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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Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.