Following two days and three outstanding qualifying sessions in Topeka, the stage is set for what appears to be a tremendous day of final eliminations at Heartland Motorsports Park for the Menards NHRA Nationals presented by PetArmor.
The House of Speed in Topeka once again delivered as advertised, and now the real funs begins on Sunday as race teams look to build momentum and championship aspirations with the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship fast approaching.
Teams and crew chiefs will be tested through a variety of conditions on Sunday, but the track has shown it's capable of big numbers and strong runs, so fans can expect more than a few throwdowns and thrilling side-by-side action throughout all four rounds.
In Top Fuel, the question is simple: Is this the weekend Brittany Force finally breaks through? She picked up her fourth straight No. 1 qualifier and sixth in the last 10 races. But she doesn’t have a win to show for it - yet - losing in a pair of final rounds. If she manages to get by Scott Palmer in the opening round, she’ll have a bye to the semifinals, meaning the opportunities are there for Force to take advantage and make a big leap forward this year. David Grubnic can unleash something killer when the conditions are right, but will the team be able to navigate four rounds on Sunday?
Steve Torrence, the current points leader who qualified fourth, could be waiting in the semifinals — that is if he can get by Leah Pruett in a monumental first-round matchup — and the most recent Topeka winner has made several quality runs this weekend. Justin Ashley and Alex Laughlin meet in a battle of rising Top Fuel stars, while the other side of the ladder includes a number of stellar first-round showdowns, including Antron Brown versus Shawn Langdon, and Clay Millican taking on Doug Kalitta. The possibility also remains we could see another Torrence vs. Torrence final round, which happened in 2019 when Steve slipped past his father, Billy, in a final-round thriller.
J.R. Todd laid down an impressive pass on Friday in Funny Car, but he struggled a bit through the two sessions on Saturday. He has a first-round bye, which means Todd will be racing either Chad Green or Ron Capps, who has a one-point advantage on Bob Tasca III for the points lead entering eliminations, in conditions similar to what we saw on Saturday. Normally a strong warm-weather team, Todd could make a big-time move in Funny Car points if he can navigate through four rounds on Sunday.
In a wild turn of events, Cruz Pedregon and Tim Wilkerson will meet up to open eliminations. It’s the same duo that had a top-end incident during the second qualifying session when Wilkerson crossed the center line and made contact with Pedregon’s car. The cars were stuck together as they hit the wall before coming to a stop. It was an unfortunate turn of events, but they raced together during the next qualifying session without incident — and new bodies for each car. Now, they’ll race for a third straight time this weekend. Another massive marquee matchup in the first round is Tasca, who qualified third, facing Robert Hight, who hasn’t made a full run yet this weekend. He’ll need to change that in a hurry to get past Tasca.
John Force has been arguably the most consistent through qualifying, while Alexis DeJoria will try to become the eighth different Funny Car driver to win this year. She’s in a great position after qualifying second and continues to be a model of consistency in the loaded class. The path to a win won’t be easy, but DeJoria has proven plenty capable.
Troy Coughlin Jr. rose to the challenge in a memorable day of final qualifying on Saturday, grabbing the top spot twice — finally hanging on for good with his final run. It was his first No. 1 qualifier ever in the professional ranks for the young standout, and he’ll try to get a first win as well this weekend. As close as Pro Stock is these days, it’s hard to call Coughlin a huge favorite, but he does appear to have a favorable matchup at least until the semifinals when he would likely face either Dallas Glenn, who was No. 1 on Saturday for a couple hours, Matt Hartford, who was No. 1 for a couple minutes on Saturday, or Aaron Stanfield, who has won three of the past four races but slipped to 12th in qualifying in Topeka.
To exemplify how stout Saturday was, Friday’s provisional No. 1 qualifier Kyle Koretsky dipped all the way to seventh. He has a possible matchup with Greg Anderson in the second round, as the points leader will once again try to tie Warren Johnson for the most wins in Pro Stock history (97). A semifinal matchup with Erica Enders could be looming there and the defending world champ made two excellent runs on Saturday.
If Sunday is anything likes Saturday’s qualifying sessions, Pro Stock could be downright gnarly in Topeka.
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Final eliminations start Sunday at 11 a.m. Central
Eliminations: Sunday, 3-6 p.m., Eastern, FOX