This is it: it’s time for the stars of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series to put up or shut up at one of the sport’s most iconic events.
Hosted at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis since 1961, the Chevrolet Performance US Nationals aren’t just the premier event on the series’ calendar. The Labor Day elimination races are also the last ones on the schedule before the Countdown to the Championship determines which 10 drivers in each class have a chance at this year’s title, and which ones will just be racing for pride for the rest of the fall.
Seven of this year’s Top Fuel contenders have been locked in, with Leah Pritchett’s first win of the season last time out at Brainerd International Raceway good enough to give her the last of those secure spots coming into Indianapolis. Right now, Austin Prock, Richie Crampton, and defending winner Terry McMillen hold the last three spots, but with extra points on the line this weekend, Scott Palmer and Billy Torrence are still well within striking distance of a playoff berth. Top seed Steve Torrence has been locked in since July thanks to a dominant season.
Last year’s Funny Car and Pro Stock finals accurately predicted the 2018 champions, as JR Todd and Tanner Gray, respectively, took the event wins. Todd, who also won here in 2017, will certainly take the points reset to start the Countdown this year, as he comes into the weekend eighth, 416 points behind leader Robert Hight. Brainerd winner Ron Capps, meanwhile, enters the weekend fourth in points, but is still looking for his first Wally at the sport’s most prestigious race.
In the chase to fill Gray’s vacant Pro Stock title, Bo Butner continues to lead the points with four victories, but he hasn’t won since the Virginia Nationals in May. Instead, the real drama will come in the battle for the final Countdown spot, where Kenny Delco, Fernando Cuadra, Val Smeland, and Rodger Brogdon enter the weekend separated from one another by just 43 points. Any of the quartet could be racing for a championship with just one or two solid rounds on Monday.
Finally, the Pro Stock Motorcycle playoff drivers are anyone’s guess with only four racers (Andrew Hines, Eddie Krawiec, Matt Smith, and Hector Arana Jr.) locked in. 2015 winner Jerry Savoie is currently the rider on the bubble, only 32 points clear of Scotty Pollacheck and another 12 ahead of Joey Gladstone.
This weekend’s Chevrolet Performance US Nationals will air Sunday starting at 2PM ET and Monday at 11AM ET on FS1, before moving to network television and FOX for eliminations at 1PM ET on Monday. After a weekend off, the season continues on September 12-15 with the first race of the playoffs at Maple Grove Raceway in Mohnton, Pennsylvania.