Greg Anderson feels that he needs to do something in order to help teammate Jason Line win his fourth (and final) NHRA Pro Stock championship but he’s not exactly sure what he can to do. Line comes into the final event of the 2020 season tied with Jeg Coughlin Jr. for second place in the standings, 55 points behind leader and defending champ Erica Enders. Anderson would love to race Enders in the first or second round, but making it happen is far from easy.
Last year, Anderson employed a similar strategy at the Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona and nearly pulled it off. He shut of early on all four qualifying runs and managed to land a round one match up with Enders. Manipulating the qualifying chart is one thing, but it’s not an effective strategy unless you can actually win the round and Anderson came up a few thousandths short on race day.
“Last year, we got the matchup we wanted but it took a lot of luck to do it,” Anderson said. “This year, it’s going to be even harder. For one thing, we only have two qualifying sessions instead of four so you have only half as many chances to do this. There are also 20 cars here so if you make a mistake, and that’s easy to do, you won’t be racing on Sunday. That’s a big problem.”
“You also have to figure that there are five or six cars that can qualify No. 1 so even if you land on the bump spot, there is no guarantee that you’ll race Erica in the first round,” Anderson said. “What if she’s second or third? What then? Erica and Jeg also run after me in the first session so I’ll have no idea what they’re going to run. I agree that I need to do something, but I just don’t know what. I think a better play might be to qualify eighth or ninth and hope to catch her in the second round. That helps to make sure you don’t miss the field.”
Last year, some members of the Elite team took exception to Anderson’s qualifying tactics but he insists that it’s not personal, and the also acknowledges there is nothing in the rules to prevent it. He also doesn’t feel that it qualifies as unsportsmanlike conduct. There is one other thing to ponder; even if Anderson were to be successful in beating Enders, there is no guarantee that he won’t be helping Coughlin win his sixth Pro Stock title.
“Look, I wish we weren’t in this position and we could just race straight-up for the championship but I’m not in it and Jason is and as a teammate, it’s my job to help him any way I can,” said Anderson. “I don’t think you just go hand the title to another team. You’ve got to make them work for it. Honestly, it’s not personal.”
The situation in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class is similar, but slightly more complicated. Matt Smith leads the standings by 78 points over his teammate, Scotty Pollacheck. Harley-Davidson’s Eddie Krawiec is also 78 points back while reigning champ Andrew Hines is also in contention, but he’s 86 points back making him a longshot for the title.
Hines admits the Vance & Hines team has thought about trying to manipulate the ladder in order to race Smith’s Denso EBR in the first round, but he’s also got some reservations. With just 16 bikes in the field, the possibility of a DNQ has been eliminated but Hines admits there is also risk involved.
“Eddie and I are still in the running for the championship and we really can’t afford to fall much further behind Matt so we need to qualify straight up,” Hines said. “We can’t give up the possibility of earning qualifying points. It’s kind of like a roulette wheel, you don’t know where you are going to end up and you’re not exactly sure where Matt is going to end up, although its pretty likely he’s going to be first. We could possibly send Angelle [Sampey] out there to try and catch Matt but that’s not a given, either.”
For his part, Smith and his three-bike team plan to play it straight up and with a lead that amounts to three rounds, there is no reason for him not to. Smith only needs to win two rounds on Sunday to make it impossible for anyone else to catch him, regardless of how qualifying shakes out.
“My plan is to do the best I can,” said Smith. “I’d like to see, me, Scotty, and Angie [Smith], qualify 1,2,3 and then just race on Sunday. I don’t really care what anyone else does. If they [Vance & Hines] think they can beat me, that’s fine. The way my bike is running, the only one who can beat me is me. Last week, we broke a cheap toggle switch that controls the fuel pump. It’s the kind of thing that never happens but it did. If that doesn’t break, I probably have the championship locked up. We spent this week working on the bike trying to replace everything that might go wrong. I just need to holt it together for four runs, two in qualifying and two more on Sunday. I think we can do that.”