It’s not exactly the classic Abbott and Costello Who’s On First baseball comedy routine, but fans could well be justified for not always knowing who was in first place in this year’s Funny Car championship race.
With 16-time world champ John Force regaining the lead following his runner-up finish at last weekend’s Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals Presented By Pennzoil in Reading, the top spot in the class has now changed hands a record-breaking six times over the last six events.
Bob Tasca III led the points from the second race of the season until the 10th, where Ron Capps usurped the lead with his win at the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals presented by ProtectTheHarvest.com. Force took the lead in Topeka, Matt Hagan grabbed in Topeka, Capps retook the top spot in Indy, and then relinquished it to Force after Reading. And, as you can see in the chart below, the lead had never exceeded 29 points heading into the next event.
|Sonoma||Bob Tasca III||Matt Hagan||11|
|* Capps’ lead was 43 before the Countdown reset|
Only once before in Funny Car history has the lead clearly changed hands five times, and those lead swaps took place early in the season.
In 2005, Tommy Johnson Jr. took the points lead by winning the Winternationals, but then lost it to Phil Burkart Jr., who lost it to Whit Bazemore, who lost it to John Force before regaining it a week later and holding onto it through the next event.
(In 2013, Courtney Force won the Winternationals and then lost the lead to Ron Capps, who didn’t lose the lead at the next race but rather was tied by Johnny Gray. Force, Hagan, and Pedregon all then had the lead for one race before Pedregon managed to hold onto the lead for two races.)
All of this is a far cry from the decades ago, when Don Prudhomme famously led the points from season start to completion in 1975-77 and was in the points lead for 33 of the 34 events spanning 1975-78. Frank Hawley led for all 12 races in his 1983 championship run, Kenny Bernstein led after all 14 in 1987, and Bruce Larson all 19 in 1989. John Force was in front for all 18 in 1991 and all 22 in 1997, the last time that a Funny Car driver led the points from start to finish. (Robert Hight led for 23 of 24 in 2019, losing the lead only briefly to Jack Beckman in Reading.)
The last 10 Funny Car championship battles that included the Countdown to the Championship all were in doubt until the season finale in Pomona, and nine of them were decided by less than 100 points.
|2019||Robert Hight||Jack Beckman||8|
|2018||J.R. Todd||Robert Hight||194|
Come season's end, who’s going to be in first? What gap will there be to second? I don’t know!