Steve Torrence went from overdue to right on time while Bob Tasca III maintained his status as the hottest driver in the Camping World NHRA Drag Racing series after a wild and unpredictable day of final eliminations at the 40th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd Int’l Raceway. Torrence collected his first win of the year when he defeated eight-time world champ Tony Schumacher in the final while Tasca won or the third time in four races when he stopped Ron Capps in the Funny Car final.
After dominating the last four seasons, Torrence somehow went winless through the first 14 events of the 2022 season but the Capco Contractors team found a way to put their early season struggles behind them and Torrence emerged with his 52nd professional Wally. Their performance was not exactly a work of art, but that mattered little to Torrence who had visibly grown tired of answering the inevitable question of when he was going to win again. The four-time world champ defeated eight-time champ and recent Seattle winner Tony Schumacher in the final, 3.866 to a tire-hazing 3.942. Torrence’s record against Schumacher remains unblemished a 5-0 this season.
“A day like today is one that you are most proud of as a driver,” said Torrence. “When everything goes well, you just need to do your job. When the car doesn’t do what it’s supposed to, that’s different. We were not trying to smoke the tires, but that’s the cards we were dealt. You remember these days more than when you just stand on the gas and drive it to the finish line. It takes a lot of experience to go out and pedal and I just don’t have it because my car usually goes A to B.
“In the final against Tony; he typically goes in fast, but I decided to go in first and he made me sit there,” Torrence said. “I was a little behind. I was 80 on the Tree Saw and him get a wheel out on me and I thought ‘Not again’. Then he slid back and I thought things might have turned out way. I’ve said this before but to have the success we’ve had the last four years and then not have success is tough. It was really great just to get the monkey off our back. I wouldn’t say by any means that we’re back to our normal standards. It’s the time of the year to just get your head in the game and focus. The last six are for business and we’re pretty good at taking care of business.”
The fans in Brainerd enjoyed the warm and sunny weather that was present on Sunday but for some reason, it proved baffling for even NHRA’s best nitro crew chiefs. The opening round of eliminations produced a overabundance of competitive elapsed times including a stunning 3.646 by Top Fuel low qualifier Brittany Force but after that, rising track temperatures made from some tough sledding. Top Fuel runs in the 3.6s and 3.8 second Funny Car passes were largely a thing of the past after round one, but that doesn’t mean the racing wasn’t entertaining. Far from it.
The Capco team was able to adapt better than most as Torrence opened with a competitive 3.755 in his win against Mike Salinas, and then pedaled his way to wins against Antron Brown and Force to reach the final for the 86th time in his career. The Capco dragster remained glued to the track in the final while Schumacher’s Okuma dragster went to half-track before a whisp of tire smoke ended his chances for an 87th career victory.
Despite the loss, Schumacher had a lot of positives to take away from Brainerd especially as he looks at the Camping World standings ahead of the upcoming playoffs. Schumacher was outside the Top 10 for much of the season but his recent surge has all-but locked up his spot in the Countdown. En route to career final No. 156, Schumacher drove to wins over Doug Kalitta, Josh Hart, and Justin Ashley.
Tasca has been telling anyone who’d listen that his team is a legit contender for the Camping World Funny Car title and at this point, it’s almost impossible to doubt him. Appearing in the final for the fifth time in six races, Tasca delivered a knockout blow in the final with a 3.945 to easily cover Capps’ respectable 4.007. Tasca now has a 19-3 record in elimination rounds since the Norwalk round two months ago.
“I’ve said this many times but what we’ve done [lately] is amazing,” said Tasca. “We’ve not backed into any win and performed at a high level throughout this [win streak]. This is incredible execution by the team, and I mean every single person. This team has to performed flawlessly. The package we have is a breath that is unlike anything I’ve ever had in my driving career. Hot or cold, whatever, they always have an answer and when that happens, as a driver you just have to go out and do your job.
“This track was difficult for me,” said Tasca “All weekend, I was fighting the car down track. It was spinning and moving around. If you let it get out of the groove and it will spin tires. Keeping it in the center of the groove is absolutely critical, especially today. I’m so proud of what we’ve done today. Before the final, I sat in the trailer with Mike and looked at the data and he said, ‘You know, there is a lot more I can do here. That’s how he is. He’s always thinking about how we can be better. We have a lot of unfinished business ahead of us. We’re all chasing the same trophy at the end of the year.”
Like everyone else in Funny Car, Tasca’s team was also forced to adapt to rapidly-changing track conditions but crew chiefs Mike Neff and John Shafer were head and shoulders above the rest of the field with four-straight runs in the threes including a 3.891 in their opening round win over Dale Creasy Jr., who kept the Motorcraft team honest with a career-best 3.967. Tasca also earned wins against Chad Green and points leader Robert Hight, who struck the tires in his Auto Club Camaro.
Capps, has been relatively quiet since his most recent win in Bristol but the NAPA Toyota team, led by Dean Antonelli and John Medlen, might just be peaking at the right time with the Dodge Power Brokers U.S. Nationals and the Countdown to the Champoinship playoffs right around the corner. Capps won just one round on the Western Swing and earned a quarterfinal finish in Topeka, but Brainerd was a different story as he scored wins against John Force, Bobby Bode, and Alexis DeJoria to make his fourth final of the season.