NHRA season opens this weekend – but without Steve Torrence

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The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season-opening Lucas Oil Winternationals opens Thursday in Pomona, California, but it will be missing one of the sport’s biggest and most successful stars.

Steve Torrence, who has won the last two Top Fuel championships and 28 of the last 72 races dating back to the start of the 2017 season, will not be competing in this weekend’s race at Auto Club Raceway.

Why Torrence and the two-dragster Capco Contractors Racing team will not be at Pomona is unclear. Torrence’s father and Top Fuel driving teammate, Billy Torrence, also won’t be racing this weekend.

Steve Torrence tweeted Wednesday afternoon that “Due to untimely circumstances beyond our control, it’s in the best interest of Torrence racing to not participate in this weekend’s season opener in Pomona, California. We cannot thank our fans enough for their continued support and understanding at this time.”

It’s not known if Torrence and the Capco cars will miss only this weekend’s race, or whether they might miss more races. The next NHRA race is in two weeks (Feb. 21-23) at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix, Arizona.

NBC Sports reached out to NHRA about Torrence’s situation. Here is the sanctioning body’s statement:

“It’s unfortunate that the Capco teams will not be attending the 2020 Winternationals. All NHRA teams may elect whether or not to compete in any given event and we are excited to see everyone who is joining us to kick off the season at the 60th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals. We are focused on creating a great experience for everyone in Pomona this week.”

Over the last three seasons, no driver in any professional category – be it Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock or Pro Stock Motorcycle – has been as dominant as Torrence and his race team, a.k.a. “the Capco boys,” as Torrence likes to call his squad.

From 2017-19, the Kilgore, Texas, native has been virtually unstoppable. He’s earned 28 wins in 72 starts during that time, an excellent .389 winning percentage – with eight wins in 2017, 11 in 2018 and nine last season. Overall, Torrence has 36 wins in his Top Fuel career.

In addition, Torrence, 36, has won the last two NHRA Top Fuel championships, including being the first driver in NHRA history to sweep all six races in the 2018 Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

Torrence tested his car last weekend in preparation for Pomona, which makes the announcement he won’t be there this weekend all the more puzzling.

He even spoke last week about looking forward to the season opener.

“It’s been kind of surreal,” Torrence said. “You look back at the last couple years – and really the last three years – and see the success we’ve had and what the team has been able to accomplish, and it’s a big confidence-booster.

“We’re probably more relaxed than we were four to five years ago. But we just want to go to Pomona and do the best we can do. You don’t really think about all of it and what it means, you just go and do it.”

Torrence is used to overcoming adversity. He has survived several serious medical issues in his life, including beating cancer at 17 and a heart attack in 2016.

The NHRA recently announced new rules that full-time drivers will qualify for the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs if they compete in all of the first 18 regular season races and make at least two qualifying runs at each race.

While that may seem to quickly exclude Torrence from this year’s playoffs because he won’t be in Pomona, there’s an apparent loophole:

  • Each of the drivers in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle that are in the top 10 in points in their respective divisional standings after the final race of the regular season — the U.S. Nationals in suburban Indianapolis — will make the playoffs.
  • As a result, the NHRA rule does not specifically require those drivers in the top 10 after Indy must have competed in all of the first 18 races.
  • It appears that only those drivers outside the top 10 in the standings after Indy must adhere to the new rule requiring competing in all 18 regular season races and make at least two qualifying runs in each of those.

Given how Torrence has dominated the sport for the last three seasons, it’s likely that even missing the Winternationals will not keep him out of the playoffs.

He had more comments about his optimism for this season last week before Wednesday’s announcement.

“As a team, our ability to stay focused and overcome obstacles, it’s been pretty impressive,” Torrence said. “We’ve won the championship in two completely different ways, and we’ve overcome a lot of things to win them both.

“I’ve been pretty proud of how well we’ve continued to prevail with whatever’s been thrown at us. We’ve all been together five to six years, and we know each other well. These guys are 100 percent behind me, and we’re the epitome of team and family.

“I would like to think we’re confident we can continue this. I don’t see any reason why we can’t continue to do well, but everything has to fall into place to win a title. It’s a difficult thing to do. You have to try to be as perfect as possible.”

Ironically, Torrence put out this tweet from last Friday at the Las Vegas test that made it clear he was looking forward to the new season.

Torrence isn’t the only driver seeking to repeat as a champion in 2020. Defending Funny Car champion Robert Hight and defending Pro Stock champ Erica Enders both return to begin their quests to each earn a fourth championship, respectively, in their divisions.

Speaking of Pro Stock, this season will mark the 50th anniversary of the class in NHRA competition.

One other significant note of sorts: This will mark the 42nd NHRA season for ageless Funny Car driver John Force, who turns 71 on May 4. After slipping to ninth in the final standings in 2018, the winningest driver in NHRA history and 16-time Funny Car champion is coming off a strong rebound season in 2019 when he won two races (including a milestone 150th of his career) and finished fourth in the overall standings.

This weekend’s racing will begin Thursday with Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock making their season debut during Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying with two more qualifying rounds on Saturday. Final eliminations are set for Sunday.

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IndyCar champion Will Power completes ‘Victory Lap’ at ceremony in Indianapolis

Will Power Victory Lap
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment
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INDIANAPOLIS – Will Power went on his “Victory Lap” last week to celebrate his second career championship as the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series champion.

It began with several media interviews in Monterey, California, the day after he won the championship with a third-place finish in the Sept. 11 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.

From there, it was off to Los Angeles for more interviews and personal appearances that included a VIP Tour at the Petersen Automotive Museum, several appearances on SiriusXM and lunch at The Ivy, where the Team Penske IndyCar Series driver was treated to Wagyu Beef.

“It was one of the best steaks I’ve ever had in my life,” Power told NBCSports.com.

From L.A. back to Power’s North Carolina home, near Team Penske’s home base of Mooresville, there was one stop left on Sept. 17 — the Victory Lap Celebration at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, an invitation-only banquet where Power and his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet crew at Team Penske were honored for the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series championship.

They didn’t even have to check into a hotel and spend another night on the road. Power and his team left on a Team Penske plane from the Statesville, N.C., airport at 4 p.m. ET Saturday to fly to Indianapolis. On arrival an hour later, a limo bus took the team to IMS.

Power led the 2022 season with five NTT P1 Awards for pole, earning the NTT P1 Award as the best qualifier of the season for the fifth time in his career. Power also made history with his 68th career pole, breaking the all-time mark held by the legendary Mario Andretti.

Power and Scott Dixon also became just two of only five drivers to complete every lap of every race in IndyCar Series history.

“What a year,” Power said as he was awarded his personal Astor Cup trophy (the second in his collection after the 2014 championship. “What a phenomenal year coming off one of my worst seasons personally. We came back with a vengeance.

“I want to thank Roger and Kathy Penske for everything they have done for me over the years. I wouldn’t be standing here and have the numbers I have without what Roger has done for me. I’m given a car every week that is capable of winning the pole, races, championships, and Indianapolis 500s. I’m so grateful for that.

“Also, to Greg Penske, you are there every week now at every event and I know we will be in good hands moving forward with the Penske Family.”

There are many on Power’s team and at home, that helped support Power throughout his career. None is bigger than Power’s wife, Liz, who told Power before the season that he would win the championship and break Andretti’s record.

“I must thank my wife. I’m so lucky to have a wife with that crystal ball that can tell me what is going to happen,” Power said. “I can’t think you enough, babe. I love you so much and you have been a big support to me my whole career. We’ve been together 17 years, and I’ve been in the series 17 years. She has been such a huge support to me. The mother of our child and she is a fantastic mother.

“She can’t tell the future. She just had faith in me.”

Liz Power’s premonition came true and that allowed Power and his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet team to celebrate Penske’s 17th IndyCar championship and 42nd title in the racing team’s history.

“The 12 crew this year, I’ve never had such a great group of guys,” Power said. “Trevor Lacasse (chief mechanic) is such a calm guy, but he does such a meticulous job on the preparation of the car. He is very, very good at keeping the whole crew happy. It feels as if there is no pressure on us. That’s a huge part in getting the most out of people. It was our first year together with you as a crew chief. What a great year to start our relationship.

“Dave Faustino (Power’s longtime engineer), we’ve worked together for 15 years. He’s almost like a wife to me, a partner … apart from sleeping together. We have a very good working relationship. Sorry Dave, I’m an awkward person and you are not.

“The things we have been through in our years together, it’s crazy that we continually improve and get better. We are standing on the podium after winning the championship and we are talking about the car, the race, and the tires. We weren’t talking about the championship.

“We never stop. The other boys were laughing at us, but I’m already thinking about next year.

“Ron Ruzewski (Team Penske IndyCar Managing Director and strategist) on the radio, always calm. He has actually made me a calm person. I rarely get upset on the radio anymore.”

Power also recognized the fans who helped boost attendance at many venues on the schedule this season as NBC Sports enjoyed its largest IndyCar audience yet.

“This series is growing,” Power said. “With open wheel racing now so popular because of Formula One, it’s really our time to push and put money behind it and go now and take IndyCar to another level because we have the best racing product in the world.

“I have to thank my teammates and (Team Penske president) Tim Cindric. I can’t tell you how hard we push each other. We are ultracompetitive and love each other and push each other hard, so thank you.”


Power won the championship by 16 points over hard-charging teammate Josef Newgarden, who finished second in the standings for the third year in a row.

“Overall, I’m filled with a lot of pride for our team and what we were able to do this year,” Newgarden said in his banquet address. “Any year that you step in the championship, you can easily see the challenges it presents everybody.

“It’s a very difficult challenge for the teams and drivers. To be a part of it, make it through it and for us at Team Penske, to topple it, is a very big deal. We’re all competitive.

“The tough thing about being in a championship fight, especially with teammates is we all want to be the best. That’s how it should be. We are competitive people and want to be the best. But it’s a team sport.

“Will, tremendous season, great, great job. I think the world of everybody on our team. It’s a big group. I’m so happy for all of you on the 12-car crew. There is so much we can take into next year.”

Six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon was unable to attend the banquet because of the Goodwood Festival in England but sent congratulations to Power via a video message.

“I really want to congratulate Will Power,” Dixon said. “You drove a tremendous season this year. Even with some of the lows that you had, some of the mistakes with qualifying, you bounced back tremendously. I know how tough these championships are and to see you do it in the style that you did it in the last race of the season, massive congratulations.”

Power’s championship formula included one victory, nine podiums and 12 top-five finishes. Teammate Josef Newgarden was second in the championship with five wins but only six podiums.

Cindric saluted Power’s season in accepting the championship team owner award.

“Will, you took it to another level this year,” Cindric said. “You are the complete package. You completed every lap, had nine podiums, finished out of the top 10 just four times, broke Mario Andretti’s record, and you did it all without cussing at the officials on national TV.

“One complaint I do has is while most of us think you might be from another planet, you never told us your wife was a fortune teller.”

Cindric also honored the seasons of Penske drivers Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin, who won three times in his second full season (“You are one of only two full-time IndyCar drivers that has driven for us in the past 23 years that hasn’t won an Indy 500 or an IndyCar championship. Your time is coming.”).

Kyle Moyer was named team manager of the year (his fifth time and Penske’s sixth). Pennzoil presented Lacasse with the chief mechanic of the year for the first time, the sixth time for Team Penske. The No. 12 crew also won the Firestone Pit Performance Award for the most pit stop performance award points in 2022.

Power, Newgarden and McLaughlin delivered nine of Chevrolet’s series-leading 11 victories this season, helping Chevy win the Manufacturer Award for the seventh time since it returned to the series in 2012 and the first time since 2017. Jim Danahy, U.S. vice president, Competition Motorsports Engineering for Chevrolet, accepted the award on behalf of his team.


Christian Lundgaard was honored as the 2022 NTT IndyCar rookie of the year. Lundgaard, from Denmark, scored one podium, two top-five finishes and seven top-10s in the No. 30 Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. He edged David Malukas of Dale Coyne Racing with HMD by 18 points in the standings for first-year series drivers.

Christian Lundgaard (Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment)

“It’s been a tough season and looking at how it panned out, we struggled so much at the beginning of the season and how we were able to turn it around means so much to me and the team,” Lundgaard said. “It’s the one thing that you only get one shot at. I’m happy to have it.

“Being the first Dane at the Indy 500 certainly helps. Competing here for me is quite important and also special. To win this award and to be here in future years means so much to me. I have a chance to compete for wins and championships.

“This team gave me this opportunity at this track one year ago. We came back and got redemption. We got our first podium here. This year was 40 years ago that Bobby Rahal won the same award. It’s pretty special to keep it among the team.”

Sweden’s Linus Lundqvist was honored as Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion after a dominant season for HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing. Lundqvist won a series-high five races in the No. 26 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing entry and clinched the Lights championship with a race to spare, ending with a 92-point advantage over Sting Ray Robb. HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing owners Henry and Daiva Malukas accepted the team championship.

“I’m very proud of that,” Lundqvist said. “It’s cool to see. We are starting to look to the future, and this might not be doing too bad. It’s been great. As most of you can guess with Henry and Daiva Malukas (team owners), it’s been an incredible journey. So much fun that we’ve had. To be on the grid this year was so much of a struggle for us. I didn’t even know I would be doing this until January.

“To be able to pull out the season that we had, I cannot thank this team enough. We will celebrate this for a long time. I’m so happy and proud about that.”

Outgoing IndyCar Director of Medical Affairs Dr. Geoffrey Billows also was honored as he is leaving that role while battling cancer.

“When I think of Dr. Billows, I think of two words,” IndyCar president Jay Frye said. “One is selfless and the other is tough. He’s gone through a lot these last couple of years, and he didn’t want anybody to know. He’s an amazing man, and we are very grateful for what you have done.”

Dr. Geoffrey Billows with IndyCar president Jay Frye (Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment)

Billows was presented with a framed checkered flag signed by all drivers in the series as well as other IndyCar officials and dignitaries.

“I was not expecting this at all,” Billows said. “This means so much for me to be part of this family for the past 30 years. I’ve been presented with opportunities I never thought I would ever have. I can’t tell you how much I love all of you guys and care for all of you guys.

“Thank you so much. I want to also thank my wife, Tammy, who has been a pillar of strength as I continue on this journey with cancer for the past two years as well. You will still see me as a consultant because I love this too much to quit altogether.”

When the evening concluded, Team Penske boarded a bus to the airport for the short return flight to Statesville. They were home by midnight.

Power’s Victory Lap was complete.

“The best thing about this is I get to sleep in my own bed tonight,” Power said.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500