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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View from the pits: Reporters’ picks for the 103rd Indianapolis 500

INDYCAR / Jason Porter
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It’s Race Day in Indianapolis, and for the first time, the Indianapolis 500 will be on NBC.

Time will tell what impact Mother Nature has on today’s 103rd Running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. But no matter what, prerace coverage begins today on NBCSN at 9 a.m. ET, then transitions over to NBC at 11 a.m. ET.

All month long, the INDYCAR on NBC pit reporters have been bringing you the latest breaking news and stories for the Brickyard. Now, Kevin Lee, Kelli Stavast and Marty Snider share their insights from pit road. Read on …

KEVIN LEE

Throughout the last two weeks, one common theme has been, “Don’t crash.” There were five crashes, and four of those teams/drivers ended up in the Last Row Shootout. Two of the three bumped (Patricio O’Ward and Fernando Alonso) were in backup cars following heavy impacts.

Several drivers have consistently been among the strongest. Simon Pagenaud (pictured, left) not only starts on pole but has been strong in race trim as well. All three Ed Carpenter Racing cars are fast and appear good in traffic. Alexander Rossi looks like he can put his car wherever he wants, and Scott Dixon has five championships and 44 IndyCar wins, so he must be watched.

In order, my picks for most likely to drink the milk are Pagenaud, Rossi, Ed Carpenter, Will Power and Dixon.

KELLI STAVAST

A week ago, no one could have predicted that two-time world champion Fernando Alonso and McLaren Racing would be bumped from the Indy 500 by a single-car, part-time effort of Juncos Racing and its driver, Kyle Kaiser (pictured, right).  But it happened, and Kaiser now occupies the 33rd and final spot in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

So what next?  I spoke with Kyle five days after the dramatic qualifying effort, and he told me he has never been happier to finish last and that he is still “buzzing” from that experience—an energy he hopes to carry straight through to the race.  He also told me that the response from fans has been positive with people stopping him in public (including at Chipotle) to hug him and congratulate him on making the Big Show.

But reality might have set in for the Californian who now lives in Indy.  During Carb Day’s final practice, the team struggled to get a good handling car for Kyle, who described the day as “challenging.”  But Kaiser also acknowledged that the team made some progress throughout the practice and at the very least collected some data that might help for the 500-miler on Sunday.

Whether he finishes 1st or 31st on Sunday, Kyle Kaiser and Juncos Racing will have plenty of fond memories to carry with them from the 103rd Indy 500.

MARTY SNIDER

First, we cannot wait to bring you guys the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500. It’s an honor for our entire group to broadcast such an amazing event.

So what do we expect? I have no idea, to be honest. The weather will be a huge factor today. It might be a race to halfway if rain is forecast.  If it’s cooler (mid 70’s ambient, which it looks like it’s going to be), Alexander Rossi (pictured, left) was unstoppable in those conditions last Monday.

But Rossi was very unhappy with his car on Carb Day. For that matter, most teams were. But Rob Edwards of Andretti Autosport explained a few things to Rossi about all of the experimenting they were doing in final practice, and I think that team is in a much better frame of mind heading into the race.

I find it interesting that Simon Pagenaud’s team scuffed in literally every set of tires they will use for today’s race. The No. 22 camp is convinced (and they’re not wrong) that one of the keys to Will Power’s 2018 win was his ability to gain time on out laps after pit stops. Scuffing in tires helps that out lap time. It also allows teams to do a balance check on tires. Good thing they did: Kyle Moyer of Team Penske found two sets that had vibrations, which would have been bad in the race.

Bottom line, I haven’t seen anyone really stand out and show me they can beat Alexander Rossi yet. So I’m going with Rossi to win his second Indy 500.

Enjoy the show friends. It’s going to be a fantastic race!