J.R. Todd entered the Countdown to the Championship NHRA Playoffs as the fifth seed on the strength of reaching at least the semifinals at seven of the previous nine races including a win and three runner-up showings. The DHL team was optimistic about its chances in the Countdown, but that optimism may be a bit tempered after last weekend’s race in Pennsylvania. The NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series resumes this weekend at the Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals in Concord, N.C., the second of six races that make up the Countdown to the Championship NHRA Playoffs.
Todd’s Reading, Pa., weekend started with a solid qualifying attempt that had him sixth after one round. He ran quicker in the Friday evening session but slipped to 10th. In the final qualifying attempt, the DHL GR Supra was on a very good run before mechanical issues slowed him to a 3.926-second effort. That relegated him to the No. 11 spot and an opening-round matchup with Matt Hagan which Hagan won with a 3.871-second effort to Todd’s 3.930-second run.
“We backed ourselves into a corner starting with where we qualified, and getting a first-round draw like Matt Hagan, one of the favorites to win the championship, is definitely not ideal,” Todd said. “We have to qualify better (in Charlotte) to start with so we need to go out there and go hard from the start. It’s a three qualifying-round event, which I’m not a big fan of in the Countdown, but everyone’s in the same boat. We have to hit the ground running Friday and make that run count. Then we just go from there, and I’d say run as hard as we can and try to win the race. That’s kind of the situation we’re in right now.”
With the first-round loss, Todd dropped two spots to seventh place in the NHRA Funny Car point standings, but he trails points leader Robert Hight by only 107 points with five races remaining in the season. That’s certainly a manageable margin. Winning his second NHRA Funny Car championship definitely remains well within reach, but the task is now taller.
“Unless we can help ourselves out in qualifying, we just have to go all out every time we pull up to the starting line,” Todd added. “There are no easy draws in Funny Car; it’s just the situation you’re in. When you get a draw like Matt Hagan and those guys first round, you’ll have to make one of your best runs against them.
“I’m not saying it’s over for us – it’s definitely doable. We just made it harder on ourselves, but we’re definitely capable of winning – we did it before; we can do it again. I feel like we can win every time we show up at the track.”