At least two of the four major NHRA pro championships could be decided in this weekend’s 15th annual Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Antron Brown needs to leave Las Vegas 151 points ahead of his closest rival to clinch his second career Top Fuel title (and his second in four years).
Meanwhile, in Pro Stock, Erica Enders leads closest rival and four-time former champ Greg Anderson by 154 points. Like Brown, if Enders can leave Las Vegas with a lead of 151 or more points, she will earn her second consecutive Pro Stock title.
Heading into this weekend, Brown’s teammate, defending and eight-time champ Tony Schumacher, trails by 132 points.
“We’ve been in the right spot at the right time and we’ve been doing the right things in those moments so far,” Brown said in an NHRA media release. “I think we, as a team, live for these moments. We live for these moments. You can’t slack up on somebody; if you do they take you out.”
At the same time, Brown added with a boatload of confidence, “We already prepared this whole year for this moment. We’re contending for a championship and we’re right where we want to be, so what do we have to lose?”
Brown has staked his claim on the title with an outstanding season, leading all drivers with seven wins in the first 22 races, including three straight to start the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoff.
The 2015 season has been the best of Brown’s career. In addition to hitting the 50 career wins milestone (he has 54 heading into Las Vegas), he also set the Top Fuel elapsed time record of 3.680 seconds in mid-August at Brainerd, Minn.
While he’s made it look easy at times this season, it’s far from it, Brown insists.
“It’s ridiculous how crazy tough this class is and think that’s what prepared us for the Countdown,” Brown said. “We lost close races this year and it’s rough out there. That really got us motivated, geared up and pumped up for the Countdown. When we came into the Countdown, we came in prepared. We knew we had to give our A-plus game and we knew we couldn’t slip up.”
Even with the huge lead on Schumacher, Brown is taking nothing to chance.
“This is one of those races that will make or break you,” he said. “We have to step up and that brings the excitement up. This one of those races that you have to bring it. My guys are definitely doing their job and homework. Our deal is that we remind each other of that each and every race.”
After Las Vegas, just one race remains: the season-ending finals at Pomona (Calif.) Raceway in just over two weeks from now.
As for Enders, not only was she the first female in NHRA history to win the Pro Stock crown last season, she’d become the first female to win two PS titles this weekend (or, if need be, at Pomona).
But it won’t be easy for her in Sin City. Anderson has won a record seven times at the Bruton Smith-owned drag racing palace.
And there’s also been strong competition from several other drivers, including young upstarts Chris McGaha and Drew Skillman, as well as veterans Allen Johnson, Larry Morgan, Vincent Nobile, Jason Line, and Shane and Jonathan Gray.
Even though she has a lead of more than one full race worth of points and can clinch the title, Enders isn’t taking anything to chance this weekend.
“By no means is it over yet,” Enders said. “I know there’s only eight rounds of racing left, but there are a lot of bonus qualifying points to be gotten. We still have to go out there and do our job.
“We’re not going to change the way we race because of our point lead. We’re just going to stay focused and we want to win the final two (races) – and the championship – and that’s what we’re going to set our goals at.”
While Brown and Enders have comfortable leads in their respective classes, it’s the exact opposite in Funny Car and Pro Stock Motorcycle, with very tight battles in each class.
Del Worsham is seeking his first career Funny Car championship, and is hoping to become the third driver in NHRA history to championships in both Funny Car and Top Fuel.
Worsham, who has won three of this season’s first four Countdown races, leads former Funny Car world champ Jack Beckman by 38 points. Tommy Johnson Jr. is in third place (147 points back) and is seeking to stave off elimination Sunday.
Meanwhile, the closest points battle in all NHRA pro ranks is found in Pro Stock Motorcycle, where defending and four-time champ Andrew Hines leads teammate Eddie Krawiec by a razor-thin margin of just 21 points.
Louisiana alligator farmer Jerry Savoie is a close third, just 31 points back, while Hector Arana Jr. is fourth, 81 points back.
Qualifying begins Friday with rounds scheduled at 12:15 pm and 3:45 pm PT. There will be two other qualifying rounds on Saturday, also at 12:15 pm and 3:45 pm PT.
Final eliminations will begin Sunday at 11 am PT.
NHRA TOYOTA NATIONALS FACT SHEET
WHAT: 15th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals, the 23rd of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and the fifth of six playoff races in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship. Drivers in four categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – earn points leading to 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships.
WHERE: The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas. Track is located approximately 15 miles north of Las Vegas off I-15.
COURSE: Championship drag strip; Track elevation is 2,100 feet above sea level; Track direction is south to north.
WHEN: Thursday through Sunday, Oct. 29 – Nov. 1
THURSDAY, Oct. 29 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
FRIDAY, Oct. 30 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
NHRA J&A SERVICE PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 11:45 a.m. and 3:15 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 12:15 and 3:45 p.m.
SATURDAY, Oct. 31 – LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations
NHRA J&A SERVICE PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 11:45 a.m. Round 1 of eliminations at 3:15 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 12:15 and 3:45 p.m.
SUNDAY, Nov. 1 – Pre-race ceremonies, 10:15 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.
Sunday, Nov. 1, ESPN2 will televise 90 minutes of qualifying coverage at 2:30 a.m. (ET).
Sunday, Nov. 1, ESPN2 will re-air 90 minutes of qualifying coverage at 3 p.m. (ET).
Sunday, Nov. 1, ESPN2 will televise three hours of coverage starting at 8 p.m. (ET).
2014 EVENT WINNERS: Spencer Massey, Top Fuel; Del Worsham, Funny Car; Erica Enders, Pro Stock; Andrew Hines, Pro Stock Motorcycle.
MOST VICTORIES: Greg Anderson, PS, 4; Ron Capps, FC, 4; Andrew Hines, PSM, 4; Tony Schumacher, TF, 4; John Force, FC, 3.
Top Fuel – 3.732 sec. by J.R. Todd, Nov. ’14 and 330.88 mph by Spencer Massey, Nov. ’14.
Funny Car – 3.983 sec. by Matt Hagan, Nov. ’14 and 325.37 mph by Courtney Force, March ’14.
Pro Stock – 6.576 sec. and 209.88 mph by Erica Enders, Nov. ’14.
Pro Stock Motorcycle – 6.856 sec. by Andrew Hines, Nov. ’14; 196.56 mph by Eddie Krawiec, Oct. ’11
Top Fuel – 3.680 sec. by Antron Brown, Aug. ‘15, Brainerd, Minn.; 332.75 mph by Spencer Massey, Aug. ‘15, Brainerd, Minn.
Funny Car – 3.897 sec. by Jack Beckman, Oct. ‘15, Reading, Pa.; 330.47 mph by Matt Hagan, Sept. ‘15, Madison, Ill.
Pro Stock – 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.; 215.55 mph by Erica Enders-Stevens, May ‘14, Englishtown, N.J.
PS Motorcycle – 6.728 sec. by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 199.88 mph by Hector Arana Jr., March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.
Top Fuel: 1. Antron Brown, 2,505; 2. Tony Schumacher, 2,373; 3. Richie Crampton, 2,302; 4. Brittany Force, 2,298; 5. Larry Dixon, 2,268; 6. Steve Torrence, 2,254; 7. Shawn Langdon, 2,236; 8. Dave Connolly, 2,219; 9. J.R. Todd, 2,213; 10. Doug Kalitta, 2,205.
Funny Car: 1. Del Worsham, 2,488; 2. Jack Beckman, 2,450; 3. Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,341; 4. Ron Capps, 2,330; 5. Matt Hagan, 2,329; 6. John Force, 2,264; 7. Alexis DeJoria, 2,206; 8. Cruz Pedregon, 2,201; 9. Robert Hight, 2,196; 10. Tim Wilkerson, 2,195.
Pro Stock: 1. Erica Enders, 2,501; 2. Greg Anderson, 2,347; 3. Chris McGaha, 2,335; 4. Allen Johnson, 2,299; 5. Drew Skillman, 2,298; 6. Larry Morgan, 2,292; 7. Jason Line, 2,240; 8. (tie) Jonathan Gray, 2,220; Vincent Nobile, 2,220; 10. Shane Gray, 2,183.
Pro Stock Motorcycle: 1. Andrew Hines, 2,412; 2. Eddie Krawiec, 2,391; 3. Jerry Savoie, 2,381; 4. Hector Arana Jr., 2,331; 5. Chip Ellis, 2,305; 6. Matt Smith, 2,297; 7. Karen Stoffer, 2,280; 8. Hector Arana, 2,219; 9. Jim Underdahl, 2,158; 10. Scotty Pollacheck, 2,107.