Steve Torrence’s defense of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Top Fuel title is going to go down to the wire in 2019.
The defending champion swept all six of last year’s Countdown rounds on the way to locking up the crown a round early, but Brittany Force managed to best him in the final round of Sunday’s Dodge NHRA Nationals from The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The battle means that last year’s biggest championship blowout heads into the season finale from Pomona later this month as this year’s closest battle: Force, the 2017 champion, is now within 16 points of Torrence for the championship lead.
Meanwhile, the Funny Car class has seen its own driver surging through the ranks to make things interesting. Matt Hagan gave Don Schumacher Racing its second victory in a row by beating Jonnie Lindberg in Sunday’s final, and now sits third in the championship, just 56 points behind leader Robert Hight and 10 points behind teammate Jack Beckman in second. John Force and Bob Tasca III complete the top five.
Erica Enders’ quest for a third career Pro Stock title received a boon in Las Vegas, as she scored her second victory of the season—and the 150th for a female racer in NHRA history—when she defeated Jeg Coughlin Jr. in the final round. Enders’ lead of 92 points over Coughlin going into Pomona makes her a safe bet for this year’s championship, though the rest of the top five is in flux: Bo Butner, Jason Line, and Matt Hartford enter the finale within 30 points of Coughlin, and within five of each other.
That leaves Pro Stock Motorcycle as the class with this year’s most dominant racer in the Countdown. Andrew Hines dominated the regular season with wins in all but three of those races, and while he’s only taken home one additional Wally in the playoffs, his lead over two-time Countdown winner Jerry Savoie is a relatively stable 115 points. Defending class champion Matt Smith climbed to fourth with a win in Las Vegas, just one point behind Eddie Krawiec, while just nine points separate Savoie from his teammate, fifth place Karen Stoffer.
The 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series wraps up on November 14-17 with the Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. All of last year’s champions—Torrence, JR Todd in Funny Car, Tanner Gray in Pro Stock, and Smith—won this event last year, so don’t be surprised if a Wally isn’t the only thing that this year’s Pomona winners are hoisting. The event will air live on FS1 on November 17 at 4PM ET.