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NHRA Countdown Clock Is Down To 1

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, August 31 2018

Richie Crampton will be shooting for a Countdown berth at the NHRA U.S. Nationals this weekend.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Nine points separate Top Fuel contenders Scott Palmer, Mike Salinas and Richie Crampton for what could be the final two spots in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

With final regular-season spots to be determined during this weekend’s prestigious 64th annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, every round counts in what’s billed as “The World’s Biggest Drag Race.”

The top-10 drivers in each of four professional categories will advance into the six-race playoffs. Palmer sits ninth in his 10,000-horsepower CatSpot/Tommy Thompson Motorsports dragster, just seven points in front of Salinas, who holds a two-point lead over 2014 U.S. Nats winner Crampton.

Palmer is chasing his second straight playoff berth, hoping to add to a regular season that already has included his first career final-round appearance.

“Frank Manzo taught me something when I raced with him,” Palmer said of the 105-time national event winner. “He said his racing season always started at Indy and ended in Brainerd. So, basically before Indy every year he started fresh with new cars and new parts. Usually by Indy your stuff is getting tired and then you push everything harder at Indy because it’s Indy _ and then you push it even harder down the stretch because you’re racing for the championship. It really doesn’t make sense to do your most important racing with old stuff.

“So, we’re doing this the ‘Frank Manzo Way.’ Instead of testing for Indy, we went back and freshened everything up, replaced a lot of parts with new stuff from Tom Conway and we’re ready to give this thing our best effort. Frank won so many championships and races. He’s the second-winningest driver in NHRA history and he did it because when he got ready to go to Indy, he was starting fresh. We’re following his lead.”

Palmer also has been working closely with point-leader Steve Torrence and the entire CAPCO Contractors team, sharing data and parts each weekend.

“We’re taking this race very seriously. It will be tense,“ Palmer said. “There’s a lot of pressure, but it’s good pressure because we’re in this position. We could be completely out of it but we’re not. When it comes Monday night, if we can all sleep good knowing we gave it our all, that’s all you can ask for.”

Torrence (Top Fuel), J.R. Todd (Funny Car), Drew Skillman (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of a race that will be broadcast on the FOX national network and FOX Sports 1 (FS1), including a live telecast of Monday’s finals on both FOX and FS1. “The Big Go” is the 18th of 24 races during the 2018 season.

This will be the first U.S. Nationals for Californian Salinas and his Scrappers Racing dragster. Salinas advanced to his first career final round at Bristol Dragway and has posted back-to-back semifinal appearances heading into Indy. That said, Salinas insisted he feels no pressure rolling into the biggest race of his career.

“Actually, it’s pretty awesome to be honest,” Salinas said. “This is what we’re here for and I love it. I love the pressure of racing the best guys in the world. But we’re going (to compete) to win, not just to get some points. That’s our mindset for every race and this is a big one for us. We’re happy to be in the position where we have a chance to do this and we need to capitalize on it. We’ve got a very competitive race car and we’re excited. Bring it on _ let’s go.”

The points-and-a-half system in-play this weekend (150 points to the winner) sets the stage for a number of dramatic possibilities. Palmer, Salinas and Crampton all could finish in the top-10 should they register big point-scoring weekends and Terry McMillen and reigning series champion Brittany Force struggle. McMillen leads Palmer by 90 points, while Force has an 86-point advantage over Palmer.

Crampton, meanwhile, posted an early-season win at Gainesville Raceway and has made three Countdown appearances in his career. Getting into a fourth in his Craftsman dragster will require Crampton to defy the odds, as he did in 2014 at Indy.

“For me, it’s the first time coming into Indy not really securely in the top-10, so you’re definitely aware of the situation,” Crampton said. “But that being said, as a driver, I’m just going to do my job and let the points take care of themselves. There’s enough pressure as it is and I definitely want to secure a spot in the Countdown. We’ll do our thing and I’m confident that my Craftsman/Toyota team, led by Connie (Kalitta) and Rob Flynn, will be good.”

Drivers in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Series also will compete in the event. The fastest Super Stock cars will challenge for ultimate bragging rights and bonus purse payouts during the NHRA Dodge HEMI Challenge as well.

Fans also will have the opportunity to interact with some of the most famous names in drag racing during the NHRA Legends Tour. The lineup scheduled to attend includes Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, Shirley Muldowney, Al Segrini, Tom Prock, Darrell Gwynn and Terry Vance.

A special Monday edition of the SealMaster NHRA Track Walk will take place prior to final eliminations, with many of the sport’s most celebrated drivers walking alongside fans down the historic drag strip. Fan-favorite vintage race cars will be on display in the Hot Rod Junction, along with several autograph sessions featuring the sport’s biggest stars.

The first of five qualifying sessions is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. Friday. Sessions are set for Saturday at 4:15 and 7:15 p.m., with the final two sessions on Sunday at noon and 3:45 p.m. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Monday.

The FOX network and FS1 will televise coverage starting with qualifying Sunday on FS1 at 4 and 10 p.m. (EDT). The broadcasts continue on FS1 with two hours of live coverage of eliminations on Monday starting at 11 a.m. (EDT), and continuing live on FOX at 1 p.m.

Mountain Motor Pro Stock cars are scheduled to make their debut appearance at an NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event as part of the 64th annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. Mountain Motor drivers from around the country will showcase their machines at “The World’s Biggest Drag Race” with two runs on Saturday and two on Sunday.

The unique category features Pro Stock machines boasting 800-plus cubic-inch engines. Drivers expected to participate in the exhibition include John Montecalvo, Trevor Eman, John Konigshofer, Brad Waddle, Dwayne Rice, John DeFlorian, Elijah Morton and Dillon Voss.

“We are looking forward to seeing the Mountain Motor Pro Stock class run at an NHRA national event,” said Ned Walliser, NHRA vice president of competition. “There’s been some interest in incorporating these cars into our current Pro Stock field. In order to determine if that’s even a possibility, we need to see these machines perform under the same conditions as our Pro Stock category.”

Point standings (top-10) heading into the 64th annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis:

Top Fuel_1. Steve Torrence, 1,332*; 2. Tony Schumacher, 1,145*; 3. Clay Millican, 1,144*; 4. Leah Pritchett, 1,118*; 5. Doug Kalitta, 1,027*; 6. Antron Brown, 1,026*; 7. Terry McMillen, 791; 8. Brittany Force, 787; 9. Scott Palmer, 701; 10. Mike Salinas, 694; 11. Richie Crampton, 692; 12. Blake Alexander, 522.

Funny Car _1. Courtney Force, 1,372*; 2. Ron Capps, 1,177*; 3. Robert Hight, 1,154*; 4. Jack Beckman, 1,110*; 5. Matt Hagan, 1,102*; 6. (tie) Tommy Johnson Jr., 987*; J.R. Todd, 987*; 8. John Force, 855; 9. Shawn Langdon, 791; 10. Tim Wilkerson, 747; 11. Bob Tasca III, 723; 12. Cruz Pedregon, 672; 13. Jonnie Lindberg, 649.

Pro Stock _1. Greg Anderson, 1,262;* 2. Tanner Gray, 1,242;* 3. Erica Enders, 1,146;* 4. Vincent Nobile, 1,084;* 5. Jeg Coughlin Jr., 1,055;* 6. Deric Kramer, 1,045;* 7. Jason Line, 986;* 8. Chris McGaha, 983;* 9. Drew Skillman,* 959; 10. Bo Butner, 930; 11. Alex Laughlin, 741.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _1. Andrew Hines, 784*; 2. Eddie Krawiec, 773*; 3. Hector Arana Jr., 646*; 4. LE Tonglet, 641*; 5. Jerry Savoie, 588*; 6. Matt Smith, 540*; 7. Scotty Pollacheck, 480; 8. Angie Smith, 409; 9. Angelle Sampey, 372; 10. Hector Arana, 353; 11. Jim Underdahl, 343; 12. Steve Johnson, 334; 13. Joey Gladstone, 317; 14. Cory Reed, 310; 15. Ryan Oehler, 300; 16. Karen Stoffer, 277; 17. Mark Paquette, 178.

Note _* Denotes clinched berth in NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs.


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, August 31 2018
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