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NHRA: Robert Hight hopes math adds up to still rally for third Funny Car title

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Defending NHRA Funny Car champion Robert Hight’s Twitter account handle is @RobertHight7000.

But heading into next weekend’s season-ending Auto Club Finals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California, Hight may want to change his Twitter handle to @RobertHight118.

The reason is pretty clear. Hight, who is also president of John Force Racing, will go into the race trailing JR Todd by 74 points.

With drivers eligible to earn as much as 191 points in the race – that’s 1.5 times the normal amount of available points in most regular races – Hight doesn’t need a calculator to figure what it’s going to take for him to win his second consecutive Funny Car championship and third overall.

Which is why the number in his Twitter handle should be changed to 118 heading to Pomona. Hight must earn 118 more points than Todd in the Nov. 11 final eliminations to earn the championship.

That’s not going to be easy, but it’s also not impossible. If Todd were to lose in the first round next Sunday, and Hight earns No. 1 qualifier honors and then goes on to win the race, it’s mathematically possible that Hight could rally to earn the championship yet again.

MORE: JR Todd: Even with a big lead, ‘no letting up’ for first NHRA Funny Car title

Admittedly, that’s a big task, especially since Todd has reached the final round in four of the first five races of the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs currently underway.

But Hight, who has fought through a broken collarbone suffered in a rough crash four races ago (and is still recovering), still feels he’s up to overtaking Todd.

“There’s nothing like racing in Pomona,” said Hight, who has 45 career wins. “Southern California, all the fans there, there’s nothing like that.

“I always remember back to my first run in competition coming there and just looking down the track. It was a dream come true getting to race a Funny Car and I still get all those same feelings every time I race there.”

Hight finds himself in a more difficult position than he did in last year’s playoffs. En route to his 2017 title, he won four of the final 11 races, including two in the Countdown.

Heading to Pomona next week, Hight earned back-to-back wins at both St. Louis (where he suffered the broken collarbone, crashing after winning the race) and Dallas.

But he hurt his championship hopes greatly when he uncharacteristically lost in the first round last weekend at Las Vegas – while Todd went on to win the race and overtake Hight in the standings.

Much like Todd is focusing on himself and his own program and trying to put the challenge Hight presents out of mind, Hight has pretty much the same mindset when it comes to Todd.

“At the beginning of the year, all you can do is hope to be in this position,” said Hight, who has four career wins in Pomona. “Up until these last few years, we went through a period where we were going to Vegas and Pomona without a chance to win a title, and that’s tough.

“It’s painful and I think that makes you appreciate the team you have and everything we have going on this year.

“We all know what we have to do. We love our jobs, but we love to win and that’s our main focus. Fans love the thought of the championship going down to the last race and that gets me pumped up.”

The battle between Todd and Hight isn’t the only championship to be determined. In Pro Stock, Tanner Gray has a massive 140-point lead over five-time champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. and leads third-ranked and two-time champ Erica Enders by 149 points.

Drew Skillman (-170) and Vincent Nobile (-179) are both mathematically in the running for Pro Stock, but about the only way they could rally back is if Gray fails to qualify at Pomona, which is unlikely given his qualifying prowess thus far this season.

And in Pro Stock Motorcycle, it’s a tight battle between points leader Matt Smith, defending champ Eddie Krawiec (-4), LE Tonglet (-61) and Hector Arana Jr. (-64).

Also still mathematically in it are 2016 PSM champ Jerry Savoie (-101) and four-time PSM champ Andrew Hines (-113).

MotorSportsTalk will feature previews for both Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle next week leading up to the season finale in Pomona.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

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.”