Reading, Pennsylvania’s Maple Grove Raceway plays host to the 19th round of the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, the Dodge NHRA Nationals. The first of six rounds in the Countdown to the Championship, the NHRA’s playoff system, the top 10 drivers in each class have been reset to within 100 points of one another to set up four down-to-the-wire championship battles.
Eliminations kick off at 11AM ET, as the best Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, and Pro Stock Motorcycle racers in the world pursue this year’s titles. Here’s what we’ll be paying attention to in today’s action:
Who blinks first in an evenly matched Top Fuel battle?
They may not have qualified in the same order, but the top four drivers in Top Fuel points qualified in the top four spots for today’s action. Clay Millican, Tony Schumacher, and Leah Pritchett took the top three seeds, followed by Steve Torrence, who leads them in that same order in the point standings. The 40-point swing between them thanks to the Countdown format can be negated fairly easily—it’s the difference between losing in the semifinals and winning the main event.
Can Tim Wilkerson make the most of this Countdown?
Wilkerson locked himself into the 10-car Funny Car Countdown field on Labor Day in Indianapolis at the expense of Bob Tasca III. He looks like an early threat to take full advantage of the points reset in Reading, qualifying second to only Courtney Force on the ladder. That said, the path to the final round won’t be easy: provided he beats Terry Haddock in the first round, he’ll have to face either John Force or Matt Hagan, who have combined for 18 NHRA championships, in the second round.
Does Matt Smith have the momentum to take the Pro Stock Motorcycle points lead?
Qualifying first in each of the past three rounds, Smith piled on nearly 20 bonus points this weekend after the Countdown points reset to set himself up for a great weekend. He’s even beating defending Pro Stock Motorcycle champion and current Countdown leader Eddie Krawiec by the slimmest of margins in average e.t. (.003 seconds) and reaction time (.002 seconds). In a sport where every ten-thousandth of a second counts, a well-timed surge like Smith’s could be the difference maker in the title chase.