From left, Matt Smith, Jason Line, Ron Capps, Steve Torrence. Photos and videos courtesy NHRA

NHRA Concord winners: Steve Torrence, Ron Capps, Jason Line, Matt Smith

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Steve Torrence continued to be unstoppable in the NHRA Countdown to the Championship, capturing Top Fuel honors in Sunday’s finals of the NHRA Carolina Nationals in Concord, North Carolina.

Torrence has now won each of the first four Countdown races and, with Sunday’s win, builds a big lead for the championship with just two races remaining in the Countdown.

Torrence (3.703 seconds at 329.67 mph) defeated 2017 NHRA Top Fuel champion Brittany Force (3.708 seconds at 329.26 mph) to remain perfect in the 2018 Countdown.

It was Torrence’s ninth win in the first 22 races of the 24-race NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule – and the 25th triumph of his Top Fuel career.

Torrence becomes the first driver in Top Fuel or Funny Car history to sweep the first four races of the Countdown. He also won at Charlotte earlier this season in the Four-Wide Nationals.

Torrence defeated Chris Karamesines, Leah Pritchett, Tony Schumacher and Force to reach the winner’s circle on Sunday.

“It’s been truly unbelievable for us to go out and accomplish what we’ve done,” Torrence said in an NHRA media release. “We’re in the middle of this thing and it’s truly remarkable.

“I did my job today, but it’s a team and it takes the whole village to make this machine work. I couldn’t be more proud of what those guys are doing. They’re pushing me to the front and it’s pretty special to be part of.

“You don’t win a championship by default. You go up there and do your job when it’s crunch time. This was the biggest race of the season for us and we needed to capitalize, and we did what we needed to do.”

Torrence now has a commanding 169-point lead over second-ranked Clay Millican with just two races left in the season: Las Vegas (Oct. 25-28) and Pomona, California (Nov. 8-11).

In Funny Car: 2016 champ Ron Capps earned his third win of 2018 and his 61st career NHRA victory. Capps (3.890 seconds at 331.20 mph) defeated J.R. Todd (4.311 seconds at 214.96 mph) in Sunday’s final round.

Capps defeated Dale Creasy Jr., 2017 Funny Car champ Robert Hight, Tim Wilkerson and Todd to capture top Funny Car honors.

“To throw down those speeds and E.T.s when we needed it, that was very cool,” Capps said. “You’ve just got to be up for everything and I was just so glad that we did what we talked about doing.”

Capps now moves into third place in the Funny Car ranks, 109 points behind series leader Hight. By reaching the final round, Todd is now just 11 points behind Hight.

“We’ve got a lot of business left and it’s not over,” Capps said. “Anything can happen and we’re going to go down fighting. I can’t wait to celebrate and get to the next race. We’re gaining momentum and it really gives me a lot of confidence.”

In Pro Stock: Jason Line (6.531 seconds at 211.89 mph) earned his first win of the season and 48th of his Pro Stock career, defeating Pro Stock points leader Tanner Gray (6.534 seconds at 211.43 mph).

Line is a three-time NHRA Pro Stock champ, but has struggled this season. However, his win on Sunday – he defeated 2017 Pro Stock champ Bo Butner, five-time Pro Stock champ Jeg Coughlin Jr., No. 1 qualifier Drew Skillman and Gray – marked the 15th consecutive season he’s won at least one race in a season.

Line also is the 10th different winner in Pro Stock in the first 22 races this season.

“It’s been a struggle for sure, so I guess the good part of that is when you do finally win you definitely appreciate it,” said Line, who now has a Pro Stock-best four wins at zMAX Dragway. “I was just trying to be calm (against Gray) and cut the best light I was capable of cutting. It was a great run and our team did a great job on my racecar today.”

Gray had won two of the first three Countdown races (and seven this season). He reached the 10th final round this season on Sunday, defeating Alan Prusiensky, Alex Laughlin and two-time Pro Stock champ Erica Enders before falling to Line in the final round.

Even though he lost to Line, Gray still managed to extend his lead in the Pro Stock points standings to 130 points over Coughlin Jr.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle: Matt Smith rode to his third win of the season and also regained the points lead in the process. Smith (6.830 seconds at 196.64 mph) defeated Chip Ellis (fouled, red light at starting line) in Sunday’s final round.

Smith defeated Karen Stoffer, Scotty Pollacheck, Angelle Sampey and Ellis.

With his 21st career PSM win, Smith now holds a 41-point lead over LE Tonglet and a 56-point edge over 2017 PSM champ Eddie Krawiec.

“It’s pretty big if you look at the points,” said Smith, who has two playoff wins. “I went up and raced scared in Dallas (last week) and didn’t do my job, so I figured I would come here and do my job.

“All in all, the bike worked great and I just had to do my job. I said it to begin with that if we can win three races in the Countdown, I think we can win this championship. We just can’t have another first-round loss and we have to keep going rounds. We’re going to do everything we can to make this dream come true again.”

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FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence; 2. Brittany Force; 3. Tony Schumacher; 4. Mike Salinas; 5. Clay Millican; 6. Dom Lagana; 7. Doug Kalitta; 8. Leah Pritchett; 9. Antron Brown; 10. Richie Crampton; 11. Terry McMillen; 12. Scott Palmer; 13. Chris Karamesines; 14. Audrey Worm; 15. Kyle Wurtzel; 16. Pat Dakin.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Ron Capps; 2. J.R. Todd; 3. John Force; 4. Tim Wilkerson; 5. Matt Hagan; 6. Cruz Pedregon; 7. Robert Hight; 8. Dave Richards; 9. Jack Beckman; 10. Jonnie Lindberg; 11. Dale Creasy Jr.; 12. Courtney Force; 13. Bob Tasca III; 14. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 15. Jim Campbell; 16. Shawn Langdon.

PRO STOCK: 1. Jason Line; 2. Tanner Gray; 3. Erica Enders; 4. Drew Skillman; 5. Jeg Coughlin; 6. Alex Laughlin; 7. Vincent Nobile; 8. Bo Butner; 9. Fernando Cuadra; 10. Wally Stroupe; 11. Shane Tucker; 12. Alan Prusiensky; 13. Deric Kramer; 14. Greg Anderson.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Matt Smith; 2. Chip Ellis; 3. Angelle Sampey; 4. Jerry Savoie; 5. Eddie Krawiec; 6. Andrew Hines; 7. Scotty Pollacheck; 8. Angie Smith; 9. Hector Arana Jr.; 10. Hector Arana; 11. Steve Johnson; 12. LE Tonglet; 13. Joey Gladstone; 14. Karen Stoffer; 15. Jim Underdahl; 16. Ryan Oehler.

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FINAL RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: Steve Torrence, 3.703 seconds, 329.67 mph def. Brittany Force, 3.708 seconds, 329.26 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 3.890, 331.20 def. J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 4.311, 214.96.

PRO STOCK: Jason Line, Chevy Camaro, 6.531, 211.89 def. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.534, 211.43.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: Matt Smith, EBR, 6.830, 196.64 def. Chip Ellis, Harley-Davidson, Foul – Red Light.

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Clay Millican, 4.405, 244.16 def. Kyle Wurtzel, 5.574, 119.80; Leah Pritchett, 3.707, 324.67 def. Richie Crampton, 3.750, 317.79; Doug Kalitta, 3.718, 329.42 def. Scott Palmer, 3.788, 326.00; Mike Salinas, 3.725, 331.12 def. Pat Dakin, 20.722, 23.17; Brittany Force, 3.717, 323.12 def. Audrey Worm, 5.162, 157.23; Steve Torrence, 3.954, 323.81 def. Chris Karamesines, 4.121, 225.37; Tony Schumacher, 3.699, 329.91 def. Antron Brown, 3.736, 328.14; Dom Lagana, 3.716, 329.42 def. Terry McMillen, 3.780, 324.98; QUARTERFINALS — Salinas, 3.723, 329.83 def. Kalitta, 3.741, 328.30; Force, 3.702, 328.54 def. Lagana, 3.730, 329.58; Schumacher, 3.712, 330.55 def. Millican, 3.729, 328.86; Torrence, 3.716, 330.96 def. Pritchett, 4.222, 219.76; SEMIFINALS — Torrence, 3.728, 328.38 def. Schumacher, 3.718, 329.42; Force, 3.708, 330.07 def. Salinas, 3.737, 328.94; FINAL — Torrence, 3.703, 329.67 def. Force, 3.708, 329.26.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.915, 308.28 def. Jim Campbell, Dodge Charger, 7.556, 86.70; Dave Richards, Mustang, 4.283, 279.27 def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 7.265, 112.70; Ron Capps, Charger, 3.926, 328.86 def. Dale Creasy Jr., Dodge Stratus, 4.041, 316.67; J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 3.874, 330.55 def. Jonnie Lindberg, Mustang, 3.964, 325.22; Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.019, 270.00 def. Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 4.132, 232.31; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.891, 328.62 def. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 9.638, 78.22; Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.877, 330.96 def. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.906, 329.26; John Force, Camaro, 3.970, 325.45 def. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.146, 256.60; QUARTERFINALS — J. Force, 3.948, 329.18 def. Richards, 4.272, 260.56; Wilkerson, 3.910, 328.46 def. Hagan, 3.903, 323.58; Todd, 3.919, 325.53 def. Pedregon, 3.943, 306.46; Capps, 3.889, 332.43 def. Hight, 3.953, 285.23; SEMIFINALS — Todd, 3.891, 326.48 def. J. Force, 3.968, 331.12; Capps, 3.903, 320.97 def. Wilkerson, 3.978, 323.97; FINAL — Capps, 3.890, 331.20 def. Todd, 4.311, 214.96.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Vincent Nobile, Chevy Camaro, 6.522, 211.30 def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 18.517, 33.29; Alex Laughlin, Dodge Dart, 6.505, 211.83 def. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 16.308, 37.67; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.503, 211.96 def. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.526, 211.76; Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.499, 212.76 def. Fernando Cuadra, Camaro, 6.535, 210.77; Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.522, 212.09 def. Shane Tucker, Camaro, 12.410, 71.33; Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.537, 211.63 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dart, 12.705, 69.24; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.493, 212.73 def. Wally Stroupe, Camaro, 6.722, 205.79; QUARTERFINALS — Skillman, 15.965, 34.99 was unopposed; Gray, 6.563, 211.66 def. Laughlin, 6.529, 211.39; Line, 6.510, 212.16 def. Coughlin, 6.527, 211.89; Enders, 6.521, 212.26 def. Nobile, 6.585, 211.46; SEMIFINALS — Gray, 6.527, 211.20 def. Enders, 6.529, 211.36; Line, 6.527, 211.86 def. Skillman, 6.547, 211.10; FINAL — Line, 6.531, 211.89 def. Gray, 6.534, 211.43.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: ROUND ONE — Angie Smith, Buell, 6.902, 191.10 def. Ryan Oehler, Buell, 8.462, 117.98; Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.883, 194.02 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.910, 192.19; Chip Ellis, Harley-Davidson, 6.778, 197.19 def. Joey Gladstone, Buell, 6.973, 194.32; Matt Smith, 6.869, 196.67 def. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 7.010, 192.33; Scotty Pollacheck, Suzuki, 6.878, 194.18 def. Hector Arana Jr, 6.855, 197.65; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.812, 196.53 def. Hector Arana, 6.903, 196.56; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.848, 197.91 def. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 7.073, 158.99; Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.809, 196.90 def. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.940, 194.77; QUARTERFINALS — M. Smith, 6.881, 197.19 def. Pollacheck, 6.890, 194.27; Ellis, 6.831, 197.08 def. A. Smith, 6.913, 191.67; Savoie, 6.842, 194.27 def. Hines, 6.857, 195.53; Sampey, 6.834, 195.31 def. Krawiec, 6.837, 197.91; SEMIFINALS — M. Smith, 6.869, 194.86 def. Sampey, 6.922, 193.18; Ellis, 6.854, 197.13 def. Savoie, 16.849, 35.06; FINAL — M. Smith, 6.830, 196.64 def. Ellis, Foul – Red Light.

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UPDATED POINT STANDINGS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence, 2,592; 2. Clay Millican, 2,423; 3. Tony Schumacher, 2,382; 4. Leah Pritchett, 2,297; 5. Antron Brown, 2,253; 6. Brittany Force, 2,243; 7. Mike Salinas, 2,228; 8. Doug Kalitta, 2,225; 9. Terry McMillen, 2,221; 10. Scott Palmer, 2,149.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, 2,445; 2. J.R. Todd, 2,434; 3. Ron Capps, 2,336; 4. Tim Wilkerson, 2,334; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,296; 6. Courtney Force, 2,264; 7. John Force, 2,241; 8. Matt Hagan, 2,229; 9. Jack Beckman, 2,204; 10. Shawn Langdon, 2,152.

PRO STOCK: 1. Tanner Gray, 2,509; 2. Jeg Coughlin, 2,379; 3. Vincent Nobile, 2,373; 4. Drew Skillman, 2,356; 5. Erica Enders, 2,338; 6. Greg Anderson, 2,299; 7. Jason Line, 2,291; 8. Bo Butner, 2,186; 9. Deric Kramer, 2,168; 10. Chris McGaha, 2,096.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Matt Smith, 2,426; 2. LE Tonglet, 2,385; 3. Eddie Krawiec, 2,370; 4. Jerry Savoie, 2,326; 5. Andrew Hines, 2,291; 6. Hector Arana Jr, 2,288; 7. Angie Smith, 2,221; 8. Angelle Sampey, 2,216; 9. Steve Johnson, 2,209; 10. Scotty Pollacheck, 2,177.

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Don’t know the Rolex 24? You should. Here’s why.

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Hello, America. It’s time to go racing again.

Yes, Supercross is now three weeks into its season, and the Chili Bowl Nationals is now effectively the Christopher Bell Invitational after the young NASCAR star won his 3rd consecutive Golden Driller last weekend.

But the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway is the first marquee event on the American racing calendar – an event that just happens to have international prestige.

It’s also the start of Daytona Speedweeks, which culminates with NASCAR’s Daytona 500 on Feb. 17. But this is no mere opening act just warming up the crowd for the headliner.

In case you’re new to this event, here are a few reasons why it stands out:

Twice around the clock: Are you the kind of person that appreciates a challenge? Well, challenges don’t get much bigger in motorsports than a 24-hour endurance race where drivers, crews, machines, and strategies must work together flawlessly. For those behind the wheel in the Rolex 24, the obstacles are numerous: Punishing G-forces, extreme mental focus, lack of sleep, and staying on top of hydration and nutrition.

Star power: Speaking of those behind the wheel, the Rolex 24 traditionally draws top drivers from other disciplines such as IndyCar, Formula 1 and NASCAR to join sports car regulars from North America and around the world. As a result, the winners’ list is a Who’s Who of Motorsports.

This year’s field includes a clutch of NTT IndyCar Series drivers, highlighted by 5-time series champion and past Rolex 24 winner Scott Dixon. But pre-race buzz has centered on two particular interlopers: Alex Zanardi, the former CART champion making his first North American start since losing his legs in a 2001 crash, and Fernando Alonso, the two-time F1 champion looking to add another endurance triumph alongside his win with Toyota in last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Cool cars: If you’re a gearhead, the Rolex 24 is a 200-mile-per-hour candy store. Across the four separate classes of competition, 13 of the world’s premier car manufacturers are represented.

The majority of those manufacturers are found in the Grand Touring classes that feature vehicles based on road-going production models. Chevy and Ford’s eternal rivalry rages on in the factory-backed GT Le Mans, but the class also boasts efforts from BMW, Porsche, and Ferrari. It’s even more diverse in the pro-am GT Daytona, where Porsche is joined by Audi, Lamborghini, Lexus and Mercedes.

As for the exotic, purpose-built Daytona Prototypes, they are powered by engines from Cadillac, Acura, Mazda and Nissan.

Nifty fifty: This year’s Rolex 24 begins the 50th anniversary season for IMSA, the sanctioning body for North American sports car racing. A select group of teams will mark the occasion at the Rolex 24 by running historic IMSA paint schemes on their machines. You may not be familiar with these looks, but it’s worth discovering the history behind them.

Here’s an example. The Starworks Motorsports team (GT Daytona) will carry a scheme based on Audi of America’s 90 Quattro from the 1989 IMSA GTO season. Boasting sports car legends Hurley Haywood and Hans-Joachim Stuck in the driver lineup, the 90 Quattro captured 7 GTO wins that season.

Audi’s performance led one competitor to create a “no passing” sticker with Stuck’s face on it. Stuck’s response: A doll fixed to his car’s rear window that dropped its pants to moon anyone Stuck put behind him.

Status symbol: Last but not least, the Rolex 24 has a unique prize – a trophy you can wear.

Winners get a standard cup, but what they’re really after are the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona watches, which include a special engraving to commemorate their victory. A standard version of this watch retails for tens of thousands of dollars, but you can’t put a price on the ones awarded at the Rolex 24.

This year’s grand marshal, 5-time Rolex 24 winner Scott Pruett, sums it up as “the ultimate reward.”

“To be presented a watch engraved with the word ‘Winner’ after 24 hours of intense racing is a moment that lives with you forever,” he added. “Your Rolex is a constant reminder of the perseverance and hard work that goes into succeeding at the highest level.”