Auto Club NHRA Finals: Drivers to Watch

by Chris Leone // Website // Twitter
Images via NHRA

Auto Club Raceway at Pomona has been the home of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season finale for over three decades, joining the season-opening Winternationals as the California dragstrip’s marquee events. The Auto Club NHRA Finals wrap up the six-race Countdown to the Championship with increased points on the line—150 for a final round win, and up to 191 for a perfect weekend.

Amazingly, one of the sport’s four major championships has already been awarded, but there’s still plenty on the line once qualifying starts. These four racers should tell the story of the event, and who walks out of Pomona as a legend, with their respective performances:

Top Fuel: Steve Torrence

Torrence’s dominance of the Countdown has been completely unprecedented. No other driver in NHRA history has won five races in the playoffs in a single season, but the Texan has swept the first five rounds coming into Pomona. The chip on his shoulder from losing out on last year’s title to Brittany Force has led to one of the most incredible seasons in the history of drag racing, and another win in Sunday’s elimination rounds would complete the incredible: a complete sweep of the Countdown.

Funny Car: JR Todd

Todd holds a 74-point advantage over defending Funny Car champion Robert Hight. The Kalitta Racing and John Force Racing rivals have each won two rounds of the Countdown, but it’s Todd who holds the advantage in season-long victories, five to four. He’ll eliminate Tim Wilkerson and Tommy Johnson Jr. from title contention by making a single qualifying run, while Ron Capps also falls out of mathematical contention as long as Todd makes the race. A semifinal appearance of any sort locks up the crown.

Pro Stock: Tanner Gray

The beleaguered Pro Stock class won’t have a driver to defend its championship in 2019 if Gray holds on to his 140-point advantage in Pomona, as he’s already announced plans to jump ship for stock car racing next year. But that doesn’t make him any less worthy of a champion in 2018, as he’s taken seven victories on the season on the way to building up the championship advantage. Simply winning his first round matchup would be enough for Gray to lock up the title no matter what anyone else does.

Pro Stock Motorcycle: Matt Smith

If you’re looking for a completely unpredictable championship race on Sunday, look to the bikes, where six different riders have the opportunity to take the title, and none can be eliminated in qualifying. Smith will trade in two wheels for four in Pro Stock next year, but he could bid farewell to the class on a high note if he holds onto the points lead over defending champion Eddie Krawiec. That said, they’re only separated by four points coming into the finale, so whoever advances further is the likely champion.

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