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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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Supercross Preview: It’s Webb’s World for now

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A short launching area and tight left-hand turn is going to create a lot of drama this week in Round 8 of the Supercross season as the riders invade Detroit’s Ford Field after one year off.

Last week Cooper Webb won for the fourth time in the last five races. Incredibly, two of these count among the five closest finishes in Supercross history with a .760-second win over Marvin Musquin at Oakland and last week’s .028-second win over Ken Roczen. Webb has won in a variety of ways so far this year. He has gained experience protecting a lead and coming from behind with Arlington’s incredible run. He even won the first Triple Crown race at Anaheim II after taking two of the three heats.

Last year, Jason Anderson seemingly came out of nowhere to grab the points lead in Round 2. He never relinquished it. Webb has tighter competition in 2019, but he shows know sign of letting up as the four-man battle for the lead became a three-rider challenge last week with Eli Tomac’s trouble.

Eli Tomac cooled off in a hurry. After sweeping the top five in the first five rounds and winning San Diego, he finished sixth in Minneapolis and 12th at Arlington. This week will be a test of his ability to rebound.

Which rider will be the first to win in 2019, Roczen or Musquin? Between them they have finished second or third 10 times this season. They have both stood on the podium in the last three events, but have yet to climb to the top rung.

Vince Friese injured his knee during practice at Arlington and may have a torn ACL. He is unlikely to ride this week.

Schedule:

Qualifying: 12 p.m. on NBC Sports, Gold
Race: Live, 7 p.m. on NBC Sports, Gold, 8 p.m. on NBCSN

Last Week:

Cooper Webb won his fourth event in the past five races over Ken Roczen and Marvin Musquin in the 450 class.
Austin Forkner won over Justin Cooper and Chase Sexton in the 250 class.

Last Year:

Event was not run in 2018.

In 2017 Eli Tomac beat Marvin Musquin and Ryan Dungey in the 450 class.
In 250s, Jordon Smith won over Joey Savatgy and Adam Cianciarulo in the 250 class.

Winners

450s:
[4] Cooper Webb (Anaheim II, Oakland, Minneapolis, and Arlington)
[1] Justin Barcia (Anaheim I)
[1] Blake Baggett (Glendale)
[1] Eli Tomac (San Diego)

250 West:
[3] Adam Cianciarulo (Glendale, Oakland, San Diego)
[1] Colt Nichols (Anaheim I)
[1] Shane McElrath (Anaheim II)

250 East:
[2] Austin Forkner (Minneapolis and Arlington)

Top-5s

450s:
Ken Roczen (7)
Marvin Musquin (6)
Eli Tomac (5)
Cooper Webb (5)
Blake Baggett (3)
Dean Wilson (2)
Joey Savatgy (2)
Justin Barcia (1)
Jason Anderson (1)
Justin Bogle (1)
Chad Reed (1)
Justin Brayton (1)

250 West:
Shane McElrath (5)
Adam Cianciarulo (5)
Colt Nichols (4)
RJ Hampshire (3)
Dylan Ferrandis (3)
James Decotis (2)
Jacob Hayes (1)
Garrett Marchbanks (1)
Jess Pettis (1)

250 East:
Austin Forkner (2)
Jordon Smith (2)
Justin Cooper (2)
Chase Sexton (2)
Alex Martin (1)
Martin Davalos (1)

Points Leaders

450s:
Cooper Webb (150)
Ken Roczen (148)
Marvin Musquin (144)
Eli Tomac (134)
Dean Wilson (110)

250 West:
Adam Cianciarulo (114)
Shane McElrath (105)
Colt Nichols (104)
Dylan Ferrandis (102)
RJ Hampshire (75)

250 East:
Austin Forkner (52)
Justin Cooper (44)
Jordon Smith (42)
Chase Sexton (39)
Mitchell Oldenburg (34)
Alex Martin (34)

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