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NHRA: After 11 wins and Top Fuel crown in 2018, what does Steve Torrence do for an encore?

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After one of the most dominating and successful seasons in NHRA history, one question remains about 2018 Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence: how much better can he become?

The Texas native, who has an affinity for wearing cowboy hats, is ready for his next rodeo – otherwise known as the 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, which kicks off this weekend with the season-opening Lucas Oil Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California.

Having conquered both cancer and a heart attack in recent years, Torrence, who turns 36 in April, had one of the most impactful seasons in NHRA annals in 2018, winning nearly half of the races – 11 of 24.

Included in that outstanding performance was something the NHRA has never seen: Torrence won every one of the six Countdown to the Championship playoff races as he powered to the Top Fuel crown.

So what does Torrence do for an encore?

“We don’t have the same point to prove as last year, but it’s the same drive and maybe more, just for different reasons,” Torrence said in a media release. “The performance the last couple years speaks for itself, but we want to keep driving that home.

“We’ve gotten to the top, established the fact that we deserve to be there and we’re going to do everything we can to stay there. It’s business as usual for us (heading to Pomona) and that’s the way we’re going to approach it.”

Torrence, who won every time he reached the final round in 2018, ended the season with the championship-clinching win at Pomona, and now he kicks off the pursuit for a second title at the same location.

“I think we can maintain that focus,” Torrence said. “We had the same focus and drive we had in 2018 as we did in 2017 (finished second), we just channeled it and got used to working at a more intense level.

“We’ve been able to operate at such a high level for so many races, I think we’re accustomed to doing that. You see the way guys like Tony (eight-time champion Tony Schumacher) and Antron (three-time champ Antron Brown) operate and they’re used to being battle-ready. That’s how we want to be.”

Torrence’s performance in the last three seasons – 3 wins in 2016, 8 wins in 2017 and 11 triumphs in 2018, part of his overall 27 career Top Fuel wins – has vaulted him into conversations as one of the best drivers Top Fuel has seen in quite a while.

And given what Torrence and his 11,000-horsepower Capco Contractors dragster accomplished at last weekend’s annual NHRA preseason test in Chandler, Arizona – being the quickest car with a run of 3.689 seconds at 328.78 mph – it’s pretty clear he’s ready to pick up where he left off at the end of the 2018 campaign.

“To go do what we did at testing, that just bolsters our confidence,” Torrence said. “We’re looking forward to Pomona and we’re going to be real simple about it.

“The key is to go out and win rounds and if you’re able to do that four times, that’s a race. That’s how we’ve approached it the last two years and we’re going to keep that same approach.

“It’s humbling to be in the position we’re in and to think about the success we’ve had, but we’re not close to being done yet.”

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Attention NASCAR teams: IMSA drivers available for Daytona!

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NASCAR will be making its debut on the Daytona International Speedway road course next month, and there’s a big fan who’d like to join the historic weekend.

This fan actually has impressive credentials, too — a few thousand laps around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile layout that annually plays host to the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

In 2014, the winning GTLM team in the sports car endurance classic included IMSA Porsche driver Nick Tandy, who rabidly has followed NASCAR for more than 30 years since growing up in England.

So why not try racing NASCAR? Especially because Tandy has the weekend of Aug. 14-16 free.

He’s not picky, either — offering up his services on Twitter (as well as those of Porsche teammate Earl Bamber) for an ARCA, Xfinity, trucks or Cup ride.

Tandy’s affinity for American stock-car racing runs deep.

His first trip to the World Center of Racing was as a fan attending the 50th running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17, 2008. During Rolex testing in January, Tandy, 35, said he hadn’t missed a Cup race on TV in 15 years.

Among his favorite NASCAR drivers: the Earnhardts, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch. When IMSA ran the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in 2014, Tandy stayed a few extra days at the Brickyard and bought Kyle Busch gear for himself and his children.

He briefly took the stage during a NASCAR weekend last October. After IMSA’s season finale at Road Atlanta, Tandy made a few demonstration laps and a burnout in his No. 911 Porsche before the Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

He also has some experience in stock cars, having raced Modified-type grass-roots series on England’s quarter-mile short tracks.

Couple that with a Daytona road course record that includes two consecutive podium class finishes (including last Saturday) and a sports car resume with 13 IMSA victories and an overall win in the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans … and maybe a NASCAR team should take a look.

And Tandy isn’t the only IMSA driver who likely would be available.

Corvette driver Jordan Taylor, who won the 2017 Rolex 24 overall title with Jeff Gordon as a teammate (and the inspiration for his Rodney Sandstrom persona), also tweeted his availability for the weekend on the high banks.

Sports car veteran Andy Lally, a GTD driver with multiple class wins in the Rolex 24 as well as 38 Cup starts (he was the 2011 rookie of the season in NASCAR’s premier series), also hung out his shingle.

There also is AIM Vasser Sullivan’s Jack Hawksworth (who just won at Daytona last Saturday), the Englishman who teamed with Kyle Busch at the Rolex 24 in January and made an Xfinity start at Mid-Ohio last year with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Many sports car drivers (such as Taylor) already live in Florida, and many are hunkering down in the Sunshine State with IMSA returning to action at Daytona last week and Sebring International Raceway next week. Because of COVID-19-related travel concerns and restrictions, several IMSA stars who live outside the country are riding out the pandemic within a few hours of Daytona with nothing to do.

Why not a weekend at the World Center of Racing?

Over the years, scads of “road-course ringers” (including some Formula One veterans) have tried their hands in stock cars at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International.

How about considering the many sports car drivers who already have reached victory lane at Daytona by making a few right-hand turns, too?