By Lee Elder
LAS VEGAS, Nev. (Oct. 28, 2018) – Steve Torrence made his historic NHRA Countdown to the Championship effort a winning play when he cashed in his unbeaten run and won the 2018 Top Fuel championship at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Torrence beat Richie Crampton in the semi-final round to clinch the title with the final race of the season at Pomona, California still to come.
J.R. Todd won in Funny Car, Bo Butner was the Pro Stock winner and Hector Arana Jr. won in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
“I told my team that if you win all of them, the points count themselves,” Torrence said. “I didn’t really mean it.”
Torrence has not lost a round in this year’s Countdown and can sweep the six races with a win in the final race of the season at Pomona in November. No driver has ever swept the Countdown. It was Torrence’s 10th win this year and he has not lost a final round. He won for the 26th time in his career.
“It’s not about winning the championship anymore,” Torrence said. “It’s the chance to make history.”
Robert Hight began the weekend with the lead in Funny Car but he lost in the first round of eliminations. When Todd advanced to the second round, he took the category lead. Unofficially, Todd finished the weekend with 2,553 points. Hight was next with 2,479.
“We’ve still got some unfinished business at Pomona,” Todd said. “We’re hoping we can come out of there with two trophies (for the race win and championship).” He added, “We haven’t been getting much help from people racing Robert. He’s got a number one on the side of his car for a reason.”
This weekend he got some help and now goes into the final weekend with the lead. Todd swept both races at The Strip this season. It was his 16th career victory in NHRA nitro racing. He has made it to the final round in four of the five Countdown races.
Butner made it to the finals for the fifth time at Las Vegas and won for the second time this year. He has seven career Pro Stock wins and won the 2017 title, but has announced plans to concentrate on sportsman racing next year.
“I’m very happy we were able to win at all,” Butner said. “Just to go a couple of rounds, let alone win. It was a great victory.”
Pro Stock championship leader Tanner Gray lost in the semi-final round, but he completed the weekend with a 140-point lead over the next driver, 2,583-2,443 over Jeg Coughlin.
Arana Jr. won for the third time this season. He was the runner up to Krawiec at the same event a year ago.
“We did a great job in qualifying,” Arana Jr. said. “That set the tone for today, it gave me confidence.”
Pro Stock Motorcycle’s title picture is confused. Matt Smith started Sunday with the lead, but both Smith and L.E. Tonglet lost early in the day and Eddie Krawiec advanced to the final round. Smith still leads 2,479 to Krawiec’s 2,475. Tonglet is third at 2,418.
Top Fuel: Tony Schumacher beat Scott Palmer in a race between Countdowners. Non-Countdowner Blake Alexander knocked Antron Brown out. Millican beat non-Countdown driver Greg Carrillo after Carrillo left the line first. Leah Pritchett beat non-Countdowner Troy Buff. Mike Salinas had to shut his car off after the burnout and Brittany Force made a good solo run to pass Antron Brown for fifth place in the Countdown. Countdown leader Steve Torrence beat non-Countdowner Shawn Reed, Torrence’s 17 straight round win. He can clinch the championship today. Non-Countdown racer Richie Crampton beat Doug Kalitta. Kalitta and Mike Salinas began the day tied for seventh place and both went out in the first round. Billy Torrence, who is not in the Countdown, beat Terry McMillen. Drivers in positions seven through 10 in the Countdown were beaten in Round 1. The top four drivers in Top Fuel advanced through the first round.
Funny Car: Bob Tasca III beat Jonnie Lindberg in a race between non-Countdown drivers. Tommy Johnson Jr beat non-Countdown driver Jeff Arend. J.R. Todd beat Richard Townsend. Jack Beckman beat non-Countdowner Jim Campbell. Ron Capps beat John Force, so the next four cars behind Robert Hight have all won. Courtney Force beat Cruz Pedregon, a non-Countdown driver. Shawn Langdon knocked Robert Hight out of eliminations and Todd takes the points lead. Tim Wilkerson, fourth in the Countdown, red lights and lost to Matt Hagan.
Pro Stock: Erica Enders beat Greg Anderson. Bo Butner beat Alex Laughlin, a non-Countdown driver. Deric Kramer beat Chris McGaha. Alan Prusiensky red-lit and points leader Tanner Gray won. Drew Skillman beat Vincent Nobile and took passed Nobile for third place in the Countdown. Matt Hartford beat Fernando Cuadra in a race between non-Countdowners. Jason Line beat Kenny Delco and passed Greg Anderson for sixth place in the Countdown. Jeg Coughlin beat Steve Graham, a non-Countdowner.
Pro Stock Motorcycle: Angelle Sampey beat Angie Smith. Points leader Matt Smith edged second-place LE Tonglet to increase his lead. Tonglet headed home, where his wife is close to giving birth to their first child. Chip Ellie beat Kelly Clontz in a race between non-Countdowners. Hector Arana beat non-Countdowner Ryan Oehler. Andrew Hines beat Scotty Pollacheck. Hector Arana Jr. beat Mark Paquette. Eddie Krawiec beat non-Countdown rider Ron Tornow. Jerry Savoie beat Steve Johnson.
Top Fuel: Schumacher, third in the Countdown, eliminates Millican, who was second in the playoffs. Steve Torrence could clinch the title by winning this round. Blake Alexander, a non-Countdowner, moved first but the driver in the other lane, Leah Pritchett, finished first. Richie Crampton, a non-Countdowner, beat Brittany Force. Steve Torrence clinches the championship by beating his father, Billy.
Funny Car: Bob Tasca, a non-Countdowner, beat third-place Ron Capps. JR Todd, the new points leader, beat Shawn Langdon to extend his lead. Tommy Johnson Jr., the top qualifier, went red and lost to Matt Hagan. Jack Beckman gave up a small starting line advantage but Came around to beat Courtney Force. Todd was the only driver in the Countdown’s top five to remain alive.
Pro Stock: Tanner Gray beat Drew Skillman and Matt Hartford beat Deric Kramer. Bo Butner beat Jason Line. Enders beat Jeg Coughlin.
Pro Stock Motorcycle: Hector Arana Jr. throws a monkey wrench into everything, when he beat Matt Smith. Smith red-lit at a bad time. Andrew Hines beat Chip Ellis. Hector Arana beat Angelle Sampey. Eddie Krawiec beat Jerry Savoie. Krawiec could go from third place in the Countdown to the lead.
Top Fuel: Steve Torrence clinched the championship when he defeated Richie Crampton. The emotional Torrence told Amanda Busick of Fox, “We’ve still got some racing to do, we want to win this race today.” Leah Pitchett advanced to the final round by beating Schumacher.
Funny Car: Countdown leader Todd beat Beckman to increase the size of his advantage. Hagan beat Tasca.
Pro Stock: Enders beats Gray, will race Butner in the finals. Butner beat Hartford.
Pro Stock Motorcycle: Hector Arana Jr. beat Andrew Hines. Eddie Krawiec beat Hector Arana.
Top Fuel: Steve Torrence won his fifth straight race. Pritchett started first but ran into trouble early in the race had to get off the throttle. Torrence stayed unbeaten in the Countdown. “It’s truly unbelievable what we’ve been able to accomplish,” Torrence said.
Funny Car: Todd beat Hagan when Hagan’s car veered left about mid track. Todd’s winning pass was 3.921 seconds and 318.39 mph. He left Vegas with a 74-point advantage in the Countdown.
Pro Stock: Bo Butner left first and held on, beating Enders by a few feet. Butner’s time was 6.657 seconds at 207.43. Enders was quicker (6.652 seconds) but Butner’s quicker reaction time (.007 of a second to .020) gave him the edge.
Pro Stock Motorcycle: Arana Jr. beat Krawiec. Krawiec is now second in the Countdown by four points. Arana Jr. is now third. Arana’s elapsed time was 6.885 seconds at 193.35 mph.
NOTES: The E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Series championship was determined at Las Vegas. Mike Janis began eliminations with the championship lead but lost in the first round when his car’s transmission jumped from first gear to third. Rickie Smith needed to win two rounds to beat Janis and win the title. Rickie Smith could have wrested the title away from Janis, but Smith lost in the second round to Rick Hord. Janis won the championship. Janis said, “It still hasn’t set it yet because, after losing the first round and we were all down, our percentage of winning the championship was going to nothing with Rickie still in the show.”
Top Fuel: S. Torrence 2,718; Millican 2,487; Schumacher 2,454; Pritchett 2,394; B. Force 2,302; Brown 2,291; Salinas 2,259; Kalitta 2,259; McMillen 2,253; Palmer 2,182.
Funny Car: Todd 2,553; Hight 2,479; Capps 2,388; Wilkerson 2,367; Johnson Jr. 2,362; C. Force 2,324; Hagan 2,321; Beckman 2,283; J. Force 2,277; Langdon 2,204.
Pro Stock: Gray 2,583; Coughlin 2,443; Enders 2,434; Skillman 2,413; Nobile 2,404; Line 2,350; Anderson 2,334; Butner 2,300; Kramer 2,220; McGaha 2,135.
Pro Stock Motorcycle: M. Smith 2,479; Krawiec 2,475; Tonglet 2,418; Arana Jr. 2,415; Savoie 2,378; Hines 2,366; Sampey 2,268; A. Smith 2,255; Johnson 2,242; Pollacheck 2,209.