Steve Torrence says he doesn’t count points, and there is certainly no reason to doubt him, but the three-time Top Fuel world champ clearly didn’t enjoy coughing up the points lead last week in Charlotte when he lost in the semifinals of the DeWalt NHRA Carolina Nationals. Who could blame Torrence for enjoying the view from the top. The Capco driver took the lead at the second event of the season in Las Vegas and steadily extended it throughout the regular season, where he dominated with eight wins.
Seven days after he surrendered the top spot to rival Brittany Force, Torrence quickly addressed the issue by claiming his ninth win of the season in St. Louis. Torrence went to the final for the 72nd time in his career where he bested Mike Salinas and his Scrappers team. Torrence was in trouble early in the final when Salinas left with a .011 reaction time, but the Scrappers car drifted towards the centerline at half-track and Torrence took advantage of the miscue with a 3.736 to seal the win and extend his advantage over the field.
“The final was crazy. Normally, your crew chief or someone pulls you into beams or leans over to give you the signal to roll in and pre-stage,” Torrence said. “I was waiting and Mike’s top bulb is on. I was in the process of bumping in and his top bulb went out. I don’t think he meant to do it but it was a distraction. I looked up and the lights were on. I knew I was dead late. I was gaining on him at half-track and I saw he was close to the centerline. I finally saw my win light. Some days it’s better to be lucky than good.
“Thankfully, I don’t do what I did in the final too often,” said Torrence. “We have continuity. My guys have been together, every one of them since 2013, and the way we work together just makes you better every year.”
Torrence didn’t have the quickest car in St. Louis but he was never far off the pace set by the leaders. In qualifying, he ran a 3.697 but trailed Salinas and Force, who exchanged haymakers with runs of 3.652 and 3.663 that are among the quickest in the history of the class. Throughout his career, Torrence has always been more content to made headlines on Sunday than on Friday or Saturday and he was content to do just that in St. Louis with victories against Shawn Langdon, Antron Brown, and Josh Hart, the winner a week ago at zMax Dragway.
Torrence and his Richard Hogan-led team were overpowering with a 3.669 to beat Langdon, and a 3.709 against Brown, but his semifinal win took a bit more finesse. In his first season in the Top Fuel class, Hart has already won a few races via holeshot but he and Torrence left even. Any thoughts of an upset quickly evaporated when Hart’s R&L Carriers dragster hazed the tires. Torrence may have gotten a break when he made his slowest run of the day, a 3.767.
“I’ve been No. 1 all year except for the first race and the last race,” said Torrence. “I’m confident in my ability to do the job. You’ve just got to win on race day. The points are what they are. We’ve won nine of 16 races and we’re still fighting these guys for a championship. It’s kind of a joke.
Although Salinas didn’t’ win in St. Louis, he had to be happy with the progress of his Scrappers team on several fronts. Salinas has been quick at times, but also a bit inconsistent. Team manager Alan Johnson and crew chief Brian Husen have worked on the performance end and that paid off with some of the best runs of Salinas’ career, and he’s also done his part working to improve his driving. That part became evident when he cut back-to-back .042 and .038 lights in his wins against Tripp Tatum and Leah Pruett, a prelude to his .011 bulb in the final round.
Torrence now holds a 36 point lead over Force with four events remaining in the season.