Stage is set for a wild NHRA final round in Pomona

Stage is set for a wild NHRA final round in Pomona

11/17/2019

Brittany Force will win her second title and first since 2017 if she goes one round further than Torrence.

Some tough Texas talk in Top Fuel, a Funny Car free-for-all among champions, accusations of “trickery” and “shenanigans” in Pro Stock, and a $6,000 bounty on the points leader in Pro Stock Motorcycle marked the close of qualifying for the Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif.

The Top Fuel race is down to a final four, with points leader Steve Torrence trying to repeat his 2018 championship that capped a sweep of the six Countdown races. It isn’t as easy this year, with Brittany Force bearing down on him, along with longsuffering four-time runner-up Doug Kalitta, and Torrence’s own father, Billy.

“Honestly, you have to just take a step back and look at what we’re doing here. This is the final race of the season – one race and you need to go four rounds. It’s not different than when you were here in February. You just have to take each race in itself and try to put all of this in the back of your head and forget about it because tomorrow it’s going to be sudden death,” the Capco Dragster driver from Kilgore, Texas, said.

“I mean, you got Brittany and I, whoever goes the furthest, and then try to keep Doug from jumping on us and try to keep my dad from getting there, too, so you got to have faith in the good Lord and just do your job,” Torrence said.

Force, rather out of character, made a flippant remark after she won two weeks ago that “Bet Steve-O is shaking in is boots.” He replied, “As far as the comment Brittany made, Brittany’s a super-sweet person. She’s not a trash-talker. And so, you get out of these things sometimes, you’re a little jacked up and liable to say anything. I’m the king of that. So just be humble, do your job, worry about what everybody else says on Monday because when we leave here tomorrow, somebody’s going to be the champ.”

Besides, he said, “To be the best you got to beat the best, so she’s got to beat us. Ultimately, tomorrow is already written in the book. Everybody has to live it and see where it ends up. The good Lord knows what’s going to happen, and we just got to live it out. So I’m going to just rely on my faith and come out here and do the best I can. I got a great group of guys behind me. I know that we got the team to beat.”

Referring to Force crew chief Dave Grubnic, Torrence said, “Grubby’s great when the conditions come to his wheelhouse. But these conditions are in our wheelhouse. So like I said, to be the best, you got to beat the best, and we’re the best.”

Kalitta moved up the ladder to the No. 6 starting spot and will face non-Countdown driver Terry McMillen, who said, “We’re not here to lose.” Kalitta has won three of the most recent six Top Fuel trophies at Pomona.

In Funny Car, surging Matt Hagan is applying some 11th-hour pressure on season-long dominator Robert Hight by qualifying No. 1 and picking up 10 points on fellow two-time champion Hight along the way. He’ll start race day just 46 points off Hight’s pace.

Hight, in the Auto Club Chevy Camaro, will start eliminations Sunday from the No. 5 slot and will meet contender and teammate John Force in Round 1. Hagan will race No. 16 qualifier Jonnie Lindberg in the opening round.

Hight, in the Auto Club Chevy Camaro, will start eliminations Sunday from the No. 5 slot and will meet contender and teammate John Force in Round 1

“I feel no pressure right now,” Hagan said after securing the No. 1 position Saturday. “It’s Robert’s to lose. He’s leading, and he’s got to maintain his lead, but that’s why you race on Sunday – because you just never know. I’m excited about it. I feel really confident in my team, and I know they’re going to put a great race car underneath me. I’m just going to drive my ass off, and we’ll see what happens.”

In Pro Stock, Erica Enders looks headed for her third title in six seasons. No. 2-ranked racer and No. 1 qualifier Jeg Coughlin conceded Saturday evening that he has no substantial challenge for the points leader, his Elite Motorsports teammate. Although he said he’d pounce on any chance if she stumbles in eliminations, he said he’s supporting her effort.

“If the door opens, we’ll do our best to take advantage of it,” Coughlin said, “but I don’t foresee that coming.”

One who definitely isn’t supporting Enders’ quest is four-time champion Greg Anderson, the No. 6-ranked racer who had a mathematical chance at another championship entering the weekend.

He is Enders’ first-round opponent in eliminations Sunday, and that isn’t by accident. He purposely qualified in the opposite half of the bracket so he could have a chance of knocking her out of contention at the outset of Sunday’s critical runoffs.

“That guy has hated losing to a girl since the first day I set foot on the scene, and I intend to keep it that way,” Enders said Saturday. She said she’ll be relying on “the best team drag racing has ever seen.”

Coughlin said, “There’s been some trickery, or some shenanigans, going on, if that’s what you want to call it, with the KB team. That’s the way they want to play it. And that’s OK. There’s nothing in the world saying you can’t do it, meaning getting qualified opposite of Erica. And they figured they’d probably hit one of the two of us, which could help their cause. Greg’s a good racer, but I know where my money’s at.”

Three-time and reigning Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Matt Smith came to Pomona with a remote chance to repeat his title. But he threw a challenge into the hunt to stop almost-runaway leader Andrew Hines, who’s seeking his sixth crown. After Smith claimed the top qualifying position Saturday, he gave Hines’ first-round opponent, rookie Jianna Salinas, an incentive.

“I’ve said it all weekend, just fun and games and all. But it’s true. I mean, I told everybody, anybody, whoever has Andrew first round, if they beat him, I’ll give him $1,000 cash right then. If I go in and win the race and they beat him first round, I give them an additional $5,000. So they can walk out of here with $6,000 in their pocket, and then it’ll be worth it for me if it happens,” Smith said.

“Well, the championship scenario is it doesn’t matter,” Smith said. “I’m just going out there to run my race and try to turn on a win light each round. And if I get lucky enough tomorrow and turn four of them on and Andrew loses first round, then we’ve become the champion. So really, I’m just going to go do my job and see what happens.”

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