For the first time since Feb 21-23, the Mello Yello NHRA Drag Racing Series was racing outside the state of Indiana. This weekends Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals was the fifth to last race of the season too, meaning championship was on a lot of drivers’ minds.
That’s why it was so rare to see the points leader in the top three pro classes knocked out in either the 1st or 2nd rounds on Sunday afternoon in the Sunshine State.
It set up an all Torrence battle for the win in Top Fuel a DSR vs Wilkerson fight for a Funny Car Wally and two drivers in Pro Stock that either haven’t won in over a year or haven’t won at all.
In the end, the No. 4 seed won all three matchups to take home the crown in each respective division.
Doug Kalitta is in trouble. He went from an advantage of +83 points heading into the US Nationals to +50 leaving. Now, he’s opened the door to the championship even further.
Kalitta, has never won a championship before but has led the standings after each round this season. That streak has now also ended. He’s 22 points down heading to the World Wide Technology Raceway as he lost 105 points in two races.
That’s because for the second consecutive race, he was eliminated before the semis again. It was the third time in the last four races he was out in either the first or second round too.
The only race he made it past the second round was Indy 3 to where Kalitta was defeated by Terry McMillen in the semis that day. His Mac Tools dragster lost to him again in the opening round in Gainesville on Sunday as well.
McMillen, had lost in the opening round in four of the first six races this year, so this was considered a pretty big upset in that sense.
Counter that with Leah Pruett and the Torrence’s making it to the semifinals again and that’s three of the top five in the standings closing the gap to Kalitta even further.
Steve Torrence beat Tony Schumacher and Scott Foley on his March to meet Pruett in the semis. Pruett, defeated Joe Morrison and top qualifier Terry McMillen herself. It was the third straight race that Pruett and Torrence met in the third round.
Torrence won Indy 3 with Pruett getting the best of him in the US Nationals.
On Sunday, Torrence bested Leah en route to his third final round appearance of 2020. He was 2-0 in his other two tries.
On the other side of the bracket you had McMillen battling Antron Brown in one second round matchup and US Nationals winner Shawn Langdon vs Billy Torrence in the other.
McMillen and Torrence won them and set up a semifinal showdown.
Langdon has only made it past the second round once — US Nationals. Brown has lost in the second round in three of the last four races now.
Torrence got the better of McMillen to set up a Torrence vs Torrence battle for the Wally.
Both were undefeated in final round matchups this season. Someone had to lose though and it was Steve getting past Billy for his 39th career win and the points lead as a result. He’s won each of the last two championships too.
This grouping almost went chalk with only three lower seed wins along the way. Two of those went to winner Ron Capps for his fourth GatorNationals triumph (2006, 2007, 2015, 2020).
Capps, also earned his 66th career victory too on Sunday giving Don Schumacher Racing their record tying 10th straight victory.
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 seven 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 10 straight times including the final three races of last season to match their perfect 7-for7 start to this one. The last non DSR winner was Shawn Langdon at the World Wide Technology Raceway on Sept. 29 of 2019.
Capps, barely beat Tim Wilkerson in the finals with the NAPA driver beating John Smith, Alexis DeJoria and Matt Hagan on his way to his second final round appearance in 2020.
Wilkerson was ahead of Terry Haddock, Tommy Johnson Jr and Bob Tasca III on his way to his 45th career final round appearance.
1,2,3,4,5,6,9,10 won the Round 1. It was a 1-4, 2-3 matchup in the semis. Then 4 vs 2 in the finals.
Jack Beckham saw his points lead go from 35 to four with him losing in Round 2 to Matt Hagan. It was Hagan who made up those 32 points in earning the Green Hat and his fourth semi in the last five races.
Johnson Jr is now 57 points out after a second round defeat. That’s three straight races he was out before the semifinals.
Capps (-83) is up to fourth while Wilkerson (-121) rounds out the top five in points.
The top two in points lost early. Jeg Coughlin Jr. lost in the first round for a second straight race. Erica Enders lost in Round 2. It was just the second time all year Enders didn’t get to the semis. Both lost to their nemesis too.
Coughlin is 12-2 against everyone not named Kyle Koretsky in 2020. But, Koretsky knocked him out in Round 1 of the US Nats and the Gator Nats in consecutive races.
Enders is 13-2 against everyone but Jason Line.
For Line, this was his chance to get the points lead but he lost one round later to Matt Stanfield.
That set up some rare semifinals battles.
The top half of the bracket was Deric Kramer and Alex Laughlin with the bottom half being Line vs Stanfield.
Laughlin had one semifinal appearance all season and no wins since the 2019 US Nationals. Kramer and Stanfield had no semi final appearances all year with Stanfield no wins ever and Kramer a first round loss in four of the previous five races.
It was Laughlin making the most of it en route to his fourth career win.