can let that shine and be there at the end.”

Richie Crampton

“I think we have a great car moving forward into the Countdown. The major objective at Indy was to lock in and we accomplished that. Now it’s time to get to work on race days and try to put the DHL Toyota dragster into the Winner’s Circle once or twice. If we can do that, we’ll be in good shape.”
 
“It was exciting to make it down all five sessions in qualifying at Indy and be near the top of the sheets. Unfortunately, it didn’t go quite like we wanted on race day, but we know we compare with anyone out there and that we can do it at Reading.”

POWER RANKINGS: Doug Kalitta can win his first championship with a little luck

Don Schumacher Racing

The last Don Schumacher Racing world championship came in 2016 when both Antron Brown and Ron Capps took home the big prizes. Both racers are in great positions to do so again. Brown enters the NHRA Countdown in the No. 3 position, chasing his fourth world championship after reaching the semifinals at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in Indy. 

Antron Brown

“The Countdown is going to be very challenging. There are a lot of good cars out here and right now there’s no one car that’s dominant. The Kalitta cars have really stepped up, the JFR cars, Clay Millican and Mike Salinas are all running well, both Torrence cars are running phenomenal, our teammate Leah Pritchett is running well and won at Brainerd and, we’ve stepped it up as well. That’s 10 cars right there. Five different cars have won in the last five races, so it is going to be a wide-open race. 
 
“Moving up to third in the Countdown was huge for us. Those were points you can’t make up and you want to enter the playoffs with every point you can. You only have 24 rounds of available points, so you don’t want to go in having to make up four or five rounds if you can avoid it. We have our Matco Tools Toyota right there with the top contenders and we’re going to keep working hard. We’ve got a good game plan going into Reading. We just need to execute and see what we can do.
 
"Reading is a huge race for us. It’s not far from my hometown (Chesterfield, N.J.) and, hopefully, the conditions will be good. It’s starting to cool down and it’s going to be fast. We need to go out there and get after it. Everybody is so tight, so you need to come out strong. You can’t afford to fall back in the standings with just five races left after Reading and if you can win early, you gain confidence and you put more pressure on your rivals going forward, knowing they can’t afford to slip up.”

Leah Pritchett

“Excited for another MOPAR-sponsored race, especially with what looks like great conditions in Reading. We have a great amount of performance momentum behind this team, and there is no better time than now for us to apply power and consistency. We have all worked hard to solidify a spot in the Countdown and there is no room for error in our hunt for the championship.
 
“I believe that it is no accident that the winners of Reading have been that year’s champion. It shows that coming in hot out of the gate is pivotal for the championship momentum. We intend to execute precision performance strategy every step of the way. Excellence starts at the shop, and this team has worked diligently to dissolve any mishaps that may trip up our performance, from the simplest of procedures to new technology.”

READ MORE: Leah Pritchett scores first win in 2019 at Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals

Jack Beckman

“Maple Grove has bounced around quite a bit on the schedule over the last dozen years but one thing has remained – it’s always ultra-exciting and it tends to be a pivotal race. When I won the championship in 2012, I wouldn’t have won it if we hadn’t set the national record at Maple Grove. In 2015, winning Reading put us right back in the championship hunt, and winning there in 2008 was one of the highlights of my career. I beat Frank Hawley in the final, who was my boss at the drag racing school. They’ve moved the event earlier in the schedule, making it the first race in the Countdown which kind of puts some extra emphasis on it. We haven’t won yet this season, but we’ve come very close multiple times. This Infinite Hero team would like nothing more than to start the Countdown off on the right note and with a win.”

Ron Capps

“This race, this time of the year is something we’ve worked for the whole season. We’re kicking off the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs at one of the most amazing race tracks we still go to – Maple Grove Raceway in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania. We’re pretty lucky to travel the country and visit some pretty amazing places, but this track is in one of those areas where you try and come in early and take in the sights and sounds surrounding this race. We’ll go to a Baltimore Orioles game on Wednesday night and then we’re heading to Manhattan on Thursday to visit our friends at the Howard Stern Wrap Up show. From there, we’re headed straight to Reading for the MOPAR Mega Block Party; food, drinks, autographs with all the Dodge drivers, our race cars will be on display. And then Friday officially kicks off our campaign for the 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Funny Car world championship, so, I’m excited and I can’t wait to get there and hopefully finish the weekend in the winner’s circle.”

Matt Hagan

“Every one of these Countdown races is so important. I feel like you have to win two or three of them to really have a shot at winning the championship. It’s just a matter of who’s going to get hot at the right time. In the last six events, we’ve won a race, been runner-up and been to four semifinals, so it’s clear our MOPAR Dodge Charger Hellcat Widebody is running great. The confidence is there, our car is there, and I think we’re peaking at the right time. I can’t wait to turn on some win lights this weekend. I’ve done well at Reading in the past, I’ve even won it on fire which made it onto ESPN’s SportsCenter. I’ll try and stay off of SportsCenter this weekend, but hopefully still get the win for MOPAR.”

Tommy Johnson Jr. 

“Reading is one of my favorite races, and it always has been. It’s a neat area and the fanbase is really strong. I won my first Funny Car race there back in 1999 and I was able to do it again a few years ago here at DSR. Reading is the start of the Countdown and it’s super important to get off to a good start. The points are reset and we’re close to the top so it’s a must to come out of there with a good performance. We’ve done pretty well there the past few years, got a runner-up in 2014 and won it in 2016 so it’s just a great event for everyone.

"We’re coming off of a rough Indy; things didn’t go our way, but that doesn’t waiver our confidence any. We have a good team and a good car, and we’re looking forward to starting the Countdown, and would love nothing more than to win it for MOPAR and Pennzoil at their event. Before the racing even gets underway, I’ve got my sights set on winning the home run derby at the MOPAR Mega Block Party, and hopefully make it two wins and sweep the weekend.” 

Antron Brown at the U.S. Nationals

FAST FIVE: Relive the biggest moments from the World's Biggest Drag Race


Steve Torrence

“Last year was unbelievable. To win six straight races, whether it’s in the Countdown or just the regular season, is incredible. Everything has to go perfect.  

“The crew chiefs have to make the right calls, the crew can’t make a mistake putting the parts and pieces together, the driver has to do his job and, even after all that, you still need some luck. So, sweeping the Countdown a second time isn’t that likely, but it’s still our goal.  

“It’ll be even tougher (this year) because we’re running two cars at every race. If my dad (Billy) hadn’t made the Countdown, he would have run the other car just two or three times. Now, he’s running all six races so that’ll spread us a little thinner, but it’s great for him to get the chance."

Billy Torrence

“We’ve got a great team, a great car and a great track record, but that’s just history. You still have to perform in the playoffs and none of these guys is going to go easy on us, especially after last year. We’ve got a target on our back, but that’s fine. We earned it.”

Cruz Pedregon Racing

Cruz Pedregon failed to reach the NHRA Countdown to the Championship but knows he has plenty to race for -- namely, wins. He earned one win with crew chief Aaron Brooks at the helm in 2018 and after parting ways with the tuner midway through last year has gone without a victory. The former world champion has his eye on turning things around during the final six races of the season. 

"Our focus as a team for the rest of the season is to win races and make sure the car is running its best. I'm really proud of Glen (Huszar) and Nick (Casertano) and the solid young team we've built. I posted a message to all our fans on social media after the Countdown was determined to thank them for their support, let them know we're focusing our energy on the final six races and a strong finish."

Elite Motorsports

Jeg Coughlin Jr. faces an uphill climb entering Reading but he's in a good car and driving at a high level. If anyone can come from the bottom of the field in a packed Pro Stock field, it's The Natural. Teammates Erica Enders and Alex Laughlin will carry the Elite flag from higher up the field, while Matt Hartford battles in the Countdown for the first time with Elite power under the hood of his Chevy Camaro. 

Jeg Coughlin Jr.

"NHRA reset the points for the playoffs and although we certainly wish we were a few spots higher, or even No. 1, at the start, we do know we have a great team with all the pieces we need to win. We need to really get after it and see what we can do to challenge for the championship. In the end, we also need to remember we're entertainers, so it's time to put on a yellow-and-black show for the rest of the season.
 
"We haven't celebrated a win under our canopy since the Phoenix race near the start of the season so we're pretty hungry," Jeg Jr. said. "I feel up to the task. I've been very pleased with my driving and if I can stay focused on doing my job and making the best passes possible each round, we'll always have a chance. We need to race hard, get aggressive, and try to whittle away at the 80-point deficit we have to Bo (Butner, points leader). That's a four-round lead, but we have time to catch up."

Erica Enders

“I more determined than I’ve ever been. I’m driving well and the really cool part, both of my crew chiefs, they have their swagger and confidence back. They’re ready and I have a really good car right now. It helps me a lot. We have a great car and I love hearing their confidence. It makes me confident and I can go up there with a clear mind. It’s kind of cool.”

Qualifying begins with two sessions starting at 2 p.m. Eastern. Catch all the action on FS1 or NHRA.tv.