Top Fuel Title Is Torrence’s To Lose

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 17 2019
Steve Torrence will begin the final day of the 2019 NHRA season with a points lead and from the pole. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Reigning NHRA Top Fuel world champion Steve Torrence will begin defense of his title from a position of strength Sunday after qualifying on-pole for the season-ending 55th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at Pomona, Calif.

Torrence closed-out qualifying during Saturday’s fourth and final round at Auto Club Raceway by covering the 1,000-foot distance in 3.686-seconds at 329.99 mph. Torrence went into the round 14th on the 16-car ladder that was paced Friday by Leah Pritchett.

Torrence, who earned his fifth No. 1 qualifier this year and 24th in his career, and will face Cameron Ferre to open Sunday’s eliminations. Torrence will take a 22-point lead over Brittany Force into a race day that could see the past two world champs meet in Round 2. Force qualified eighth at 3.726-seconds and 331.69 mph and will race three-time world champ Antron Brown in Round 1.

“It’s a little bit disturbing how relaxed I’ve been coming into this weekend,” said Torrence, who has nine national event victories this season in his Capco Contractors dragster. “I’ve been in this situation before and come here with the lead (2017), and it didn’t pan out the way we wanted it to. We came here last year and were already the champs, but you just have to step back and look at what we’re doing here. It’s the final race of the year and you need to go four rounds. It’s going to be sudden-death. You’ve got Brittany and I, and we’ll try to keep Doug (Kalitta) from jumping on us, and try to keep my dad (Billy) from getting there, too.”

Torrence attributed his performance problems during Friday’s opening two round of time trials to being overly aggressive. “We were trying to run a .64 or a .65 and the track just wouldn’t hold it,” said Torrence, whose car is tuned by co-crew chiefs Richard Hogan and Bobby Lagana Jr.  “So, we went for a layup on the first run (an elapsed time Saturday of 3.746-seconds) that gave us a starting point and, after that, Richard and Bobby tuned it up.  

“I didn’t really know if that would stand up for No. 1. There were a lot of good cars running behind us and the conditions kept getting better, but we weren’t thinking No. 1 when we went up there, so we were happy. We just wanted to make a representative run that would get us in the top half and get us lane choice.  We were able to do that so we feel pretty good going in. Brittany’s got a great team and a great car and you can’t forget about Doug. It’ll be exciting, which is what the NHRA wanted.”

Force, of John Force Racing, admitted she will be operating from a “tough position” despite each round paying one-and-a-half points, or 30 per winning pass. “If I were to go into this thing with anyone, it would be (co-crew chiefs) David Grubnic, Mac Savage and this Advance Auto Part team,” Force said.”We’re going to have to throw-down (Sunday); we’re going to have to put everything into this thing if we want to make it work and if we come out on top, it will be that much sweeter.”

Pritchett qualified second at 3.694-seconds and 322.88 mph in her Don Schumacher Racing entry and Clay Millican sits third after running 3.699 at 328.30. Kalitta, who is 63 points behind Torrence, sits sixth with a 3.717 at 324.28. Billy Torrence is 89 points back of his son.

Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also emerged as No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the last of six races in the 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs. The race also is the finale of the 24-race season that began at Pomona in February.

FOX Sports 1 will begin its finals coverage with “NHRA Sunday Live” at 3 p.m. (EST). Three hours of live race coverage will be carried during “NHRA Sunday Finals” at 4 p.m., capped by the “NHRA Post Race Show” at 7 p.m. Fans also can stream the race live on NHRA.tv.

DSR’s Hagan continued to impress Saturday with a pair of solid runs, securing pole on the strength of his 1,000-foot pass in 3.872-seconds at 333.58 mph from Friday. The two-time world champ earned his second No. 1 qualifier this season and 36th in his career, and will race Jonnie Lindberg in the opening round.  Hagan will head into eliminations 44 points back of leader Robert Hight, who qualified fifth at 3.895 and 330.55 in his Chevrolet Camaro SS.

“We’ve had a great race car for a while and now it’s really shining,” said Hagan, driver of the MOPAR Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Widebody. “I’m feeling really good about things and you can’t ask for too much more. I’m excited and we’re hungry for it. We all live to be in this position to have the opportunity to win world championships, and we’re just going to keep doing what we’ve been doing to get here.

“I feel no pressure right now, but that’s why you race on Sunday. I’m really excited about it and I feel really confident in my guys. They’re going to put a great race car underneath me, and I’m going to drive my butt off and see what happens.”

“Fast”Jack Beckman, also of DSR, shot up to the second position via his final run of 3.876 at 332.43. Beckman, the 2012 world champ, will start Sunday 38 points back of Hight, of JFR. Tim Wilkerson took the third spot at 3.876 and 327.43. Sixteen-time world champ John Force trails teammate Hight by 76 points.

Coughlin’s quarter-mile pass Friday of 6.533-seconds at 210.70 mph in his Chevrolet Camaro held serve to secure his third pole in 2019. The five-time world champ made the quickest qualifying run of the final session to pull within 81 points of leader and Elite Motorsports teammate Erica Enders. Coughlin faces off against Joey Grose to open race day. Enders _ a two-time world champ who qualified second for the third straight race at 6.538 and 210.93 _ will meet No. 15 qualifier/four-time world champ Greg Anderson in the first round.

“We’re just trying to make good quality runs tomorrow,” said Coughlin, who has 32 career poles. “Erica’s had a good season and a great Countdown. We’re working hard to get every point we can and see if we can parlay this into something exceptional, which would be a Pro Stock championship or at least the top two in points. There’s a lot of racing left. Pomona is a fun place to be and I like where I’m sitting. Sunday is going to be a fun day.”

Jason Line, a three-time world champ and Anderson’s KB Racing teammate, qualified third at 6.544 and 210.01. Line is 110 points behind Enders, while 2017 world champion Bo Butner qualified fourth with a 6.557 at 210.83. Butner, also of KBR, is 111 points behind Enders. Should Enders knock off Anderson on Sunday, everyone but Coughlin would be eliminated. From there, Coughlin would need to win the race and Enders would have to lose in the second round to slip past her.

Reigning Pro Stock Motorcycle world champ Smith earned his third consecutive Countdown pole aboard his Denso Auto Parts/Stockseth/MSR EBR thanks to his quarter-mile pass in 6.815-seconds at 197.33 mph from Friday. Smith, a three-time world champion, earned his seventh pole this year and 38th in his career. Smith heads into eliminations 106 points behind leader Andrew Hines, a five-time world champion aboard his factory Harley-Davidson.

“I feel good about tomorrow,” Smith said. “We were basically low of every round but one and we’ve been good all weekend long. I’m just going out there to run my race and try to turn on a win light each round. If I get lucky enough and turn four of them on, and Andrew loses in the first round, then we become the champion. I’m really just going to go do my job and see what happens.”

Karen Stoffer qualified second on her Suzuki with a 6.834 at 195.00. Jerry Savoie, the 2016 world champ who trails Hines by 116 points, will start from third after going 6.837 at 193.35 aboard his Suzuki.

Hines, who qualified fourth at 6.845 and 196.22, can clinch his sixth world championship by winning in the first round against Jianna Salinas and her Suzuki. Hines is looking to cap a season that has seen him win eight races in 10 final-round appearances aboard his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines H-D.

“It’s been a fantastic year and I’ve never had a season like this,” said Hines, who has 56 career victories. “I’ve been doing this 18 years and to have the success we’ve had this year, it’s blown everything out of the water. We couldn’t have scripted it any better. It’s been a fun atmosphere this year and hopefully we can cap it off with a big trophy and one heck of a celebration. Harley-Davidson has pushed me to be even better and that support really rejuvenated me.”

Sunday’s first-round pairings for the 55th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif., the last of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and Round 6 of the Countdown to the Championship playoffs. Pairings based upon results in qualifying, which ended Saturday. DNQs listed below pairings:

Top Fuel _1. Steve Torrence, 3.686-seconds, 329.99 mph vs. 16. Cameron Ferre, 3.955, 301.81; 2. Leah Pritchett, 3.694, 322.88 vs. 15. Scott Palmer, 3.775, 328.14; 3. Clay Millican, 3.699, 328.30 vs. 14. Justin Ashley, 3.763, 318.32; 4. Mike Salinas, 3.699, 327.11 vs. 13. Richie Crampton, 3.751, 325.45; 5. Billy Torrence, 3.701, 327.51 vs. 12. Shawn Reed, 3.746, 327.98; 6. Doug Kalitta, 3.717, 324.28 vs. 11. Terry McMillen, 3.739, 323.43; 7. Jordan Vandergriff, 3.719, 327.90 vs. 10. Austin Prock, 3.733, 328.22; 8. Brittany Force, 3.726, 331.69 vs. 9. Antron Brown, 3.729, 330.07. 

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Jim Maroney, 3.971, 308.85; 18. Cory McClenathan, 4.009, 300.13; 19. Steven Chrisman, 5.004, 150.25. 

Funny Car _1. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 3.872, 333.58 vs. 16. Jonnie Lindberg, Ford Mustang, 4.394, 304.12; 2. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.876, 332.43 vs. 15. John Hale, Chevy Impala, 4.345, 221.05; 3. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.876, 327.43 vs. 14. Steven Densham, Mustang, 4.129, 289.57; 4. Shawn Langdon, Toyota Camry, 3.893, 330.80 vs. 13. Jeff Arend, Chevy Monte Carlo, 4.099, 278.69; 5. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.895, 330.55 vs. 12. John Force, Camaro, 4.039, 319.22; 6. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.902, 327.43 vs. 11. Blake Alexander, Mustang, 3.998, 317.19; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.918, 323.97 vs. 10. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.972, 324.20; 8. Ron Capps, Charger, 3.940, 328.06 vs. 9. Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 3.967, 320.28. 

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Paul Lee, 4.491, 185.64; 18. Terry Haddock, 5.074, 151.32; 19. Jim Campbell, 5.167, 147.10.

Pro Stock _ 1. Jeg Coughlin Jr., Chevy Camaro, 6.533, 210.70 vs. 16. Joey Grose, Camaro, 6.649, 207.56; 2. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.538, 210.93 vs. 15. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.646, 187.73; 3. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.544, 210.01 vs. 14. Shane Tucker, Camaro, 6.628, 209.07; 4. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.557, 210.83 vs. 13. Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.615, 209.59; 5. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.565, 210.70 vs. 12. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.595, 209.43; 6. Fernando Cuadra, Camaro, 6.565, 208.68 vs. 11. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.585, 210.44; 7. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.569, 209.52 vs. 10. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.582, 209.43; 8. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.576, 210.47 vs. 9. Aaron Stanfield, Camaro, 6.576, 209.85. 

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Richie Stevens, 6.651, 207.62; 18. Cristian Cuadra, 6.653, 208.68; 19. Fernando Cuadra Jr., 6.808, 205.63.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 1. Matt Smith, EBR, 6.815, 197.33 vs. 16. Katie Sullivan, Suzuki, 7.022, 191.13; 2. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.834, 195.00 vs. 15. Kelly Clontz, Suzuki, 7.005, 189.92; 3. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.837, 193.35 vs. 14. Angie Smith, EBR, 6.978, 194.60; 4. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.845, 196.22 vs. 13. Jianna Salinas, Suzuki, 6.972, 186.74; 5. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.850, 194.86 vs. 12. Freddie Camarena, Suzuki, 6.965, 194.24; 6. Hector Arana Jr., EBR, 6.867, 196.36 vs. 11. Hector Arana, EBR, 6.913, 196.47; 7. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.871, 196.27 vs. 10. Angelle Sampey, Harley-Davidson, 6.882, 194.02; 8. Scotty Pollacheck, EBR, 6.873, 196.39 vs. 9. Ryan Oehler, EBR, 6.879, 196.96. 

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Michael Ray, 7.023, 191.02; 18. Andie Rawlings, 9.463, 93.70.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 17 2019


  • Mike says:

    Torrence needs to loose sponsorship and suffer suspension and fine for punching fellow driver at end of race. This type of hot headed conduct is unacceptable when using these high powered vehicles. If he did this at my track in TN, he would be ejected and barred fromm racing the rest of the season or the first month’s of the next season. The claim that “it is too much cost to the entire team” doesn’t wash. If he will act out, he is dangerous and requires stopping before he hurts himself, others and destroys cars and track property as he acts out.

    • John Sturbin says:

      Mike: Steve Torrence is very, very fortunate to have won this championship by a mere three points over Doug Kalitta. NHRA could have docked him whatever amount of points under its Participant Conduct rule but chose not to. Why? To avoid the controversy that would have ensued. I’m guessing NHRA will fine Torrence during the offseason…which he and the family gladly will pay. His push in Cameron Ferre’s face was much more violent than the Joey Logano-Denny Hamlin NASCAR tussle at Martinsville Speedway. Again, out on the street, Torrence’s action would be labelled as “assault.” And that means…get you a lawyer, son.