The Mello Yello NHRA Drag Racing Series, if I’m still allowed to call it that, will be back in action this weekend for the 51st annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals. No, you’re not in a time warp either. This is still September and the stars of the drag racing series are heading south to the Sunshine State for a pivotal round in the hunt for the championship.
1st Race Outside Of Indiana Since February
This was the first event affected by the coronavirus. The teams were in town to run the Gatornationals back in Mid March before everything was halted. That led to a dizzying experience in what would happen next. Now, a plan is in place with five races remaining in the 2020 season.
The previous four events though were all held at Lucas Oil Raceway near Indianapolis including the last event of the season for the US Nationals on Labor Day weekend. That’s why this weekend’s race marks the first race weekend that NHRA has had since February 21-23 for the NHRA Arizona Nationals in Chandler, Ariz.
Can Don Schumacher Racing Earn 10th Straight Win In Funny Car
DSR is en fuego right now. While they don’t have the John Force Racing brigade to have to deal with in Funny Car this season, they’re making up for that with a vengeance. DSR has won all six Funny Car events in 2020 but you have to go all the way back to a year ago to find someone outside of this organization to win a Funny Car race in general.
DSR has won nine straight times including the final three races of last season to match their perfect 6-for-6 start this one. The last non DSR winner was Shawn Langdon at the World Wide Technology Raceway on Sept. 29 of 2019. We head back to that track next weekend (10/2–10/4). Will we see someone other than Jack Beckman, Ron Capps, Matt Hagan or Tommy Johnson Jr. win on Sunday?
Capps has won the Gatornationals three times (2006, 2007, 2015) in his career and won Indy 3 in August. Beckman, won this race in 2018 and won the US Nationals earlier this month too. He’s made it to the finals in two of the last three race weekends and four of the six races this season overall.
Hagan nor Johnson Jr. have won the Gatornationals but Hagan has two final round appearances in his last four starts on the year to go along with at the very least a semifinal round appearance in all but two races in 2020. Johnson Jr. has three semi appearances in his last five tries himself.
If they can win this weekend, that will mark the second time ever that someone has won 10 straight races in NHRA action. The last was DSR actually in 2017. They sit 1-2-3-5 in the points standings heading into this weekend.
Points Championship Coming Down To The Wire
Speaking of points, this is the first time since 2006 that we will crown champions by virtue of season long points. Since 2007, we’ve always had the Countdown, but with COVID wrecking havoc on our plans, the playoff format was scrapped in 2020.
So, you have some points races that are going to come down to the wire. We have five races left.
- This weekend (Gatornationals)
- 10/2–10/4 (St. Louis)
- 10/15–10/18 (Ennis, TX)
- 10/23–10/25 (Baytown, TX)
- 10/29–11/1 (Vegas)
In Top Fuel, Doug Kalitta is on his way to his first career championship. But, he has some stiff competition from DSR’s Leah Pruett who made up 49 points for the US Nationals weekend. She went from 89 down to 50 back. She’s been to at least the semis in each of the last three races now and is looking to close the gap even more to Kalitta this weekend. The two-time defending champion Steve Torrence fell to third at Indy as he won Indy 3 but lost in the semis to Pruett in the US Nationals but he went from 83 down to just 60 back, making up 23 points himself on Kalitta with Air Doug losing in the second round to Justin Ashley at Indy. He’s lost in the second round in two of the last three events, so he has to be on his game in his Mac Tools Dragster in Gainesville.
Ashley (-122) moved up to fourth while Billy Torrence (-161) rounds out the top five in the standings.
Langdon avenged a first round loss in each of his past two races and a first or second round loss in literally every race run this season until his US Nationals triumph. He’s sixth in the standings, 162 points out.
For Funny Car, Jack Beckman turned his Indy win to regain the points lead back. He led it all year until losing to his teammate in Matt Hagan in Round 1 of Indy 3. He got it back by besting JR Todd in controversial fashion at Indy to hold a 35 point advantage over Hagan going into this weekend.
Hagan, is on fire right now with two wins in his last four starts while Tommy Johnson Jr. (-57) sits third. Todd (-130) is fourth as the lone non DSR driver in the top five of the standings. Todd, has been to two straight final rounds of the season, his only two of the year at that. Capps (-141) rounds out the top five.
In the Pro Stock car category, we have three drivers with 11 points separating them with five races left. Erica Enders stormed to her second win of the season in the US Nationals and not only went from 77 points down, she went to seven points up overall. That’s making up 84 points in one race to give her a great chance for a second straight title. She’s made it to at the very least three semi final appearances in her last four races run.
But, the margin from first to second is minimal as Jeg Coughlin Jr. is lurking back there just seven markers back. Coughlin, has two final round appearances in his last three races including three in five tries this season. He was bounced by Kyle Koretsky in Round 1 of the US Nationals, which is what allowed Enders to make such a big comeback in the points.
Jason Line (-11) is a close third and will put the pressure on Enders and Coughlin to be perfect the rest of the way. He’s been to at least the semis in all five races and if Enders or Coughlin slip up again, the two-time champion (2011, 2016) will be there to take away the top spot.
The rest have a bigger gap to them with Matt Hartford (-162) and Greg Anderson (-163) rounding out the top five. Hartford, has made it out of the first or second round just once all year with Anderson having a first or second round loss three of the five races run.
We may not have Brittany Force challenging for a Top Fuel championship this year, but don’t be shocked to see two other females hoisting championship trophies in their respective divisions in a little over a month in Vegas.
Erica Enders has a solid chance of a fourth career Pro Stock championship, all coming in the last seven years too. She went to the top of the standings following a US Nationals triumph and can enter rare territory with another crown. She made up 84 points in one weekend. Imagine what she can do if she can continue that upward trend.
Leah Pruett made up 49 points at Indy following a strong US Nationals. She’s 50 points behind Doug Kalitta in Top Fuel.
Thoughts With Richie Crampton Still
Richie Crampton was released from the hospital last month and went home to recuperate from a frightening late night car crash near Lucas Oil Raceway following Indy 3. He obviously won’t be racing this weekend.
Crampton, won the Top Fuel race in Gainesville in each of the last two years but will see that streak end on Sunday.
Our thoughts remain with him and Dom Lagana and their families though this difficult time.
Saturday: 5-7 p.m. ET Qualifying Coverage FS1
Sunday: 2-5 p.m. ET – Finals Coverage FS1