2016 NHRA season in review: Top Fuel driver Doug Kalitta

(Photos courtesy NHRA)
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Over the next three-plus weeks, MotorSportsTalk will feature season-ending reviews of the top drivers of the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.

Each day, we’ll have one in-depth review of a driver that finished in the top-five in each of the four professional classes (Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle), as well as a compendium of select other drivers that did not finish in the top-five.

The list of drivers we’ve already posted is below. Today, we feature Top Fuel driver Doug Kalitta.

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Driver: Doug Kalitta

Age: 52

Hometown: Ann Arbor, Michigan

Team: Kalitta Motorsports

Sponsor/car: Mac Tools dragster

Crew chief: Jim Oberhofer

2016 season finish: Second in Top Fuel.

2016 season statistics: 24 races, 4 wins, 2 runner-up, 7 semifinals, 8 quarterfinals. No. 1 qualifier four times. Round-by-round record: 44 wins, 20 losses.

Career statistics: 441 races, 42 wins, 45 runner-up, 76 semifinals, 135 quarterfinals. No. 1 qualifier 47 times. Round-by-round record: 589 wins, 392 losses. 7 DNQ.

What went right in 2016: Kalitta had a great season, finishing second in the Top Fuel standings for the third time in his career. … For much of the season, it looked like Kalitta may go on to win his first Top Fuel championship, but a late surge by Antron Brown kept Kalitta from achieving his goal. … Still, the former sprint car driver reached the final round in one-fourth of the 24 races (four wins, two runner-up). Was part of major drag racing history, defeating teammate J.R. Todd in the closest Top Fuel final round finish — .000 seconds — at Southern Nationals in Commerce, Ga.

What went wrong in 2016: Kalitta’s championship hopes faded when he suffered three consecutive second-round losses in the Countdown to the Championship (St. Louis, Reading and Dallas). … Antron Brown clinched the championship in the second-to-last race (Las Vegas). If he had not, Kalitta may have had a last-gasp chance in the season finale, which he ultimately won, defeating teammate J.R. Todd. … Kalitta had three first-round exits in the first 18 races.

What to look for in 2017: With the success he had in 2016, Kalitta will have good momentum coming into the new season. He’ll have a new teammate (Troy Coughlin), who will replace J.R. Todd (moves to replace the departed Del Worsham in one of the Kalitta Motorsports’ Funny Car entries). Kalitta has the team, resources and talent to finally win the championship, but drivers like two-time defending champ (and three-time champion overall) Antron Brown and eight-time champ Tony Schumacher will be among the top obstacles for Kalitta to overcome. But the nephew of team owner Connie Kalitta has one thing to offer inspiration: good friend Ron Capps had to wait for more than 20 years and endure four season runner-up finishes before he finally won his first championship in 2016.

Season reviews already posted:

— Antron Brown (12/12)

— Ron Capps (12/13)

— Jason Line (12/14)

Jerry Savoie (12/15)

Doug Kalitta (12/16)

Tommy Johnson Jr. (12/17)

Greg Anderson (12/18)

Eddie Krawiec (12/19)

Steve Torrence (12/20)

— Matt Hagan (12/21)

— Shane Gray (12/22)

— Andrew Hines (12/23)

— J.R. Todd (12/24)

— John Force (12/25)

— Bo Butner (12/26)

— Angelle Sampey (12/27)

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