There’s a chill in the air at Bristol Dragway, but that’s not the only thing as Thunder Valley prepares to host eliminations for the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals for the first time ever in October.
It’s also the first time the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series has appeared in the mountains of Tennessee in the Countdown to the Championship and with temperatures slated to top out at around 60 degrees, fans could be in for a spectacular show on Sunday.
The race is the fifth playoff event and the championship picture will certainly become clearer leaving Thunder Valley and heading to the finals stops of the year in Las Vegas and Pomona.
Top Fuel points leader Steve Torrence usually turns heads with his performance on Sundays, but he impressed in qualifying in Bristol, grabbing the track record from the likes of Brittany Force and Mike Salinas and qualifying No. 1. It has the potential to work out beautifully for the three-time defending world champ, considering he gets a bye to the semifinals if he wins his opening-round matchup against Cameron Ferre.
Based on qualifying, that seems likely, which puts the onus on Force to have a huge day. She entered the weekend 52 points behind Torrence and would love to close that gap on Sunday. It will likely take some huge throwdown runs to do based on the expected conditions and the fact that seven cars reached the 3.60s in qualifying. The first round is slated with huge matchups, including Billy Torrence racing Doug Kalitta, Justin Ashley, last week’s winner in Dallas, taking on Shawn Langdon, Josh Hart facing Clay Millican and Mike Salinas meeting Antron Brown.
The conditions have proven to be a little more tricky for Funny Car to solve, which could make for an entertaining afternoon in Thunder Valley. Alexis DeJoria had a considerable advantage at the top, going 3.907 at 326.79, with Ron Capps the closest to her with a 3.945. After three swings at the track — including two on Saturday in cooler conditions — it will be interesting to see who has solved it for eliminations.
Capps stepped up with a big run to close out qualifying and could meet his teammate and points leader Matt Hagan in the semifinals if both win in the first two rounds. Hagan, though, has a tough one to open the day, as he meets J.R. Todd right off the bat. Todd struggled through qualifying and didn’t make a full run, but that could change quickly today. Capps gets Blake Alexander to open raceday and then a potential matchup with Cruz Pedregon, who is third in points and is in a near must-win situation if he wants to remain in contention.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, an official winner at a points event will be crowned for the first time at Bristol Dragway and there’s plenty of championship implications on the line. Scotty Pollacheck qualified No. 1 with a 6.859 at 197.80, with his teammate, Matt Smith right behind with a 6.865. Smith went for something big in Saturday’s final qualifier, which didn’t work out, but he’s been a step or two ahead of his closest competitors this weekend.
He entered the weekend with an eight-point advantage over Steve Johnson, and he’s stretched that based on qualifying second and making two strong runs. Johnson struggled on Saturday in every regard and will need a big turnaround in eliminations to keep pace with the defending world champ. The same goes for Angelle Sampey, who was 53 points back of Smith before the weekend started. She hasn’t made a full run down the track and will get teammate Andrew Hines to open raceday.
In the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service, Rickie Smith has distanced himself from everyone with a series of stellar runs. The latest came under the lights Saturday night, as Smith blistered the track to a run of 5.708 at 250.64.
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NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series final eliminations start Sunday, Oct. 17 at 11:30 a.m.
Qualifying: Sunday, Oct. 17, 1-2 p.m. Eastern, FS1
Eliminations: Sunday, Oct. 17, 2-5 p.m., Eastern, FS1