2018 NHRA champs and Pomona 2 winners, from left, JR Todd, Tanner Gray, Matt Smith and Steve Torrence. Photos and videos courtesy NHRA

New NHRA champs cap off 2018 with season-ending wins

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JR Todd captured his first NHRA Funny Car championship and Matt Smith earned his third career Pro Stock Motorcycle title, wrapping up the 2018 drag racing season in Sunday’s Auto Club Finals in Pomona, California.

As if adding an exclamation mark to their championships, both Todd and Smith also won their respective final round matchups.

Likewise was the case for Tanner Gray, who clinched the Pro Stock title Saturday, becoming the youngest pro-class champ in history at just 19 years old, and then went on to win Sunday’s final round, as well as Steve Torrence, who clinched his first Top Fuel championship two weeks ago and then came back to win Sunday’s race for an encore.

Todd gave team owner Connie Kalitta his second Funny Car crown in four seasons, the other being from Del Worsham in 2015.

Smith, meanwhile, capped off his third PSM championship by making the fastest run in the class’s history (201.22 mph).

It also marked the first time in NHRA history that each of the season’s champions also won the season finale.

Let’s break down each of the four pro classes from Sunday’s finals:

In Top Fuel: Torrence had little to gain, having already been crowned the series’ champion in Sin City.

But Torrence wasn’t done winning in what has been an outstanding season, earning his 10th victory of 2018, becoming the first driver in NHRA history to win all six races in the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

Torrence won the race with a 3.702 second effort at 330.07 mph, defeating Tony Schumacher’s 3.700 at 331.61 mph run in the final round.

“It has truly been unbelievable,” Torrence stated. “To go out and do what those Capco Boys have accomplished is solely by the grace of the good Lord.

“We’ve won some rounds that we probably should not have won. We are truly blessed to be able to do what we’re doing. We’re going to be in the history books. Nobody can beat us; they can only tie us. That’s a pretty cool stat to put behind your name.”

In Funny Car: Todd got a big break when 2017 Funny Car champ Robert Hight lost in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations, allowing Todd to clinch the title.

Todd then went on to win the overall race with a 3.872 second, 329.10 mph run over race runner-up Tommy Johnson Jr.

Todd ended the season with a 194-point edge in the final rankings over runner-up Hight.

“People kept asking, ‘what do you need to do to clinch?’,” Todd said. “I’m like, we need to win the race. We need to not worry about what we need to clinch it. Seeing Robert smoke the tires first round was instant relief.

“My crew was racing smart and the Yella Fellas (his crew’s nickname) do an awesome job preparing the thing today. They stayed focused all day long because there were a lot of distractions around our pit area and they did their job.

“The other teams at Kalitta Motorsports came over to help and I can’t thank them enough. It’s a huge family over there and we’ve all got each other’s backs and it’s awesome to have that kind of support.”

Todd won six races in the 24-race NHRA schedule, including three in the six-race Countdown playoffs, and reached the final round in two other playoff events.

In Pro Stock: Gray, a third-generation racer, began competing in Pro Stock just last season and roared through to what likely will be the first of several championships still to come.

Gray (6.519 seconds at 211.86 mph) defeated Drew Skillman (fouled) in the final round to earn his eighth win of the season and 13th of his career.

“This was probably the most relaxed Sunday I’ve had ever,” Gray said. “For me, I just wanted to enjoy the moment. That was the last time I was going to race with a lot of those guys.

“We wrapped up the championship during qualifying and I just wanted to enjoy it. We had already won seven races and that’s really good and obviously I wanted to win more but at the same time I wanted to enjoy the time I had with the guys and make the most out of it.”

Gray defeated father Shane Gray in the first round Sunday, then trounced Erica Enders and Jason Line before facing Skillman in the finals.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle: Over the course of the 16-race PSM schedule, Smith defeated the best of the best, including holding off defending champ Eddie Krawiec, as well as former champs Andrew Hines, LE Tonglet, Jerry Savoie and others to earn title No. 3.

Smith’s national record put icing on the cake as he defeated Krawiec to capture both the race and championship. Smith won four races this season, including three in the Countdown.

“Man, we went through a lot today,” Smith said. “With the airline breaking in the first round and in the second round the transmission broke on us going through the lights.

“My guys did their job and we fixed all of the stuff that broke and ended up putting up three 200 mph runs today. We are having the time of our life right now though.”

The 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season will kick off with the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals Feb. 7-10 at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.

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FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

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

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

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

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

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FINAL ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: Steve Torrence, 3.702 seconds, 330.07 mph def. Tony Schumacher, 3.700 seconds, 331.61 mph.

FUNNY CAR: J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 3.872, 329.10 def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 3.889, 327.51.

PRO STOCK: Tanner Gray, Chevy Camaro, 6.519, 211.86 def. Drew Skillman, Camaro, Foul – Red Light.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: Matt Smith, EBR, 6.765, 201.22 def. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.812, 198.35.

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Blake Alexander, 3.702, 328.70 def. Mike Salinas, 3.736, 325.22; Antron Brown, 3.720, 331.12 def. Doug Kalitta, 3.727, 325.85; Bill Litton, 3.979, 309.56 def. Leah Pritchett, Foul – Centerline; Clay Millican, 3.748, 327.35 def. Terry McMillen, 3.823, 313.88; Brittany Force, 3.702, 330.88 def. Shawn Reed, 3.803, 318.84; Steve Torrence, 3.995, 322.88 def. Cameron Ferre, 10.300, 75.44; Billy Torrence, 3.706, 327.27 def. Richie Crampton, 3.743, 325.22; Tony Schumacher, 3.694, 332.34 def. Scott Palmer, 3.736, 327.27; QUARTERFINALS — Alexander, 3.744, 328.94 def. Millican, 3.736, 327.51; S. Torrence, 3.674, 331.20 def. B. Torrence, 3.712, 329.10; Schumacher, 4.667, 156.10 def. Litton, Broke; Force, 3.687, 333.00 def. Brown, 4.159, 200.62; SEMIFINALS — Schumacher, 3.705, 332.26 def. Alexander, 3.764, 322.88; S. Torrence, 3.705, 328.78 def. Force, 3.708, 332.18; FINAL — S. Torrence, 3.702, 330.07 def. Schumacher, 3.700, 331.61.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 3.988, 316.52 def. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 5.383, 143.86; J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 3.938, 315.64 def. Jim Campbell, Dodge Charger, 9.664, 74.83; Ron Capps, Charger, 3.904, 325.61 def. Ray Martin, Camry, Broke; Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.912, 255.00 def. Jeff Arend, Chevy Monte Carlo, 8.366, 61.13; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.905, 327.59 def. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.034, 281.36; Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.941, 328.78 def. Bob Bode, Mustang, 5.304, 138.40; John Force, Camaro, 3.955, 330.47 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.444, 201.76; Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.918, 326.71 def. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.115, 255.19; QUARTERFINALS — Todd, 3.952, 321.50 def. Tasca III, 3.962, 323.12; Capps, 3.921, 323.04 def. Langdon, 3.967, 322.81; Johnson Jr., 3.913, 324.90 def. C. Force, 3.942, 321.50; Beckman, 3.936, 318.99 def. J. Force, 4.023, 321.81; SEMIFINALS — Todd, 3.889, 328.14 def. Capps, 3.932, 316.97; Johnson Jr., 3.913, 325.06 def. Beckman, 3.919, 322.42; FINAL — Todd, 3.872, 329.10 def. Johnson Jr., 3.889, 327.51.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Bo Butner, Chevy Camaro, 6.522, 212.26 def. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 11.592, 77.76; Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.552, 210.64 def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.546, 211.39; Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.531, 210.57 def. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.549, 211.00; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.525, 212.26 def. Fernando Cuadra, Camaro, 6.608, 209.88; Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.515, 211.59 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 11.796, 75.91; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.517, 211.13 def. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.568, 211.03; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.518, 212.19 def. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 9.984, 92.09; Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.516, 211.96 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 12.694, 69.89; QUARTERFINALS — Line, 6.537, 212.03 def. Laughlin, 6.560, 210.87; T. Gray, 6.563, 210.73 def. Enders, 6.562, 211.23; Coughlin, 6.525, 211.39 def. Butner, 6.546, 211.86; Skillman, 6.535, 210.77 def. Anderson, 6.548, 212.33; SEMIFINALS — T. Gray, 6.535, 211.63 def. Line, 13.224, 65.77; Skillman, 6.534, 211.10 def. Coughlin, Broke; FINAL — T. Gray, 6.519, 211.86 def. Skillman, Foul – Red Light.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: ROUND ONE — Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.837, 193.99 def. Joey Gladstone, Buell, Foul – Red Light; Hector Arana, 6.877, 197.45 def. Chip Ellis, Harley-Davidson, Foul – Red Light; Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.865, 195.87 def. Scotty Pollacheck, Suzuki, 6.892, 194.27; LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.846, 196.62 def. Ryan Oehler, Buell, 6.927, 194.46; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.822, 197.13 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.976, 192.36; Hector Arana Jr, 6.827, 197.28 def. Freddie Camarena, Suzuki, 7.029, 192.77; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.802, 197.54 def. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.937, 192.66; Matt Smith, 8.367, 111.80 def. Angie Smith, Buell, Broke; QUARTERFINALS — M. Smith, 6.795, 200.29 def. Arana, 6.869, 195.22; Arana Jr, 6.944, 193.77 def. Sampey, 6.921, 194.52; Tonglet, 6.866, 196.36 def. Hines, 6.859, 196.27; Krawiec, 6.793, 198.20 def. Savoie, 6.873, 194.46; SEMIFINALS — M. Smith, 6.766, 200.02 def. Tonglet, 7.128, 156.28; Krawiec, 6.862, 197.22 def. Arana Jr, 6.919, 196.22; FINAL — M. Smith, 6.765, 201.22 def. Krawiec, 6.812, 198.35.

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FINAL SEASON POINT STANDINGS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence, 2,900; 2. Tony Schumacher, 2,596; 3. Clay Millican, 2,573; 4. Leah Pritchett, 2,456; 5. Brittany Force, 2,417; 6. Antron Brown, 2,378; 7.  Mike Salinas, 2,308; 8. Doug Kalitta, 2,308; 9. Terry McMillen, 2,301; 10. Scott Palmer, 2,231.

FUNNY CAR: 1. J.R. Todd, 2,726; 2. Robert Hight, 2,532; 3. Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,519; 4. Ron Capps, 2,510; 5. Tim Wilkerson, 2,418; 6. Courtney Force, 2,409; 7. Jack Beckman, 2,405; 8. Matt Hagan, 2,371; 9. John Force, 2,356; 10. Shawn Langdon, 2,285.

PRO STOCK: 1. Tanner Gray, 2,758; 2. Jeg Coughlin, 2,571; 3. Drew Skillman, 2,559; 4. Erica Enders, 2,525; 5. Jason Line, 2,472; 6. Vincent Nobile, 2,452; 7. Greg Anderson, 2,418; 8. Bo Butner, 2,379; 9. Deric Kramer, 2,268; 10. Chris McGaha, 2,184.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Matt Smith, 2,666; 2. Eddie Krawiec, 2,627; 3. Hector Arana Jr, 2,536; 4. LE Tonglet, 2,532; 5. Jerry Savoie, 2,464; 6. Andrew Hines, 2,450; 7. Angelle Sampey, 2,349; 8. Angie Smith, 2,303; 9. Steve Johnson, 2,290; 10. Scotty Pollacheck, 2,258.

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F1’s Valtteri Bottas to compete in first-ever rally race in his native Finland

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Formula One’s “Flying Finn” is going back home for the first time.

More precisely, Valtteri Bottas is returning to his Finland homeland to compete in his first career rally race in the Finnish Rally Championship season opener.

Bottas, teammates on the F1 Mercedes team with five-time champ Lewis Hamilton, will compete in the World Rally Championships’ Arctic Lapland Rally from January 24-26.

He’ll team with two-time World Rally champion Timo Rautiainen in a M-Sport Ford Fiesta RS WRC on rally roads of the Finnish Arctic Circle.

“This is a unique opportunity to take a peek into the world of rallying,” Bottas told Finnish rallying website Rallism.f1. “I would like to thank everyone who has made it possible.

“It’s totally new territory for me too, as I have no prior experience of a World Rally Car. Still, being the race car driver that I am, you always go flat out whatever the vehicle you’re driving in.”

Added Rautiainen, “In my life, I’ve sat in a rally car with only three drivers, but this is such an interesting mission that I just had to accept the challenge. I believe that for a talented wheelman like Valtteri, we’ll be able to establish a good basic driving routine in testing.”

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