Well, we made it. In what will surely go down as one of the strangest and possibly most challenging year in NHRA history, we’ve reached the finale of the 11-race 2020 season. There’s no Pomona, with the last race taking place this weekend in Las Vegas, but the good news is the vast amount of thrilling championship races.
We didn’t get a Countdown to the Championship because of the shortened season, but it turns out we didn’t need it. All four professional classes in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series are tight and with points-and-a-half in play in Vegas, there’s a chance for plenty of fireworks on Sunday. Let’s jump into each class (including Pro Mod) to see what could go down in Vegas to finish off a year that will be remembered for a variety of reasons.
TOP FUEL – TORRENCE STILL ON TOP
So, we may have stretched the truth a bit earlier. While this is technically a case of Doug Kalitta having a shot to take down Steve Torrence, it would take a miraculous weekend from both for the veteran to finally claim that elusive championship.
Torrence holds a 101-point lead, but showing up and qualifying — and you have a better shot of winning the lottery and getting struck by lightning than Torrence not qualifying — makes this an almost impossible task for Kalitta. It would take a first-round loss by Torrence and win by Kalitta, and maybe some other factors as well.
Again, not impossible, but not likely. Kalitta has been through this song and dance before, often falling on the wrong part of history when it comes to near-miss championships, but Torrence has been a freight train for four straight seasons. He missed the first race of 2020, but still holds a comfortable lead and should cruise to a third straight world title.
He’s simply been on another level in this class and there isn’t one single sign that indicates Torrence is slowing down.
OUR PICK: STEVE TORRENCE
FUNNY CAR – DSR DOMINANCE
Don Schumacher racing has dominated Funny Car for more than a year, so it makes sense that a trio of their big four – Matt Hagan, Tommy Johnson Jr., Jack Beckman – are within title grasp heading into Vegas. Hagan leads Johnson by 42 points and Beckman by 43 points, and if either of them can get it within one round (30 points) during qualifying, then Sunday should be a blast. None of them, though, seem destined to slip up, so it may take Johnson or Beckman going two rounds further than Hagan.
That happened in Houston, when Johnson won to stay in contention, but any one of the three winning wouldn’t be a surprise.
A DSR victory at the race would give them 14 straight wins in Funny Car dating back nearly 14 months, a remarkable feat no matter how you slice it.
Sure, John Force Racing not returning in July helped DSR’s chances, but they raced last year and the first two races of this year, meaning they were involved in five of those 13 races thus far. And for not one Funny Car standout — a group that includes Tim Wilkerson, J.R. Todd, Bob Tasca, Cruz Pedregon and Alexis DeJoria, among others — to get a single win in that span is just incredible. Seeing DSR do well isn’t surprising, but to do it on this level is truly special.
We can expect that to continue in Vegas and it could simply be a matter of the last DSR car left standing taking home the championship.
OUR PICK: MATT HAGAN
PRO STOCK – HISTORY ON THE LINE
This is another incredible race rich in storylines. It’s a three-way battle between defending champ Erica Enders, and the retiring Jason Line and Jeg Coughlin Jr. Enders leads both by 55 points heading into the weekend, meaning either Line or Coughlin will have to likely finish two rounds ahead of Enders to go out in a heroic fashion.
Make no mistake, this is an incredible trio of title challengers. By the time the weekend is over, they’ll have 12 world championships between them, with Line and Enders going for four and Coughlin trying for his sixth. That’s truly spectacular and this threesome knows how to get it done in crunch time.
Enders’ fourth championship would give her more world titles than any female in NHRA history and that’s been at the forefront of her focus this year. Coughlin or Line winning a race and a championship in their final Pro Stock race would be storybook stuff, too, and you know they will be motivated to go out on top.
Enders has been steady through this stretch run, winning the St. Louis race, but she couldn’t quite slam the door shut in Dallas or Houston. Line hasn’t been quite on point in October, but that could change quickly in Vegas. Coughlin, meanwhile, saved his season with a final-round appearance last weekend in Houston, setting up this three-way dance to close out the year.
Enders has six wins in Vegas and won last year to help secure her title, and that success in Sin City can’t be ignored. If she’s simply solid, it could be enough to win a title.
OUR PICK: ERICA ENDERS
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE – CAN SMITH HOLD ON?
Things haven’t gone according to plan for Matt Smith on raceday lately. He’s dominated in qualifying, taking the top spot the last four races, but bad luck and some untimely losses have left the door open.
He currently leads Scotty Pollacheck and Eddie Krawiec by 78 points, and Andrew Hines is 86 points back, which does mean Smith has a sizable advantage heading into Vegas. If he continues to qualify well, it would take a catastrophic collapse for Smith not to win a championship for a fourth time in the class.
But, it’s not like we haven’t seen some wild happenings in this class. Remember last year when Andrew Hines lost in the first-round in Pomona and then needed some help in the form of a massive final-round upset to ensure a championship and avoid a total disaster? Heck, two weeks ago Smith was dominant in qualifying, but his bike didn’t start in round one and he was bounced in the most frustrating way possible.
Krawiec won in Houston and is trying for a late charge, but Smith has had the best bike all year in the class. He’s made wise use of the down time and the payoff has been evident. For a championship to escape him this season would be painful, and we’re guessing he does enough to celebrate at the end of the weekend.
OUR PICK: MATT SMITH
PRO MOD – SNIDER OR STEVIE?
It’s been a seven-race sprint for Pro Mod, one that started in late July and will end in Vegas, and Brandon Snider hopes his late flurry can secure a world championship not many would have predicted back in March.
He currently leads defending champ Stevie “Fast” Jackson by 26 points. There’s no points-and-a-half in Pro Mod this weekend, but Jackson still has a chance to close the gap to one round (20 points) with a strong Saturday in qualifying. He impressed last year in Vegas to close out his season with a win, but he hasn’t been nearly as dominant in 2020 in Pro Mod.
Snider has taken advantage, picking up a couple of No. 1 qualifiers and winning in Dallas – all firsts for him in the class. It’s put him in an unlikely spotlight, but he insists he’s feeling no pressure with a championship on the line. We’ll see if that changes should a must-win scenario come up on Sunday.
He didn’t expect to be in this position, but now that he’s here, it’s hard to ignore what Snider has done down the stretch. Mike Janis and Khalid alBalooshi are 55 and 56 points back, respectively, and still have a chance, but it would take a major, major hiccup from both frontrunners for Janis or alBalooshi to win their second championship.
This is coming down to Snider and Jackson and wouldn’t it be something if they happened to meet in a winner-take-all final round. That’s what we’re cheering for, but Pro Mod is a class where truly anything can happen.
There have been six different winners in six races this year, and we’ve had three different first-time winners in 2020. Will that theme keep going with a first-time world champion for the third straight year?