NHRA

NHRA: With two races left to make playoffs, several drivers are on hot seat

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The way it is shaping up, 20-plus drivers/riders have three weeks to get their NHRA playoff hopes in gear.

Two races remain in the 18-race NHRA regular season, Aug. 16-19 at Brainerd, Minnesota, and Aug. 29-Sept. 3 at Indianapolis.

Drivers ranked in the top 10 in the Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle standings after the Indy race will then qualify for and advance to the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

But there are still several drivers that are in the top 10 in their respective classes that have not secured their spot in the Countdown yet – and potentially may not. There are also several drivers currently outside the Top 10 that essentially have to make Hail Mary passes to make the playoffs.

Let’s break down who’s already in the Countdown, who’s not and who’s in trouble in each individual class, along with notes on each class:

TOP FUEL:

Who’s in: points leader Steve Torrence (5 wins, 1,251 points), 8-time champ Tony Schumacher (1 win, 1,090 points), Clay Millican (2 wins, 1,084 points), Leah Pritchett (2 wins, 1,083 points).

Who’s not: Doug Kalitta (1 win, 995 points), three-time national champ Antron Brown (1 win, 927 points), Terry McMillen (759 points), defending national champ Brittany Force (1 win, 731 points), Richie Crampton (1 win, 660 points) and Scott Palmer (649 points).

Who’s in trouble: No. 11 Mike Salinas (619 points), No. 12 Blake Alexander (2 wins, 522 points).

Antron Brown
Brittany Force

Notes: Two drivers in particular need to get moving if they hope to have a shot at another championship. Namely, defending Top Fuel champ Brittany Force and three-time champ Antron Brown. Both have just one win thus far this season (Brown finally broke through last week at Seattle). … Keep an eye on Clay Millican, who is having a career season and could be the biggest surprise of all. … Also, keep an eye on Steve Torrence. He came so close to the championship last season. Given his five wins thus far, Torrence right now is the man to beat – but few have been able to do so. … And if you happen to have a third eye handy, keep it on Doug Kalitta, one of the hardest-working drivers in all drag racing, but still has yet to win his first Top Fuel championship. Could this finally be Connie Kalitta’s nephew’s year to win it all?

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FUNNY CAR:

Who’s in: Courtney Force (4 wins, 1,300 points), 2016 national champ Ron Capps (2 wins, 1,146 points), defending national champ Robert Hight (2 wins, 1,085 points), Matt Hagan (3 wins, 1,064 points).

Who’s not: Jack Beckman (1 win, 999 points), J.R. Todd (2 wins, 914 points), Tommy Johnson Jr. (892 points), 16-time national event champ John Force (1 win, 824 points), Shawn Langdon (736 points) and Bob Tasca III (691 points).

Who’s in trouble: No. 11 Tim Wilkerson (688 points), No. 12 Cruz Pedregon (1 win, 641 points), No. 13 Jonnie Lindberg (598 points), No. 14 Jim Campbell (451 points).

John Force

Notes: Last year was Brittany Force’s year (in Top Fuel). Thus far in 2018, it appears to be younger sister Courtney Force’s year in Funny Car. She’s come close to the championship before fading in the past; can she keep up her momentum going forward in the remaining eight races? … Speaking of Force, John Force should qualify for the playoffs, but the 69-year-old drag racing icon needs to pick up his game substantially if he hopes to have any chance at title No. 17. … Cruz Pedregon has struggled in recent years, but his win at Charlotte in April (his first triumph since 2014) gave him some much needed and deserved momentum. He needs to find a bit more momentum to get past Tasca and Wilkerson to make the 10-driver Countdown in Funny Car. He essentially needs to go a total of three additional rounds than the other two drivers in the last two pre-Countdown races to make the playoffs.

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PRO STOCK:

Who’s in: Greg Anderson (1 win, 1,189 points), Tanner Gray (4 wins), 1,147 points), Erica Enders (1 win, 1,082 points), Vincent Nobile (2 wins, 1,052 points), Jeg Coughlin Jr. (3 wins, 1,020 points).

Who’s not: Chris McGaha (2 wins, 939 points), Deric Kramer (1 win, 928 points), Drew Skillman (927 points), former champ Jason Line (913 points), Bo Butner (1 win, 895 points).

Who’s in trouble: No. 11 Alex Laughlin (1 win, 681 points), No. 12 Matt Hartford (548 points).

Jason Line

Notes: What has happened to Jason Line this season? The former champ still does not have a win this season, which is virtually unheard of for him. What’s more, teammate and multi-champion Greg Anderson has just one win (although he has been consistent enough to remain No. 1 in the standings). Anderson and Line need to get back into winning form – and fast – lest one or both make early exits in the Countdown. Consistency won’t be enough; wins will decide who is the ultimate Pro Stock champ in 2018.

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PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE:

Who’s in: Andrew Hines (687 points), Eddie Krawiec (3 wins, 651 points), LE Tonglet (2 wins, 609 points), Hector Arana Jr. (1 win, 562 points).

Who’s not: 2016 national champ Jerry Savoie (1 win, 534 points), Matt Smith (1 win, 473 points), Scotty Pollacheck (449 points), Angie Smith (336 points), Hector Arana (321 points), Angelle Sampey (320 points).

Who’s in trouble: No. 11 Jim Underdahl (312 points), No. 12 Steve Johnson (302 points), No. 13 Cory Reed (300 points).

Andrew Hines

Notes: Much like Jason Line in Pro Stock, five-time PSM champ Andrew Hines is almost incredulously winless still at this late stage of the regular season. How can that be? Sure, Hines could ride into the Countdown still No. 1 in points, but unless he takes a couple of trips to the winner’s circle in the playoffs, he will not win another championship this year. … Also, keep your eye on the battle for eighth through 10th place heading into Indy. Just 36 points separate six riders for the final three Countdown spots. Right now, the dark horses to make the Countdown – providing they have an exceptional race at Indy – are Sampey, Underdahl and Johnson.

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Indianapolis 500 weather forecast: Rain chances decreasing for start

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INDIANAPOLIS — As the green flag keeps approaching for the 103rd Indianapolis 500, the chances of clear skies Sunday keep increasing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The chance of rain at the start of the race was down to about 30%, according to the wunderground.com site as of late Saturday night, and the forecast seemed good until late afternoon when the odds of precipitation rose to about 80%.

If the race starts on time at12:45 p.m. ET, that should be a long enough window to run the full 500 miles and certainly an official race (102 of 200 laps).

With Indiana on the western edge of the Eastern Time Zone and a 9:02 p.m. sunset on race day, Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Doug Boles said the green flag probably could be held as late as 6 p.m. if a worst-case scenario of bad weather hits.

THE 103RD INDIANAPOLIS 500: Click here for how to watch

“We ran the NASCAR race (in 2017) almost right up to sunset,” Boles said. “The challenge of getting closer to sunset is just getting people out when it’s still light. The race itself is more than 2 hours and 40 minutes so you have to back-time yourself.

“We’ll sit down with IndyCar over the next 24 hours and at least have that in the back of our mind. If there’s a window to get it done, our intent would be get it in Sunday, so we would want to go as late as we could.”

Boles said National Weather Service representatives are on site this weekend to help with forecasting. Regardless of if there still is a threat of rain, the track will start the race on time as long as the surface is dry.

“I can’t imagine we’d postpone the start because we think it might rain,” Boles said. “If it’s not raining, we’re running the race.

Boles said track officials are monitoring Sunday’s weather daily but won’t discuss any potential contingency plans until Saturday night. Regardless of whether it’s raining Sunday morning, some pre-race ceremonies likely will remain in place.

“It’s hard to speculate on what’s going to happen,” he said. “It’s likely Sunday morning will be the first time that we have any definitive statement on what we think is going to happen. Instead of giving you information that we don’t know what it’s going to be like, I’d rather wait until that Sunday when we see the conditions, and we’ll let you know.

“Obviously, if it’s raining, then we’ll have to decide what the next steps are.”

Boles said Indiana weather traditionally is unpredictable, noting that qualifying was completed last Sunday despite predictions of a complete washout.

“Last year the prediction was it was going to rain on race day, we got up next morning, and it was perfect,” Boles said. “It just changes so rapidly around here.”

Should it rain, IndyCar officials will make every reasonable attempt to run the Indy 500 on time,. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway also recently used a new sealant on the track surface which makes it quicker to dry the racing surface.

During the previous 102 runnings of the Indy 500, there have been 12 impacted by rain: three complete postponements; two partial postponements and seven shortened races.

So what happens if it does rain? Some options:

Rain-shortened race

The Indy 500 could turn into the Indy 255. If more than 255 miles (102 laps) are completed in Sunday’s race, the race can be deemed official. If the race is called, driver’s finishing positions are based on their position in the race at the time of the caution flag for rain.

The Indy 500 has been shortened by rain only seven times, most recently in 2007. The race was stopped nearly three hours because of rain on Lap 113 and was declared officially over with Dario Franchitti in the lead when rain again hit at the 415-mile mark.

Partial postponement

If fewer than 102 laps are completed Sunday, the race will resume on the next dry day. With most Americans on holiday Monday because of Memorial Day, a partial postponement still might allow for a healthy audience at the track and watching on NBC.

The race has been partially postponed only twice in the 102 previous runnings, in 1967 and 1973.

Complete postponement

Fans shouldn’t worry too much about a complete postponement of the race, as it has only happened three times, most recently in 1997. If rain completely postpones the Indy 500, the race will be rescheduled for the next day with the start time dependent on the forecast.

The 1997 race ran 15 laps on Monday before rain again postponed the remainder of the race until Tuesday. The 1915 and ’86 runnings were postponed until the following Saturday.