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NHRA Top Fuel Title Contenders Set For Thrilling Duel to Crown Champion in Pomona

A truly spectacular season in the Top Fuel ranks has come down to one last epic duel at this weekend’s 57th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at legendary Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, where a championship will be crowned to close out the 2022 campaign in NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series.

Brittany Force’s incredible comeback at the most recent race in Las Vegas, where she won and made up nearly 90 points, puts her a mere seven points ahead of Justin Ashley heading into the finale, with Mike Salinas, Antron Brown and four-time defending world champion Steve Torrence still lurking as well.

But Force and her team put themselves in contention to clinch a second world championship with their Vegas mastery, adding to what has already been a brilliant year in her 11,000-horsepower Monster Energy/Flav-R-Pac dragster. Force has claimed five wins, nine No. 1 qualifiers, the fastest run in Top Fuel history and numerous track records, but she knows there’s still work to be done in Pomona.

“I’m really proud of our entire team and we’ve had a great season,” Force said. “We’ve just got to keep doing what we’ve been doing. This team has been winning races and setting track records and now it comes down to the final race, as we knew it would. We’ve got to keep repeating what we’ve been doing and it’s going to be an exciting weekend. It’s a lot of pressure, but I’m trying to find a way to enjoy it a little bit and I am looking forward to Pomona and seeing where this ends up.”

Torrence (Top Fuel), Bob Tasca III (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) won last year’s race, while Torrence, Ron Capps (Funny Car), Anderson and Smith all claimed world titles in Pomona as well. This season’s final event will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including eliminations at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 13, and with points-and-a-half on the line, anything can happen.

Salinas is just 66 points back of Force, with Brown and Torrence trailing the leader by 78 and 87 points, respectively. That puts each within three rounds of Force, while Ashley can control his own destiny with a second Pomona victory in 2022.

“We’re keeping everything the same,” Ashley said. “There’s no reason to change what got us here and we’ve got to focus on being the best version of ourselves and bring out our ‘A’ game. The easiest thing to do is to get caught up in all the different scenarios. We just have to focus on doing the best we can and controlling our own destiny. But make no mistake, it’s going to be a battle and you’ll see that throughout the weekend.”

Ashley, who has three wins in 2022, opened his season with a victory at the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals in Pomona and now will look to end his year with a win at the legendary facility. He slipped up in Las Vegas, falling in the first round, and that allowed Force to pounce, but Ashley’s confidence isn’t wavering heading into the pressure-packed moments that will be evident during the final race of the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

“It’s an exciting time for our team,” Ashley said. “It was a disappointing weekend for our team in Vegas. We didn’t accomplish what we wanted to, but it would be silly to look at that race under a microscope. When you look at the season and the Countdown as a whole, we’re really happy with how we’ve been running. All you could really ask for is to be in it heading into Pomona.”

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Force, meanwhile, found her playoff footing at the perfect time. After falling in the second round at the first four Countdown to the Championship races, watching her points lead slip away in the process, Force and her team responded with a dominant performance in Las Vegas. That wave of momentum is evident, and Force is banking on that energy to continue this weekend with a championship on the line.

“Our Countdown got off to a rocky start. The first four races, we didn’t perform like we had all season and we started to stumble,” Force said. “But we turned it around in Vegas and we all felt that energy. Anything can happen in Pomona with points-and-a-half, and we’ve all seen before at this race. It’s still anyone’s game. That win in Vegas was huge for us and we’re going ride that through this weekend. That gives us confidence and it motivates us to want to do it again.”

In Funny Car, Robert Hight could wrap up a fourth world title at a track that means a great deal to him. He has eight wins already in 2022, holding a 61-point lead over Ron Capps and 63 points over Matt Hagan. Others to watch include John Force, Bob Tasca III, J.R. Todd, Tim Wilkerson, Cruz Pedregon and Alexis DeJoria.

Pro Stock’s Erica Enders has already clinched her fifth world championship, doing so in Las Vegas en route to her 10th victory of the season as well. She’ll look to finish off one of the most dominant seasons in recent memory with her second win in Pomona this year against Greg Anderson, Troy Coughlin Jr., Aaron Stanfield and Kyle Koretsky.

Matt Smith closed out his fifth world title with a Pomona triumph last year, something he would love to replicate as the Pro Stock Motorcycle points leader inches toward a sixth world title. He leads Joey Gladstone by 104 points entering the weekend and will also have to deal with Jerry Savoie, Angie Smith, Steve Johnson and Eddie Krawiec.

The Auto Club NHRA Finals also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, which includes some of the sport’s top drivers, and a special Jr. Dragster Shootout. After nitro qualifying on Friday and Saturday, the “Walking Tall” P.T. Cruiser Wheelstander exhibition featuring “Nitro Mike” will put on a show to close out the day. Fans can also attend Nitro School on Saturday in Alexis DeJoria’s Funny Car pits to learn more about how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds, while an autograph session will take place on Friday and Saturday at both and Dodge and Toyota displays with sponsored drivers.

Race fans at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona can enjoy the special pre-race ceremonies that introduce and celebrate each of the drivers racing for the prestigious Wally on Sunday and includes the fan favorite SealMaster Track Walk. The final can’t-miss experience of any NHRA event is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes, where fans are invited to congratulate the Auto Club NHRA Finals event winners and world champions.

As always, fans also get an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet in Pomona. This unique opportunity gives fans a unique chance to see teams in action and service their hot rods between rounds, get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers, and more. Fans can also visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create an exciting atmosphere that includes interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food, and fun for the entire family. The new Pep Boys midway display includes tire change challenges, oil change challenges, a slot car track, and much more, adding even more excitement to the midway.

NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 12:00 and 3:15 p.m. PT on Friday, Nov. 11, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Nov. 12 at 11:30 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11:00 a.m. PT on Sunday, Nov. 13. Television coverage includes qualifying action on FS1 at 2:00 p.m. ET. on Sunday, leading into eliminations at 4:00 p.m. ET.

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This story was originally published on November 8, 2022. Drag Illustrated

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