NHRA Las Vegas: ‘Playoff perfect’ Steve Torrence clinches Top Fuel championship

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Steve Torrence capped off one of the most spectacular seasons in NHRA Top Fuel history – and there’s still one race left to go in the season.

In Sunday’s NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Torrence captured his first career NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Top Fuel championship, becoming the 30th driver to do so in the history of the class.

But as big as it was for the Texas native to win the championship, how he did it was equally as big of a story. He continued his perfect run in the six-race Countdown to the Championship, remaining undefeated with his fifth consecutive win in as many races in the six-race playoffs (as well as a record 10th overall season win).

Not only is Torrence the only driver in NHRA Top Fuel (or Funny Car) history to win four straight Countdown races, he’s now the first driver in the sport’s annals to win five straight Countdown races. He also now has 26 career Top Fuel national event wins.

Two weeks from now in the season-ending Auto Club Finals (Nov. 8-11) at Pomona, California, and even with the championship already wrapped up, Torrence and his Capco Contractors/Torrence Motorsports team will look to become the first driver and team in NHRA history to win all six playoff races.

Torrence clinched the championship in Sunday’s semifinal round win over Richie Crampton, then went on to defeat Leah Pritchett in the final round to win playoff race No. 5 in 2018.

“This is a lifelong goal right here,” Torrence said. “All the glory goes to God, my mom and dad, because without them none of this would be even be possible.

“Every one of those Capco boys on that race team because they put their heart in it and it is hard to beat people with heart. All the boys back home at Capco, we got it done guys. This is unreal. To all those people who said we couldn’t do it, we are here.”

In Funny Car: J.R. Todd moved into first place in the standings with his fifth win of the season for Kalitta Motorsports.

Todd defeated Matt Hagan in the final round to not only take over the points lead, but now has a 74-point edge heading to Pomona over defending Funny Car champ Robert Hight, who uncharacteristically lost in the first round of eliminations Sunday.

This is the seventh Funny Car win for Todd, the 16th in his career and his second win at The Strip this season.

“It is so awesome to drive a car like that when it is that consistent,” Todd said. “You don’t have to worry about if you are going to have to go out there and pedal it or things like that.

“You can go up there and smack the tree as hard as you can and keep that thing stuck down the groove. It is a lot of fun to drive. We still have some unfinished business in Pomona. Hopefully we can go there and come out of it with two trophies (championship and race win).”

In Pro Stock: Reigning Pro Stock champ Bo Butner roared to the win, just two days after announcing that he will not be returning to the Pro Stock ranks in 2019, but rather will return to his Sportsman racing roots.

Butner defeated two-time Pro Stock champ Erica Enders in Sunday’s final run. It was Butner’s second win of the season and his fifth final round appearance at The Strip in the past four seasons.

“We started off like gangbusters, win in Pomona, ran good at Gainesville and thought we had another repeat deal coming,” Butner said. “We struggled a little bit as every team does.

“I kept saying this weekend this is perfect. This car showed improvement every run. I’m very happy we got to win again, win a couple of rounds, much less win the race. This Pro Stock deal is amazing. Everybody in the top 12 qualifiers can win.”

While Butner’s hopes to win a second straight championship are over, he still has hopes to leave Pro Stock with a win at Pomona.

Also, Tanner Gray reached the semifinals before losing to Enders. Gray closed in on his first career championship. He holds a 140-point lead in the Pro Stock ranks, with a maximum of 191 points available to be earned at Pomona.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle: No. 1 qualifier Hector Arana Jr. won his third race of the season and 14th of his career, defeating defending PSM champ Eddie Krawiec in Sunday’s finals.

“We did a great job qualifying and that sent the tone for today,” Arana said. “It gave me the confidence I needed.

“I had great lights in qualifying and did it again today on race day. Great preparation and everything came back together. We just want to qualify well, win rounds and win races.”

Matt Smith remains No. 1 in the PSM points, but with his runner-up finish, Krawiec is now just four points back, while LE Tonglet is third, 61 points behind Smith.

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FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence; 2. Leah Pritchett; 3. Richie Crampton; 4. Tony Schumacher; 5. Blake Alexander; 6. Clay Millican; 7. Brittany Force; 8. Billy Torrence; 9. Antron Brown; 10. Troy Buff; 11. Terry McMillen; 12. Scott Palmer; 13. Greg Carrillo; 14. Doug Kalitta; 15. Shawn Reed; 16. Mike Salinas.

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

PRO STOCK: 1. Bo Butner; 2. Erica Enders; 3. Tanner Gray; 4. Matt Hartford; 5. Jason Line; 6. Drew Skillman; 7. Deric Kramer; 8. Jeg Coughlin; 9. Greg Anderson; 10. Alex Laughlin; 11. Chris McGaha; 12. Vincent Nobile; 13. Kenny Delco; 14. Steve Graham; 15. Fernando Cuadra; 16. Alan Prusiensky.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Hector Arana Jr.; 2. Eddie Krawiec; 3. Hector Arana; 4. Andrew Hines; 5. Chip Ellis; 6. Matt Smith; 7. Angelle Sampey; 8. Jerry Savoie; 9. LE Tonglet; 10. Steve Johnson; 11. Scotty Pollacheck; 12. Ron Tornow; 13. Ryan Oehler; 14. Kelly Clontz; 15. Mark Paquette; 16. Angie Smith.

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FINAL RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: Steve Torrence, 3.751 seconds, 326.32 mph def. Leah Pritchett, 5.317 seconds, 148.85 mph.

FUNNY CAR: J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 3.921, 318.39 def. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 4.087, 263.62.

PRO STOCK: Bo Butner, Chevy Camaro, 6.657, 207.43 def. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.652, 206.57.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: Hector Arana Jr, EBR, 6.885, 193.35 def. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.911, 195.05.

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Tony Schumacher, 3.818, 315.86 def. Scott Palmer, 3.850, 304.94; Blake Alexander, 3.734, 326.48 def. Antron Brown, 3.793, 314.61; Clay Millican, 3.744, 329.58 def. Greg Carrillo, 3.912, 315.42; Leah Pritchett, 3.735, 327.43 def. Troy Buff, 3.808, 319.67; Brittany Force, 3.738, 330.55 def. Mike Salinas, Broke; Steve Torrence, 3.778, 326.79 def. Shawn Reed, 4.461, 180.02; Richie Crampton, 3.797, 314.02 def. Doug Kalitta, 4.219, 216.06; Billy Torrence, 3.724, 329.58 def. Terry McMillen, 3.812, 325.85; QUARTERFINALS — Schumacher, 3.754, 328.70 def. Millican, 4.025, 242.15; Pritchett, 3.740, 322.42 def. Alexander, 3.968, 276.29; Crampton, 3.766, 321.96 def. Force, 4.232, 242.23; S. Torrence, 3.764, 329.34 def. B. Torrence, 4.417, 185.10; SEMIFINALS — S. Torrence, 3.724, 330.15 def. Crampton, 4.233, 223.54; Pritchett, 3.730, 328.46 def. Schumacher, 6.004, 93.72; FINAL — S. Torrence, 3.751, 326.32 def. Pritchett, 5.317, 148.85.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 3.969, 317.79 def. Jonnie Lindberg, Mustang, 5.025, 160.18; Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 3.938, 326.08 def. Jeff Arend, Chevy Monte Carlo, 7.197, 92.39; J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 3.935, 321.27 def. Richard Townsend, Camry, 6.782, 98.32; Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.935, 326.24 def. Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.035, 300.33; Ron Capps, Charger, 3.954, 325.22 def. John Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.972, 330.31; Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.919, 326.87 def. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.975, 308.35; Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.922, 325.85 def. Robert Hight, Camaro, 4.643, 186.41; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.908, 326.08 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, Foul – Red Light; QUARTERFINALS — Tasca III, 3.943, 322.11 def. Capps, 3.963, 322.81; Todd, 3.957, 320.36 def. Langdon, 5.134, 145.96; Hagan, 3.919, 326.08 def. Johnson Jr., Foul – Red Light; Beckman, 3.951, 320.51 def. C. Force, 3.969, 320.66; SEMIFINALS — Todd, 3.906, 327.11 def. Beckman, 3.937, 327.90; Hagan, 3.928, 323.89 def. Tasca III, 3.952, 319.29; FINAL — Todd, 3.921, 318.39 def. Hagan, 4.087, 263.62.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Erica Enders, Chevy Camaro, 6.644, 206.45 def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.655, 207.37; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.653, 207.56 def. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.655, 205.16; Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.663, 206.80 def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.657, 207.37; Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.646, 206.64 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, Foul – Red Light; Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.646, 206.48 def. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.661, 204.94; Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.641, 205.51 def. Fernando Cuadra, Camaro, 6.723, 205.54; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.640, 206.86 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.693, 205.16; Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.635, 206.86 def. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.714, 204.91; QUARTERFINALS — Gray, 6.654, 206.39 def. Skillman, 6.666, 206.48; Hartford, 6.663, 205.85 def. Kramer, 6.673, 206.23; Butner, 6.652, 207.08 def. Line, 6.655, 206.23; Enders, 6.664, 206.45 def. Coughlin, 6.679, 206.39; SEMIFINALS — Enders, 6.665, 204.32 def. Gray, 6.673, 205.91; Butner, 6.658, 207.66 def. Hartford, 6.682, 206.10; FINAL — Butner, 6.657, 207.43 def. Enders, 6.652, 206.57.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: ROUND ONE — Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.973, 190.00 def. Angie Smith, Buell, 7.638, 128.24; Matt Smith, 6.923, 195.62 def. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.926, 193.24; Chip Ellis, Harley-Davidson, 6.918, 191.97 def. Kelly Clontz, Suzuki, 7.045, 189.84; Hector Arana, 6.905, 194.60 def. Ryan Oehler, Buell, 7.022, 190.89; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.950, 191.92 def. Scotty Pollacheck, Suzuki, 6.994, 189.95; Hector Arana Jr, 6.924, 193.27 def. Mark Paquette, Buell, 7.236, 152.38; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.901, 194.21 def. Ron Tornow, Buell, 7.003, 188.67; Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.943, 192.85 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.966, 190.48; QUARTERFINALS — Arana Jr, 6.942, 193.88 def. M. Smith, Foul – Red Light; Hines, 6.978, 191.29 def. Ellis, Foul – Red Light; Arana, 6.931, 194.74 def. Sampey, 6.960, 191.87; Krawiec, 6.933, 194.97 def. Savoie, 6.978, 192.69; SEMIFINALS — Arana Jr, 6.946, 194.13 def. Hines, 6.995, 190.89; Krawiec, 6.924, 194.83 def. Arana, 6.953, 193.52; FINAL — Arana Jr, 6.885, 193.35 def. Krawiec, 6.911, 195.05.

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UPDATED POINT STANDINGS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence, 2,718; 2. Clay Millican, 2,487; 3. Tony Schumacher, 2,454; 4. Leah Pritchett, 2,394; 5. Brittany Force, 2,302; 6. Antron Brown, 2,291; 7. (tie) Doug Kalitta, 2,259; Mike Salinas, 2,259; 9. Terry McMillen, 2,253; 10. Scott Palmer, 2,182.

FUNNY CAR: 1. J.R. Todd, 2,553; 2. Robert Hight, 2,479; 3. Ron Capps, 2,388; 4. Tim Wilkerson, 2,367; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,362; 6. Courtney Force, 2,324; 7. Matt Hagan, 2,321; 8. Jack Beckman, 2,283; 9. John Force, 2,277; 10. Shawn Langdon, 2,204.

PRO STOCK: 1. Tanner Gray, 2,583; 2. Jeg Coughlin, 2,443; 3. Erica Enders, 2,434; 4. Drew Skillman, 2,413; 5. Vincent Nobile, 2,404; 6. Jason Line, 2,350; 7. Greg Anderson, 2,334; 8. Bo Butner, 2,300; 9. Deric Kramer, 2,220; 10. Chris McGaha, 2,135.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Matt Smith, 2,479; 2. Eddie Krawiec, 2,475; 3. LE Tonglet, 2,418; 4. Hector Arana Jr, 2,415; 5. Jerry Savoie, 2,378; 6. Andrew Hines, 2,366; 7. Angelle Sampey, 2,268; 8. Angie Smith, 2,255; 9. Steve Johnson, 2,242; 10. Scotty Pollacheck, 2,209.

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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.”