With 11 races on the 2020 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule, there’s no easily-measurable midseason point, but the recent Denso Spark Plugs NHRA U.S. Nationals seems like as good a place as any to reflect on what’s happened and what could happen over the balance of the season.
It’s been a Don Schumacher Racing year with DSR cars winning all six events this season and creating a tight top three, led by U.S. Nationals champ Jack Beckman. Here's our look at how they got to the top and what the future may hold for them
|Pomona||Jack Beckman||Phoenix||Tommy Johnson Jr.|
|Indy 1||Matt Hagan||Indy 2||Matt Hagan|
|Indy 3||Ron Capps||Indy 4||Jack Beckman|
|Event||Leader||2nd place||Lead||1st to 10th|
|Pomona||Jack Beckman||John Force||32||93|
|Phoenix||Jack Beckman||Tommy Johnson Jr.||45||155|
|Indy 1||Jack Beckman||Tommy Johnson Jr.||2||178|
|Indy 2||Jack Beckman||Tommy Johnson Jr.||17||223|
|Indy 3||Tommy Johnson Jr.||Jack Beckman||13||223|
|Indy 4||Jack Beckman||Matt Hagan||35||292|
- It’s been an obvious Don Schumacher Racing rout with DSR cars winning all six events, extending their domination of the class to nine straight stretching back into late 2019 .
- With Beckman, Hagan, and Johnson holding down the top three spots and Capps No. 5 all trading blows, it’s not surprising that the largest points lead was just a shade over two rounds (45) , which is smaller than the Top Fuel lead at five of six events this season, and it was as few as just two points after Indy 1.
- Past world champ J.R. Todd breaks up the DSR monopoly, sitting in fourth place after back-to-back runner-ups at the last two Indy events. Not bad for a guy who won no rounds in the season’s first two events and has gone from 10th place in Phoenix to the top four.
- Every driver in the current top 10 has at least one first-round loss. Johnson actually made it through the first five first events without a first-round exit before being upset by Dale Creasy Jr. in the opening stanza of the U.S. Nationals.
- John Force is the only driver besides the four DSR drivers and Todd to reach a Funny Car final this year (runner-up to Beckman at the Winternationals) before parking his team. He was third in points at the time.
- The absence of Force and reigning world champ teammate Robert Hight has been a boon not only to the DSR team but to others like Bob Bode and Creasy, who both won rounds at the U.S. Nationals but might not have qualified at some of the Indy events with those two in the field. Kudos also to privateers like Mike McIntire Jr. and Alex Miladinovich, who showed their support in the Return To Racing. McIntire ran all three pre-U.S. Nationals Indy events and Miladinovich made the long tow from California to run at two of them.
- One thing is sure: Tim Wilkerson is a tough out in round one. The one-man band has lost in the opening frame just once –- at Indy 3 to Capps –- but has struggled after that with just two semifinal appearances in five chances.
- After reaching the semifinals in her first race in Pomona, Alexis DeJoria has won just one round at the last five events, dropping her from fourth to eighth. The Del Worsham- and Nicky Boninfante-led team is too good to not rebound.
- Cruz Pedregon is another one experiencing a rough 2020 as “the Cruzer” has just two round wins in six starts despite qualifying in the top half of the field three times. To be fair, he’s lost to Beckman and Johnson twice each as well as to Todd and Tim Wilkerson.
- Bob Tasca III had something to prove after his comeback with a bout of COVID-19. After sitting out the first Indy race to recover, the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team hasn’t lost in the first round since, reaching the semifinals twice and going to the second round once. All five of his round losses have come against DSR drivers.
Biggest surprise: Paul Lee, who sits 10th. Lee may be the biggest beneficiary of the shortened 11-race schedule as it gives him a chance to run the entire season and gun for a first career pro Top 10 finish. Originally he was only going to run 15 of the 24, which almost assuredly would have prevented such a finish.
Most likely to break into the top 10: Blake Alexander is 45 points behind Lee, Bode is 52 back, and Jim Campbell 60 in arrears, so all it’s to take is a Lee stumble and a good Sunday for any of them to bust their way in. Honestly, it’s going to be a tough slog for anyone to break in with the way the current top 10 is running.
Probable championship finish order: 1. Matt Hagan 2. Jack Beckman 3. Tommy Johnson Jr. All three DSR cars are just so good and steady that it’s hard to think of any of them having a prolonged drought, and even though my order here may get jumbled, I think this is your top three. That being said, even though he's 73 points back of Johnson for third and 130 out of the lead, Todd has a ton of momentum, always finishes strong, and knows how to win a championship. Don't count him out.
Darkhorse contender: It’s hard to call Johnson a darkhorse after so much success, but he’s the only one in the top five without a world championship on his resumé. He’s been the No. 1 qualifier at three of the last four events (and No. 2 at the other), so John Collins certainly knows how to make power.
Thursday: Pro Stock
Friday: Pro Stock Motorycycle