(Photos courtesy NHRA)

2016 NHRA season in review: Top Fuel driver J.R. Todd

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Over the next three-plus weeks, MotorSportsTalk will feature season-ending reviews of the top drivers of the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.

Each day, we’ll have one in-depth review of a driver that finished in the top-five in each of the four professional classes (Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle), as well as a compendium of select other drivers that did not finish in the top-five.

The list of drivers we’ve already posted is below. Today, we feature Top Fuel driver J.R. Todd:

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Driver: J.R. Todd

Age: 35

Hometown: Lawrenceburg, Indiana

Team: Kalitta Motorsports

Sponsor/car: SealMaster/Kalitta Air

Crew chief: Connie Kalitta

2016 season finish: Fourth in Top Fuel.

2016 season statistics: 24 races, 1 win, 5 runner-up, 7 semifinals, 4 quarterfinals. No. 1 qualifier one time. Round-by-round record: 37 wins, 23 losses.

Career statistics: 152 races, 9 wins, 10 runner-up, 21 semifinals, 41 quarterfinals. No. 1 qualifier 9 times. Round-by-round record: 149 wins, 139 losses. Four DNQ.

What went right in 2016: Todd enjoyed the second-best season of his Top Fuel career, finishing fourth. He joined Kalitta Motorsports three races into the 2014 season and finished second in the standings. But 2016 stands out because Todd had a single-season high five runner-up and seven semifinal finishes. Was part of major drag racing history, losing to teammate Doug Kalitta in the closest Top Fuel final round finish — .000 seconds — at Southern Nationals in Commerce, Ga.

What went wrong in 2016: Todd struggled in the first half of the season, racking up five first-round losses in the first 11 races. But he finally turned things around by reaching the finals three times in the next four races, including his lone win of the season (Sonoma). … Unfortunately, he fell behind quickly in the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoff, suffering first-round losses in two of the first three races Charlotte 2 and Reading). But he bounced back to reach the finals in the last two races of the season to jump from eighth after Reading to finish a strong fourth.

What to look for in 2017: While he’ll remain with Kalitta Motorsports, Todd will shift from Top Fuel to Funny Car, replacing 2015 Funny Car champ Del Worsham, who has returned to drive for his family’s team. Troy Coughlin, who was originally slated to compete part-time in Top Fuel in 2017, has been elevated to replace Todd in the Kalitta Motorsports’ dragster.

Season reviews already posted:

— Antron Brown (12/12)

— Ron Capps (12/13)

— Jason Line (12/14)

Jerry Savoie (12/15)

Doug Kalitta (12/16)

Tommy Johnson Jr. (12/17)

Greg Anderson (12/18)

Eddie Krawiec (12/19)

Steve Torrence (12/20)

— Matt Hagan (12/21)

— Shane Gray (12/22)

— Andrew Hines (12/23)

— J.R. Todd (12/24)

— John Force (12/25)

— Bo Butner (12/26)

— Angelle Sampey (12/27)

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.