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).