While there are still two big championship battles to be decided in Funny Car and Pro Stock in this weekend’s 50th anniversary AutoClub NHRA Finals, there’ll still be some great end-of-season action in the Top Fuel and Pro Stock Motorcycle ranks.
In Top Fuel, Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher will likely capture his record eighth championship. Schumacher comes into the weekend with a massive 109-point lead over his closest challenger, Spencer Massey.
Others still mathematically in the running include J.R. Todd (-112 points), Shawn Langdon (-134), former points leader Doug Kalitta (-135) and Steve Torrence (-146).
“I feel great,” Schumacher said in an NHRA media release. “I’ve gone into this last event several times with either a one-point lead or behind the eight-ball, so it’s a good place to be.
“Obviously, we’ve talked a lot over the years about that moment when you have to win and all that. But when you come in with a big lead, you’ve won already, in a sense. You’ve done a great job and your car has done what it has had to do to get this lead.”
History is on Schumacher’s side: he’s won the Auto Club NHRA Finals four times.
Schumacher has won five races this season, including three wins in the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoff. He could have locked up the title two weeks ago at Las Vegas, but was surprised in the first round by Billy Torrence.
“The Army car has won a lot of races and championships, and it makes people step up their game,” Schumacher said. “I’m a firm believer in earning it all the way. We obviously have a great lead, so it’s comfortable, but we would like to win the last one (race).
“Everyone who has anything to do with our performance on the racetrack is going to go all out and work to finish the job we have ahead of us at Pomona.”
Massey isn’t giving up hope that he could pull an upset of Schumacher, although he knows the longs are odd.
“Obviously anything is possible and we all remember watching Tony do it back in 2006,” Massey said, referring to Schumacher’s come-from-behind win in the final round of the World Finals, setting a national elapsed time record at the same time that proved to be the championship-deciding difference.
“It would be very tough, but it’s still possible,” Massey said. “Realistically, we want to stay No. 2 and if something happens to Tony and it opens the door for us, we want that championship. We just have to go out and try to win. That’s all you can do.
“The new car is running extremely well and if the door is open we’ll try to take advantage. I am extremely happy with how the car is running and I feel like we have a car that can win in Pomona and compete for a championship in 2015.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
As for Pro Stock Motorcycle, it’ll be a battle between Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson teammates Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec for the championship.
Hines holds a 92-point edge over Krawiec, the only two PSM riders remaining with a shot at the crown. Both drivers are seeking their fourth world championship, respectively.
“I’m just focused on having a good event,” Hines said. “I’ve overthought things in the past and shot myself in the foot. Qualifying is going to be really big and I have to go in relaxed. … I will approach it as business as usual and hopefully we can keep rolling like we have been.”
Hines is seeking his first title in eight seasons, having earned six races this season, including two in the Countdown.
“It’s been a long road to get back to this point,” Hines said. “I won three championships when I was a naïve, young kid. You really realize what it takes to win a championship after all these years.
“This one would definitely mean the most if I got it. To break that tie and get my fourth, it would be very special. It is great to have the opportunity and to pull it off would be phenomenal.”
Winning the 50th anniversary Finals would be the cherry on the championship crown.
“You don’t get a chance to win these big annual races very often,” Hines said. “I missed out at the 50th U.S. Nationals a decade ago, so it would be great to win here.
“You win a 50th anniversary race, you get that special Wally (championship trophy) and it’s something that’s remembered for a long time. It would be nice to cap off the year with a win like that and I’m really looking forward to the weekend.”
Follow me @JerryBonkowski