Back in the point lead for the first time since July, Steve Torrence and his CAPCO Contractors crewmates try to create a little separation this week when the NHRA Countdown to the Championship moves to ZMax Dragway for the 15th Betway Carolina Nationals.
The 40-year-old Texan will roll his CAPCO and Red Line Oil-backed Top Fuel Toyota to the starting line for Friday’s first qualifying session leading Justin Ashley by a scant seven points and veteran Doug Kalitta by 26.
Leah Pruett is just 54 behind, Antron Brown 56 and reigning champ Brittany Force 71 in a race that has the potential to be one of the closest in the history of the Camping World pro tour.
“It’s ‘game on,’” Torrence said. “Justin, Doug and Leah are right behind us and none of them has won a championship, so they’re real hungry.
“They want it so bad they can taste it,” said the four-time past World Champion, “and that makes them dangerous. Our advantage is experience. These CAPCO boys have been there before and won before. No surprises. They know exactly what it takes to be champions.”
Torrence knows, too. He also knows how it feels to see it all slip away as it did in 2017 when he lost the championship to Force on the last day of the season.
“That was a punch to the gut,” he said. “We dominated all season, won Indy, won the Traxxas Shootout, won the regular season – but then it all went away. In the end, it was the best thing that happened to us because none of us ever wanted to feel that way again.”
Re-energized, Torrence and team left opponents no opportunity in 2018, winning all six Countdown races and finishing 404 points (20 racing rounds) ahead of Tony Schumacher in a performance unlikely to ever be duplicated.
“Four hundred points or four points, it doesn’t make any difference,” Torrence said. “As long as you’re ahead at the end, it all pays the same.”
Any one of the aforementioned six drivers could leave the Carolina Nationals with the Top Fuel point lead, but it would be hard to bet against a CAPCO group that has won six times in seven years on the all-concrete surface at ZMax.
While it’s true that four of those wins came in the Circle K 4Wide Nationals contested in the spring, Torrence has advanced to the semifinals or beyond in six of his last nine appearances in the fall race.
Torrence won in back-to-back years (2018 and 2019) before losing to Force in the semifinals in 2021 and to Ashley in the second round last fall. The race was not contested in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve got a great car,” said the 54-time pro tour winner, “but there are a lot of great cars out there. The key is not to get ahead of ourselves and just to do like always: take what the track gives us and keep going A to B. You can only win one round at a time.”
Qualifying begins with a single nitro session at 6 p.m., Texas time, on Friday. Saturday sessions at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m., Texas time, will set the field for eliminations at 10 a.m., Texas time, Sunday.