It was quite a ride. That’s one way to look at J.R. Todd’s regular season, but regardless of the twists and turns in the road, the destination was spot on: Todd and his DHL GR Supra team will start the 2023 NHRA Playoffs as the No. 5 seed. The NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series resumes this weekend with race one of the six-race Countdown to the Championship NHRA Playoffs, the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals Sept. 15-17 in Reading, Pa.
The twists and turns did just that throughout the five-month regular season, but the overall body of work shows a strong start, a dip and then a summer return to form including a winner’s circle stop at Sonoma, Calif., in July. After reaching the 49th final round of his career at the recently-concluded U.S. Nationals, Todd jumped up to fifth place in the NHRA Funny Car point standings and enters the Countdown as the fifth seed.
“That’s kinda the goal I set at the beginning of the year: be in the top five going into the Countdown,” Todd said. “Somehow, we made that happen – it’s definitely been a roller-coaster season up to this point, but I feel like the second half of the season, we turned corner and made some big gains. We still have a lot of work to do, but we’re in the hunt now. For these last six races, you just let it all hang out and make it happen.”
Todd and his relentless DHL team definitely made it happen in the last three months advancing to at least the semifinals at seven of the last nine races including the Sonoma win and three runner-up showings. With the points reset following the regular season and the addition of the Mission Foods #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge bonus points, Todd enters the playoffs trailing first-place Ron Capps by just 56 points. With a strong showing in Pennsylvania this weekend, the DHL team has potential to make a big points move.
“They’re all important,” Todd added. “Other than Indy being the biggest race of the year, these next six are the most-important races of the year. The first one can set the tone for the rest of the season so you definitely want to go to the later rounds. It would be really nice to start off with a win and kind of see where the points shake out after that, but that first one is really important.”
Which is exactly what happened when Todd won the 2018 NHRA Funny Car championship. He entered the Countdown in fifth place in points, won at Reading and went on to take the title after winning three Countdown races and reaching the final round at five of the six, but that’s not the only route to the title.
“I’d rather fly under the radar, and come Pomona, be battling it out for the championship on the final day,” Todd said. “If we go out and win, people know we’re there to compete for the championship, but I’d like to think the top-five cars stand a legit shot right now, and I think we all know that.
“I like racing at Reading. It’s kind of one of those old school tracks with some history and character. In 2018, it was the start of our championship run. We won Indy and went in there and won the first race of the Countdown. I think that kinda set the tone for us that season so it would be nice to relive some of that magic although we didn’t win Indy this year, but with that runner-up finish, I still feel like we can go into Reading and do some good.”