NHRA: Funny Car crown no joke; alligator farmer wants big PSM bite

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They may drive Funny Cars, but Del Worsham and Jack Beckman are not laughing heading into this weekend’s race at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California.

Worsham, Beckman are all business as they fight it out for the NHRA Funny Car championship in the season-ending Auto Club Finals.

Worsham, who is seeking his first career Funny Car title – which would make him one of only three drivers in NHRA history to have won both Top Fuel and Funny Car championships in a career – holds a slim 38-point edge over Beckman, who won the 2012 Funny Car crown.

“To win the (Top Fuel) championship in 2011 was definitely very special, something that I could never describe or even tell you how special it was,” Worsham said in a media release. “But this chance now in a Funny Car, what I started in, being a part of this team, kind of being part of building this whole Funny Car team with Nicky (Bonifante), Jon-O (Oberhofer), (team owner) Connie Kalitta, building this thing for (the late) Scott (Kalitta), it would mean a lot to win the championship.

“I made the comment multiple times a real goal of ours, especially at the beginning of the season, was just to get to the finals with an opportunity to win the championship, the opportunity that if you win the race, you could be the Mello Yello NHRA champion. We accomplished that, got there. If we win the race, we will be the champions, I believe. It’s just kind of in our hands.”

Beckman, who has a Funny Car-high seven wins this season, isn’t trying to overthink his chances. He knows what has to be done.

“We’re still two rounds out,” Beckman said. “It’s real simple. We need to out qualify (Worsham) at Pomona and we need him on the same side of the (elimination) ladder as us and we need to beat him early. You want to talk about having to be perfect to win the championship and maybe that’s what the fans deserve to see.

“We will do everything we can to go to Pomona and be perfect and as flawless as a nitro Funny Car team can be. We have a great team right now and we are absolutely capable of winning that race. The thing is we have to win that race and we have to gain two rounds on Del.”

Tommy Johnson Jr., meanwhile, is a distant 97 points behind Worsham but still mathematically in the hunt. Ron Capps is 140 points back, but his chances are slim.

As many as 150 points can be earned by any one driver in an NHRA race.

Two NHRA championships have already been decided: Antron Brown clinched his second Top Fuel crown in four years two weeks ago at Las Vegas. That’s the same location that Erica Enders clinched her second consecutive Pro Stock championship, the only female to date to ever win a title in the so-called “door slammer” category.

One other championship is also to be determined this weekend.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Louisiana alligator farmer Jerry Savoie is looking to take a bite out of Andrew Hines’ bid for a second straight and fifth career title.

Hines has come on strong during the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoff, winning three of the four races he’s captured this season. He beat Savoie in the final round at Las Vegas to increase his points lead to 46 over Savoie. Also still in contention is Hines’ teammate, Eddie Krawiec, who is 83 points back.

“I’m trying to not put any pressure on myself,” said the 32-year-old Hines, who would be the youngest competitor in NHRA history to claim five world titles. “I feel like I have a good Harley and I just need to go out and try to do my job.

“The team is doing a good job and I’m just trying to be consistent. If I get a fifth (championship) that would be fantastic, but I’m trying to treat it like any other race. It’s something I’ve tried to do over the last couple years and it’s worked really well.”

Savoie, meanwhile, has his eyes both on wrestling the championship away from Hines, but also to potentially set a Pro Stock Motorcycle milestone.

“There’s absolutely a chance to go 200 (miles per hour),” said Savoie, who has three wins this season. “We went almost 199 in Dallas and the conditions in Pomona are going to be better. We definitely think we have a chance. We’ve got a good program going on right now and if we find it, (the motorcycle) will go 200.

“We’ve got a couple of goals in Pomona and we want to run 200 if it’s there. But we also want to go out there and try to win the race and see what happens.”

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IndyCar Power Rankings: Pato O’Ward moves to the top entering Texas Motor Speedway


The NBC Sports IndyCar power rankings naturally were as jumbled as the action on the streets of St. Petersburg after a chaotic opener to the 2023 season.

Pato O’Ward, who finished second because of an engine blip that cost him the lead with a few laps remaining, moves into the top spot ahead of St. Pete winner Marcus Ericsson and Alexander Rossi, who finished fourth in his Arrow McLaren debut. Scott Dixon and St. Pete pole-sitter Romain Grosjean (who led 31 laps) rounded out the top five.

St. Pete pole-sitter Romain Grosjean (who started first at St. Pete after capturing his second career pole position) Callum Ilott (a career-best fifth) and Graham Rahal entered the power rankings entering the season’s second race.

Three drivers fell out of the preseason top 10 after the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – including previously top-ranked Josef Newgarden, who finished 17th after qualifying 14th.

Heading into Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway, here’s NBC Sports’ assessment of the current top 10 drivers through the first of 17 races this year (with previous preseason rankings in parenthesis):

NBC Sports’ IndyCar Power Rankings

1. Pato O’Ward (5) – If not for the dreaded “plenum event” in the No. 5 Chevrolet, the Arrow McLaren driver is opening the season with a victory capping a strong race weekend.

2. Marcus Ericsson (7) – He might be the most opportunistic driver in IndyCar, but that’s because the 2022 Indy 500 winner has become one of the series’ fastest and most consistent stars.

3. Alexander Rossi (10) – He overcame a frustrating Friday and mediocre qualifying to open his Arrow McLaren career with the sort of hard-earned top five missing in his last years at Andretti.

4. Scott Dixon (3) – Put aside his opening-lap skirmish with former teammate Felix Rosenqvist, and it was a typically stealthily good result for the six-time champion.

5. Romain Grosjean (NR) – The St. Petersburg pole-sitter consistently was fastest on the streets of St. Petersburg over the course of the race weekend, which he couldn’t say once last year.

6. Scott McLaughlin (6) – Easily the best of the Team Penske drivers before his crash with Grosjean, McLaughlin drove like a legitimate 2023 championship contender.

7. Callum Ilott (NR) – A quietly impressive top five for the confident Brit in Juncos Hollinger Racing’s first race as a two-car team. Texas will be a big oval litmus test.

8. Graham Rahal (NR) – Sixth at St. Pete, Rahal still has the goods on street courses, and Rahal Letterman Lanigan remains headed in the right direction.

9. Alex Palou (4) – He seemed a step behind Ericsson and Dixon in the race after just missing the Fast Six in qualifying, but this was a solid start for Palou.

10. Will Power (2) – An uncharacteristic mistake that crashed Colton Herta put a blemish on the type of steady weekend that helped him win the 2022 title.

Falling out (last week): Josef Newgarden (1), Colton Herta (8), Christian Lundgaard (9)