66th annual Denso US Nationals Ladders set, full recap and breakdowns of Saturday’s qualifying action

CLERMONT, Ind — For the 66th time, the Mello Yello NHRA Drag Racing Series will crown US Nationals champions. This time though, it will take place on Sunday instead of the typical Labor Day classic. That’s only because we’re in 2020 and a global pandemic is still around. We’re lucky to just be able to have a chance at witnessing history on Sunday at the Lucas Oil Raceway. 

Still, champions will be hoisting Wally’s at the top end on Sunday afternoon with all the attention from the racing world put squarely on the west side of Indianapolis in the small town of Clermont. But, before we get to Sunday, we had to set the ladders for all the divisions on Saturday. Three rounds of qualifying are now in the books as matchups are set and 16 driver and team combinations in both Nitro Classes plus the two Pro Stock ranks are dreaming big on Saturday night before their biggest races of their respective seasons. 

The drivers earning the green hats for them are Shawn Langdon, Tommy Johnson Jr., Greg Anderson and Scott Pollacheck. 

Here’s a breakdown of each. 

Top Fuel

Shawn Langdon’s 3.728 ET turned on Friday night held firm through two rounds of qualifying on Saturday. It was his 19th career top qualifying spot of his NHRA career. While being the top qualifier is nice, no No. 1 qualifier has won a Wally this season yet and Langdon has not made it out of the second round all season. In fact, Langdon has three first round losses including two straight. So, we could have a wild bracket in Top Fuel on Sunday.

Clay Millican (3.733 ET) was third but like Langdon, he too hasn’t made it out of the first or second round all year either.

Billy Torrence was P4 (3.733 ET) but has lost two straight in the second round on the season. He did win Indy 1 though.

The other two in the top five though are strong. Steve Torrence (3.731 ET) was second and won the last race of the season here last month. He’s made it to at least the semis in three of the last four races.

Current points leader and defending US Nationals champion Doug Kalitta was fifth (3.734 ET). He had three straight final round appearance to start the season off with.

The drama of the session came when Leah Pruett struggled on Friday, struggled in Q2 on Saturday and had one last run to make it to the Big Go on Saturday evening. She was 4.427 ET which was 18th at the time and had to beat 4.089 ET on her final run. Not only did she do that, she went 3.742 ET to propel here all the way up to sixth.

Lex Joon was also out heading to Q3 and bettered the previous best run of 5.123 ET to 4.534 ET and didn’t make it in. Novelli only went 8.898 ET after being 4.089 ET prior. That last run knocked him out with Pruett and Joey Hass bumping their ways in as Haas went 3.995 ET after being at 4.176 ET as the previous best time.

That also knocked out Cameron Ferre who had no time in the final round after only being 4.015 ET before.

The gap up front was tight in .003 ET a differential from second to fifth.

We’ve also had a new winner since 2013 in the Top Fuel category. Shawn Langdon started it off in 2013 then Richie Crampton, Morgan Lucas, Tony Schumacher, Steve Torrence, Terry McMillen and Doug Kalitta.

16 Hass vs. 1 Langdon

9 McClenthan vs. 8 Foley

12 Dakin vs. 5 Kalitta

13 Ashley vs. 4 Millican

11 McMillan vs. 6 Pruett

14 Schumacher vs. 3 B Torrence

10 Zizzo vs. 7 Brown

15 Wurtzel vs. 2 Steve Torrence

Funny Car

Tommy Johnson Jr. went from P6 (3.979 ET) to 3.878 ET on his final run to earn his 21st career Green Hat and third straight No. 1 qualifier, all coming at LOR. He bumped Ron Capps down to P2 as he improved from his Friday night time too (3.895 ET) to (3.881 ET). But, Johnson’s time was just good enough to push Capps down to second.

Capps, won a Wally at Indy for the first time last month, but he’s still searching for a win in the Big Go and this looks to be his best shot. The problem is, other than his win last month, Capps has lost in the first round in two of his last three starts too.

Tim Wilkerson also improved in Q3 going from P6 (3.918 ET) to P3 (3.906 ET) himself. That dropped Bob Tasca III from second to fourth while Matt Hagan went up to fifth in his final round which also won Indy 2 as a result of the rained postponed race as well.

Several drivers went faster in Q3 with a cooler track, but other big jumper was Cruz Pedregon who went from the bubble spot of 16th to 10th with a 4.048 ET run on his final pass.

Don Schumacher Racing has won all five races this season and eight straight overall dating back to Dallas in 2019. They took three of the top five speeds in qualifying and currently sit 1-2-3-4 in the points standings.

We’ve had JR Todd win in 2017 and 2018, but Mike Neff (2012), Robert Hight (2013), Alexis DeJoria (2014), Jack Beckman (2015), Matt Hagan (2016) and John Force (2019) to give us seven different winners in the last eight years.

16 Creasy Jr. vs. 1 Johnson Jr.

9 Alexander vs. 8 Todd

12 Lee vs. 5 Hagan

13 Haddock vs. 4 Tasca III

11 Bode vs. 6 DeJoria

14 Richards vs. 3 Wilkerson

10 Pedregon vs. 7 Beckman

15 Campbell vs. 2 Capps

Pro Stock

Greg Anderson is chasing history. He won his 105th career Green Hat of his career which is third most in NHRA all-time. Only John Force (160) and Warren Johnson (138) have more. Only these three and Bob Glidden’s 102 are the only drivers ever to eclipse the 100 No. 1 qualifier feats.

Anderson, now has six top qualifier spots in the Big Go in his career and searching for another Wally here. He’ll take on Val Smeland in the first round.

Chris McGaha and his son Mason McGaha will battle each other in Round 1. The winner gets Kyle Koretsky or points leader Jeg Coughlin Jr. in Round 2.

Deric Kramer and Alan Prusiensky will square off in the 3 vs. 14 matchup and face the winner of Erica Enders (no. 6) and Kenny Delco (No. 11).

Up top you have Aaron Stanfield (No. 8) facing off with Jason Line (No. 9). The winner advances to face either Anderson or Smeland in Round 2. The other top half of the bracket matchup is No. 13 Fernando Cuadra vs. No. 4 Matt Hartford and No. 12 and defending winner Alex Laughlin vs. No. 5 Bo Butner.

In Pro Stocks, we’ve had 11 straight years (Jeg Coughlin Jr., Greg Stanfield, Greg Anderson, Dave Connolly, Mike Edwards, Shane Gray, Erica Enders, Chris McGaha, Drew Skillman, Tanner Gray and Alex Laughlin) with a different winner.

Pro Stock Bikes

Scotty Pollacheck became part of an elite club in the bikes. He ran over 200 mph en route to his top starting position for Sunday’s race. Only three other drivers have eclipsed the 200 mph barrier in Pro Stock Motorcycles with Hector Arana Jr., Eddie Krawiece and Matt Smith as the other members.

Pollacheck will face off with Michael Phillips in Round 1. The winner gets the winner of Angelle Sampey and Ryan Oehler. These are some heavy hitters as Oehler has won both races this season, both coming at LOR at that.

This has has been won by a different driver for four straight years.

16 Phillips vs. 1 Pollacheck

9 Oehler vs. 8 Sampey

13 Bostick vs. 4 Johnson

12 Savoie vs. 5 Smith

11 Hall vs. 6 Hines

14 Underdahl vs. 3 MSmith

10 Reed vs. 7 Arana Jr.

15 Ingwersen vs. 2 Krawiec

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