2016 NHRA season in review: Top Fuel driver Steve Torrence

(Photo courtesy Getty Images) (Other 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 Steve Torrence.

2016_Steve_Torrence_Action

2016_Steve_Torrence headshotDriver: Steve Torrence

Age: 33

Hometown: Longview, Texas

Team: Torrence Motorsports

Sponsor/car: Capco Contractors

Crew chief: Bobby Lagana, Richard Hogan

2016 season finish: Third in Top Fuel.

2016 season statistics: 23 races, 3 wins, 5 runner-up, 2 semifinals, 8 quarterfinals. No. 1 qualifier eight times. Round-by-round record: 39 wins, 20 losses.

Career statistics: 166 races, 12 wins (8 Top Fuel, 4 Top Alcohol Dragster), 13 runner-up (11 Funny Car, 2 Top Alcohol Dragster), 19 semifinals, 52 quarterfinals. No. 1 qualifier 13 times. Round-by-round record: 154 wins, 154 losses. Four DNQ.

What went right in 2016: Torrence had the best year of his Top Fuel career. … In addition to his own talent, much of the credit for Torrence’s surge in success and performance in 2016 was master tuner and 11-time champion Alan Johnson (who also tuned fellow Top Fuel driver Brittany Force’s dragster to a sixth-place finish in 2016). … Torrence gave it his all to try and wrestle the Top Fuel title away from eventual champ Antron Brown and runner-up Doug Kalitta, but came up 181 points shy of Brown and 51 points behind Kalitta. … He also became one of the most prolific top qualifiers in the class, taking No. 1 honors in one-third (eight) of the season’s 24 races.

What went wrong in 2016: Torrence did not start at Norwalk, which ultimately cost him eventually in the point standings. Who knows what may have happened to his championship bid if he had made the Norwalk show. … Losing in the first round during the six-race Countdown to the Championship at St. Louis and in the second round at Charlotte 2, Reading and Pomona 2, also greatly impacted Torrence’s overall points total earned in the season. … Three consecutive first round losses early in the season at Phoenix, Gainesville and Las Vegas 1 also hurt him greatly.

What to look for in 2017: If 2016 was Torrence’s breakout season, then 2017 could be his championship breakthrough season. It doesn’t get much better with Johnson tuning your race car, and Torrence and Johnson have formed a potent duo (with Brittany Force, who is also tuned by Johnson, a defacto teammate of sorts to Torrence). If there’s anything Torrence has to work on, it’s his consistency, particularly early in the season. If he can get over that hump, he has a good chance of battling for the championship next season.

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)

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Jack Miller wins the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his downward points’ slide

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Jack Miller ran away with the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi as Fabio Quartararo stopped his downward slide in the championship when a last-lap accident from his closest rival in the standings caused Francesco Bagnaia to score zero points.

Starting seventh, Miller quickly made his way forward. He was second at the end of two laps. One lap later, he grabbed the lead from Jorge Martin. Once in the lead, Miller posted three consecutive fastest laps and was never seriously challenged. It was Australian native Miller’s first race win of the season and his sixth podium finish.

The proximity to his home turf was not lost.

“I can ride a motorcycle sometimes,” Miller said in NBC Sports’ post-race coverage. “I felt amazing all weekend since I rolled out on the first practice. It feels so awesome to be racing on this side of the world.

“What an amazing day. It’s awesome; we have the home Grand Prix coming up shortly. Wedding coming up in a couple of weeks. I’m over the moon; can’t thank everyone enough.”

Miller beat Brad Binder to the line by 3.4 seconds with third-place Jorge Martin finishing about one second behind.

But the center of the storm was located just inside the top 10 as both Quartararo and Bagnaia started deep in the field.

Quartararo was on the outside of row three in ninth with Bagnaia one row behind in 12th. Neither rider moved up significantly, but the championship continued to be of primary importance as Bagnaia put in a patented late-race charge to settle onto Quartararo’s back tire, which would have allowed the championship leader to gain only a single point.

On the final lap, Bagnaia charged just a little too hard and crashed under heavy braking, throwing away the seven points he would have earned for a ninth-place finish.

The day was even more dramatic for the rider who entered the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix third in the standings. On the sighting lap, Aleix Espargaro had an alarm sound, so he peeled off into the pits, dropped his primary bike and jumped aboard the backup. Starting from pit lane, he trailed the field and was never able to climb into the points. An undisclosed electronic problem was the culprit.

For Quartararo, gaining eight points on the competition was more than a moral victory. This was a track on which he expected to run moderately, and he did, but the problems for his rivals gives him renewed focus with four rounds remaining.

Next week, the series heads to Thailand and then Miller’s home track of Phillip Island in Australia. They will close out the Pacific Rim portion of the schedule before heading to Spain for the finale in early November.

It would appear team orders are not in play among the Ducati riders. Last week’s winner Enea Bastianini made an aggressive early move on Bagnaia for position before the championship contender wrestled the spot back.

In his second race back following arm surgery, Marc Marquez won the pole. His last pole was more than 1,000 days ago on this same track in 2019, the last time the series competed at Motegi. Marquez slipped to fifth in the middle stages of the race, before regaining a position to finish just off the podium.

In Moto2 competition, Ai Ogura beat Augusto Fernandez to close the gap in that championship to two points. Fernandez holds the scant lead. Alonso Lopez rounded out the podium.

Both American riders, Cameron Beaubier and Joe Roberts finished just outside the top 10 in 11th and 12th respectively.