Photo courtesy NHRA

NHRA: With 2 races left left in the Countdown, who’s next to be eliminated?

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For some drivers, the NHRA Countdown to the Championship is over early, as several were eliminated following Sunday’s final round of the AAA Texas FallNationals at Texas Motorplex.

Those who will not advance into the final two races of the season (Oct. 27-30 at Las Vegas and the season finale, Nov. 10-13 in Pomona, California) are:

Top Fuel: Richie Crampton and Clay Millican.

Funny Car: Alexis DeJoria.

Pro Stock: Five-time champion Jeg Coughlin and two-time defending champ Erica Enders.

“We’ve had a tough year but I promise big things are straight ahead and we’ll be back better than ever in 2017,” Enders said after Sunday’s race.

The only major professional category that has not seen any Countdown contestants eliminated yet is Pro Stock Motorcycle.

Now teams have a weekend off coming up to regroup and try to make one last attempt for the championship.

However, several teams that are still mathematically eligible for the title (within the 260 total points – 130 points for each of the last two races on the schedule) are likely closer to elimination – particularly at Las Vegas – than to rallying back for the championship:

Top Fuel: Even though she qualified No. 2 at Texas this past weekend, eight-ranked Leah Pritchett (-254 points) and seventh-ranked J.R. Todd (-244) are on the verge of elimination. Also on the hot seat are eight-time Top Fuel champ Tony Schumacher (ranked sixth, -209), fifth-ranked Steve Torrence (-197) and even fourth-ranked Brittany Force (-191).

“We really needed to win this one and we needed for the Countdown contenders ahead us in the standings to have problems,” Schumacher said. “It wasn’t shaping up that way, to begin with.”

While Schumacher isn’t giving up, if he can’t win a ninth championship, he’ll support his teammate’s quest for his second straight title and third in the last five seasons.

“Antron and his team have been lights out all year, and they’re peaking here in the Countdown,” Schumacher said. “They deserve to be on the verge of clinching the championship and, if we can’t be the ones to win the championship, we’re always rooting to keep it in the U.S. Army and DSR family.”

As for Force, she’s adamant that she is still in the championship hunt.

“I think doing well in Las Vegas will be a big factor for the championship,” Force said. “Our goal is to have a chance to win the championship when we get to the Auto Club Finals in Pomona.

“We are going to do everything we can to be in a position where we can win. We go into every race thinking we can win and it starts with the first round of qualifying. This has been an amazing season and these last couple of races will be even more exciting with the championship on the line.”

Funny Car: It’s not looking good for John Force Racing. Courtney Force is ranked eighth (-227), 16-time champ John Force is seventh (-198) and even though he had a strong weekend at Texas, sixth-ranked Robert Hight is -187. Early exits during much of the first or second rounds in the first four races of the Countdown have been the downfall for the three JFR drivers.

“I thought I needed a Hail Mary and now I need two,” said John Force, who uncharacteristically red-lit in his first round elimination race with Alexis DeJoria, immediately losing. “I didn’t do my job and they gave me a good race car. That is the bottom line.

“You can’t win championships by making that mistake. My brain just faded and I put a red light out there. I apologized to my team, my fans and the sponsors. That is all I can do.”

Added Hight, who is not giving up, “We are running with the top cars out here and there are two races left. I want to win those races and see what happens.”

As for Courtney Force, “We have two more races to go and we’re definitely motivated to go out there and continue to move up in the points and see if we can end this season on a high note.”

Pro Stock: While no one is ready to concede the championship to frontrunner Jason Line or teammate and second-ranked Greg Anderson (-26), it’s not looking good in Las Vegas for eight-ranked Allen Johnson (-241) or seventh-ranked Chris McGaha (-232). Drew Skillman, who won Sunday at Texas, is still a massive 185 points back in sixth-place.

Pro Stock Motorcycle: While none of the 10 Countdown riders have been eliminated yet, it’s likely three, four or even more could be knocked out of the playoffs at Las Vegas. Hector Arana Jr., who has struggled in the Countdown, is ranked 10th (-242). Matt Smith is ninth (-223), Hector Arana is eighth (-214) and Cory Reed is seventh (-196). Even sixth-ranked LE Tonglet IV isn’t safe (-137).

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O Canada! Why plaid has been rad for Pfaff Motorsports at Daytona

Courtesy of IMSA
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In Canada, plaid is beautiful.

In the 2020 Rolex 24 at Daytona, it’s also extremely fast.

Pfaff Motorsports’ Porsche 911 GT3 R has been one of the most colorful sensations this January at Daytona International Speedway. The Toronto-based team has been a checkerboard blur of black and red in the GTD division, winning the pole position with Zacharie Robichon and leading the first four hours Saturday.

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But it also is turning heads with its stylish paint scheme and firesuits, all of which are in a classic plaid pattern.

The “Plaid Porsche” has a nice ring to it, and the team embraces the label even if its outfits might seem more appropriate for a grunge rock band or a lumberjack convention than an elite motorsports event.

“It’s great for people to call us that,” Robichon said. “You’re laughing about it, because it’s funny, but that means you’re talking about it.

“A lot of teams and car liveries, they all blend in together, and it’s a good way to stand out and a fun way to stand out. If you spend some time with the Pfaff Porsche team, you’d see a lot of guys are there and all happy to be there and everybody’s having fun. So having something that’s kind of funny and joyful associated with the team, I think is really good.”

The No. 9 team celebrated after Zacharie Robichon won the GTD pole at Daytona (courtesy of IMSA).

Car liveries typically offer a prominent display of a sponsor’s colors, and the team was able to incorporate the silver branding for new sponsor Motul on the lower rear of the car. “It was kind of best of both worlds,” Robichons aid. “They loved it because people talk about it.”

It’s the second consecutive year that the team has sported a plaid paint scheme at the Rolex 24. Last year, it took delivery on its car with only a week before the Roar before the Rolex test session.

The team was scrambling to assemble the car on Boxing Day in Canada (two days after Christmas) when Pfaff marketing director Laurance Yap was struck by a bolt of inspiration.

“All the crew guys at the shop, they were there over the holidays, and they were were wearing plaid because it’s just kind of what you do at home,” Robichon said. “In Canada it’s quite popular. I’ve got like six or seven plaid shirts, and I’m not embarrassed to say that. You go on a ski hill in the winter, and half the people, that’s what they’re wearing.

“It’s just something that a lot of people wear. We were trying to figure out what to do for the livery, and Lawrence said well, why don’t we just wrap the car in plaid. It was a joke, and we ran with it because we didn’t have any other ideas. And it was really only for Daytona, but everybody loved it, so we just had to stick with it for the whole year.

Zacharie Robichon

This year, Pfaff decided to up the game with plaid firesuits – and bringing the team in line with others that hail from the Great White North.

“The Canadian ski team has plaid jackets,” Robichon said. “Even curling in Canada, the guys wear plaid. If you’re not from Canada, you don’t necessarily make that association, but anybody who is Canadian immediately makes that connection, which is what we’re going for.”

Robichon, who hails from Ottawa and lives in Montreal, is the team’s only Canadian. But teammates Lars Kern (Germany), Dennis Olsen (Norway) and Patrick Pilet (France) have bought into the “plaid is rad” conceit.

“We adapted pretty quick,” Kern said. “We are not Canadian, but we feel like the Canadian national team, so it’s cool as a German to be on the Canadian national team.”

It would be even cooler for the Pfaff drivers if they can match their plaid garb with a Rolex watch.

Robichon liked the team’s chances after a strong week continued into Saturday’s green flag. After crashing and finishing 16th in class last year, he and his teammates managed to maintain pace and the lead through the first four hours.

“My job was to keep the car clean and out of trouble and play it safe with the traffic, and luckily we did that,” Robichon said after his first stint.

The No. 9 of Pfaff Motorsports started on pole in the GTD division of the 2020 Rolex 24.