Steve Torrence may be the only person without a major concern when the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series concludes this weekend at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona.
However, Torrence will be gunning for an unprecedented achievement, attempting to win all six national events in the Countdown to the Championship. The Texan wrapped up the Top Fuel dragster championship with his fifth straight victory, taking the Las Vegas event late last month.
While there’s mild suspense in the sport’s glamour class, there’s plenty in the other three pro classes with a total of 11 drivers remaining in the title hunt. The majority of those competitors are in Pro Stock Motorcycle where the top six are within 113 points of first place. In Funny Car, two drivers are within 74 points of one another while 149 points separate the top three Pro Stock contenders.
The Finals, like the U.S. Nationals, are worth additional points. The most any driver can earn is 191, but that would require a win, lowest qualifying time and quickest time in each of the four qualifying sessions.
There will be a pair of qualifying sessions on Friday and Saturday before final eliminations on Sunday at the famed drag strip. Sportsmen will start Thursday, including the start of qualifying for alcohol dragsters.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, two-time champion Matt Smith leads the field by a slim four points over four-time and defending titlist Eddie Krawiec. LE Tonglet, 2010 champion, is third in points, 61 behind Smith. Hector Arana Jr. is fourth (-64) and the only non-title winner in the group. Jerry Savoie, 2016 champion, is fifth in the chase (-101) and two points ahead of five-time class winner Andrew Hines.
Arana and Krawiec made big moves in the standings by advancing to the Las Vegas finals. Arana pushed his Buell to a winning run of 6.885 seconds at 193.35 mph for his 14th career victory, and third of the year.
“We did a great job qualifying and that sent the tone,” Arana said of his victory. “It gave me the confidence I needed. I had great lights in qualifying and did it again on race day. Great preparation and everything came back together. We just want to qualify well, win rounds and win races.”
Krawiec has four career wins at Pomona (the last one in 2015) and Hines three, including last year.
The Funny Car battle is between JR Todd and defending champion Robert Hight.
Todd moved into first with his victory in Las Vegas and has a 74-point advantage heading to the track he won in Top Fuel in 2007. Todd, who was out of racing for an extended period when his Top Fuel team folded, has won a series-high five events this year and dating back to the summer of 2017, he won seven of 33 competitions, the same number as Hight.
Todd won at Las Vegas and Huston earlier this season before a mid-season slump. However, he’s won three of the last six races, including Countdown races at Reading and Las Vegas. During that span, he has a 20-3 round win-loss record.
Hight broke his collarbone in St. Louis but has stayed competitive.
“At the beginning of the year, all you can do is hope to be in this position,” said Hight, who has four career wins in Pomona. “Up until these last few years, we went through a period where we were going to Vegas and Pomona without a chance to win a title, and that’s tough. It’s painful and I think that makes you appreciate the team you have and everything we have going on this year.
“We all know what we have to do. We love our jobs, but we love to win and that’s our main focus. Fans love the thought of the championship going down to the last race and that gets me pumped up.”
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