It's time for the six-race fight to decide NHRA's 2014 champions.
The six-race playoff that crowns champions in NHRA’s Mello Yello Drag Racing Series begins at zMax Dragway next weekend with 10-driver fields in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle each vying to bring home a class title.
The fields for this playoff series were set by last weekend’s 60th annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway, often in stunning fashion. And now that the impact of last weekend’s raucous race has settled in, it’s time to look at each class and check who’s got momentum - and who does not.
In Top Fuel, Doug Kalitta leads all comers, despite having only two victories on the season. His closest rival, Antron Brown has won five times but inconsistency has plagued the 2012 champion, as it has reigning champ Shawn Langdon. Langdon sits third in the standings with only a single win.
While seven-time champion Tony Schumacher (two wins) holds fourth-place in points heading into the Countdown, he’s hounded by non-winner Steve Torrence, two-time winners Spencer Massey, Khalid al Balooshi and last weekend’s victor Richie Crampton, who also owns two victories. Consistent Brittany Force and race-winner J.R. Todd round out the Top Fuel championship candidates.
Top fuel championship predictions
Who to give this to? Not a clue as this nitro class is filled with teams and drivers that can surge when needed and even hungrier drivers outside the top 10. If Brown finds the consistency he needs and Kalitta keeps this going, this could be a two-man race, but never count out Langdon or Schumacher.
Unfortunately, outside of Indy’s historic event on Labor Day weekend, the breadth of fields in both Top Fuel and Funny Car have been less than satisfying. The cost to compete is catching up with everyone over this long, 24-race hegira.
“I ain’t dead yet” proclaims John Force to anyone that’ll listen. With three Funny Car victories this season and a very consistent Ford Mustang hot rod, 16-time champ Force leads the standings in his category, followed by son-in-law and Robert Hight (five wins), Ron Capps (two wins), last weekend’s joyous victor Alexis DeJoria (three wins) and single-time winner Tommy Johnson Jr is also inside the top five. Double victor Courtney Force, 2011 champ Matt Hagan, two-time champ Cruz Pedregon, former Top Fuel champ Del Worsham and Tim Wilkerson are all in the hunt as well.
Funny Car championship predictions
Funny Car is always tough to call, particularly with so many outstanding teams and drivers involved. I think it’ll be between the Force/Hight camp; DeJoria and Capps. Although Courtney Force has been showing her competitive teeth of late, I think her father, working with Jimmy Prock, will take his 17th championship and final for both Castrol and Ford.
Erica Enders-Stevens’ two-race vacation from Pro Stock competition did the four-race winner no favors, as she slipped to second in points behind Jason Line (four wins) and just ahead of her good friend and Mopar’s Allen Johnson (four wins). Hounding that trio are reigning Pro Stock champ Jeg Coughlin (two wins), and single-race winners Dave Connolly, Shane Gray and Vincent Nobile. Vieri Gaines, Chris McGaha and Jonathan Gray round out the balance of competition in this class. Only Johnson, Coughlin and Gaines don’t drive Chevrolet Camaros.
Pro Stock championship predictions
I see the title going to one of the top four in points and, based on his closing ability, never count out Coughlin, but Enders-Stevens pretty much blew her opportunity for a first female Pro Stock championship by missing two of three Western Swing contests. She’s looked stale since her return at Brainerd. Line could take his fourth, Johnson his second title, but if Erica wins it, that would be the comeback of the decade.
Pro Stock Motorcycle
Speaking of comebacks, after a year of being nowhere and of not even making the Countdown to the Championship, Vance & Hines’ Andrew Hines leads the Pro Stock Motorcycle field into the playoffs with four victories to his credit on his Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson V-Rod. His team had to totally remake their motorcycles in 2013 and Hines didn’t come to grips with the bike until this year. He and teammate Eddie Krawiec, both three-time champions, lead the field of 10 with Hector Arana Jr, father Hector Arana and John Hall following on their Buells. Reigning title-holder and Buell rider Matt Smith leads Buell stalwarts Michael Ray, Scotty Pollacheck and wife Angie Smith, while sole Suzuki rider Steve Johnson, a winner at the first race in Gainesville, holds 10th place.
Pro Stock Motorcycle championship predictions
Quite frankly, I think it’s another Harley-Davidson year in Pro Stock Motorcycle . You can’t keep a good company like Vance & Hines down for long in any competition. While V&H also supplies engines to most of the Suzuki contingent, the multitude of work they’ve done to get their emasculated H-D motorcycles back in Victory Lane seven times so far this year speaks volumes. To my mind, it’s Andrew’s year over Eddie.
When the final race of the year is run at Pomona in mid-November, four champions will be crowned. Will it be someone new like Kalitta in Top Fuel, Capps or DeJoria for Funny Car, Enders-Stevens in Pro Stock or Arana Jr in Pro Stock Motorcycle? Or will the champions of the past come back to claim what they believe is theirs?
The fight for that right begins at Charlotte, then through Dallas, St Louis, Reading and Las Vegas before returning to Pomona for the finale. It looks to be a good battle on all fronts.