Countdown Is Back, Indianapolis The Final Race Of Regular Season Again
For the first time in years, last year’s Dodge//SRT NHRA U.S. Nationals wasn’t a precursor for the Countdown for the NHRA championship. See, due to the pandemic, NHRA elected to forego the playoff last year and just compete the season on points.
It was a throwback to how they used to do things. Now, the Countdown is back. Out of the 20 available spots in Nitro, 18 are solidified. For the Pro Stock ranks, the 3 of the 10 in cars and just 1 of the 10 in Bikes are taken.
Per NHRA rules, a total of 187 points will be up for grabs this weekend, which includes 150 points for a win, a maximum of 12 qualifying-session points (three sessions with four points given to each session’s best time), a maximum of 10 points for being the overall qualifying leader, and 15 points for competing in the event.
This year’s fields are close up top but should be fairly well structured at the bottom. Doug Kalitta, more on him later, holds the 10th and final spot in the Top Fuel category leading Josh Hart by 193 markers. He was leading the points at this time last year, so he’s done a complete 180. Hart though, hasn’t been to an event since Norwalk with Kalitta losing in the first round in each of the last three events to Clay Millican and being a first round exit in 5 of the last 6 races. Billy Toreence is only seven points clear of Kalitta though but out of the last five races, he’s only been to one.
For Funny Car, it’s down to Blake Alexander trying to hold off Jim Campbell, Paul Lee, Terry Haddock and Bob Bode III.
The Pro Stock categories are more wide open.
Can Kalitta Amount A Charge? What A Tale of 2 Different Seasons Entering The Big Go
I’m not sure what’s up with Doug Kalitta, but this season hasn’t been one to his liking. Last year, Kalitta came into the US Nationals holding an 83 point lead over Steve Torrence. This year, he’s 709 points behind him. Talk about a drastic change.
Kalitta, started off 2020 with three straight final round appearances. He’s had just 2 in 12 races this year including a first round defeat in 5 of the last 6 races and making it past the second round just twice all year.
That’ll contribute to the downfall.
The thing is, can mount a comeback and earn his first career championship? He holds the record with 23 straight seasons with a top 10 finish in Top Fuel. He also holds the record for most career wins (49) without a title too. He’s finished runner-up in the standings five times but has never celebrated a season’s championship.
Last year seemed like the year where this one doesn’t. Can the flip flop?
He won the Big Go in 2019, so this could be the start of a run between now and the seven race Countdown.
Can Capps Finally Get A Wally In The Big Go?
Ron Capps has been trying for years to win at the US Nationals. He’s ran almost 600 NHRA events (578), won over 60 races, won a championship (2016), but was winless in the biggest race of the season — the US Nationals.
Fittingly, it was 2020 to when Capps finally won at Lucas Oil Raceway. But, to make it more fitting, it was in a new format for a race weekend not of the US Nationals. Capps, won back on Aug. 9 of last year for his first win in Indy. It was his 65th career win in his 560th start.
He’s since won two more times and has made 128 final round appearances but has no Indy wins on Labor Day weekend.
Can he turn this into a US Nationals crown on Sunday?
Two years ago, Doug Kalitta finally got his first US Nationals crown. Is it Capps’ turn yet?
He sits fifth in points (-25) entering this weekend and has made it to at the very least the semifinals in 4 of the last 6 races. The thing is, after his win in Pomona, he’s lost in the second round in each of the last two races. He was a second round exit a year ago too.
Last Year’s Champions Leading Again, But 1 Tests Positive For COVID
Steve Torrence has won each of the last three Top Fuel championships. Matt Hagan won his third career Funny Car title last year. Erica Enders won her second straight and fourth overall Pro Stock championship in 2020 while Matt Smith took home the Pro Stock bikes hardware.
Heading into this weekend at the Big Go, Torrence, Hagan and Smith lead their points standings again with Enders sitting in third.
In fact, in the Top Fuel category, the last person to defeat Torrence for a title is Brittany Force. She’s 383 points behind him in second right now. The driver before Force to win a championship in 2016 was Antron Brown. He’s third.
That means every Top Fuel champion since 2016 is 1-2-3 in points as the regular season concludes on Sunday afternoon.
For Funny Car, trends say Robert Hight will win the title this November but he sits sixth (-83) in points. He’s won championships in 2009, 2017 and 2019). All odd years including the last two odd years at that. 2017, 2019…2021?
JR Todd won in 2018 and sits third (-15) while Ron Capps won in 2016 and is fifth (-25). John Force is a 16 time Funny Car World Champion and resides in fourth (-16) heading into Indy. That means five of the top six in points have all won championships.
The only outlier?
Bob Tasca III in second (-15). He hasn’t made it to the final round since Norwalk though with 3 of his last 4 races seeing him bow out before the semifinals.
The thing is, Hagan tested positive for COVID on Friday and will miss this weekend. That will absolutely factor the points standings before we get a reset for the Countdown which is up next.
In the Pro Stock category, Enders is looking for a second straight win here. She needs it as she’s 170 points behind Greg Anderson for the points lead. The thing is, Enders has kind of supplanted Anderson in Pro Stock lore this past decade with her winning four championships since 2014.
Both her and Anderson are trying to tie Jeg Coughlin for titles at five, but Anderson and Coughlin had their best years between 2000 and 2010 with them combining to win 8 of the 10 championships in that span. Anderson’s last was in 2010. Enders came along soon after as the torch was passed onto her.
Now, Anderson is back in the points lead following two wins and five final round appearances this season including a semifinal appearance in 4 of the last 5 races. He’s been on top all season long.
Enders meanwhile, has been to the semis in 3 of the last 4 races including a win in Norwalk 4 races ago. She’s only had two final round appearances, both being wins. Can she get back in Indy? She was third entering Indy last year and won the race as well as going on to win the championship too.
Last year was the first time since 2013 that we had a repeat winner. Shawn Langdon started it in ’13 and ended it in ’20. Between him, Richie Crampton, Morgan Lucas, Tony Schumacher, Steve Torrence, Terry McMillen and Doug Kalitta all won. Do we get another new winner on Sunday?
For Funny Car, we’ve had JR Todd win in 2017 and 2018, but Mike Neff (2012), Robert Hight (2013), Alexis DeJoria (2014), Jack Beckman (2015, 2020), Matt Hagan (2016) and John Force (2019) to give us seven different winners in the last nine years.
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 before Enders repeated her 2015 crown last September.
There’s been five straight years with a different winner in the Bikes category.
- John Force is back to defend his crown. Yes, he won in 2019 but due to the pandemic and JFR not competing last year, he wasn’t in Indy to attempt a repeat. Now, he is. 2019 was his first Big Go triumph since 2002. It was the first time in decades that we didn’t have Force around which was noticeable. He had 35 straight years to where he finished in the top 10 of the final standings. That streak ended.
Friday, Sept. 3: Qualifying 7-9 p.m. ET FS1
Saturday, Sept. 4: Qualifying Reair 8-10 a.m. ET FS2
Sunday, Sept. 5: Qualifying (from Saturday’s rounds) 9-11 a.m. ET FS1
Sunday, Sept. 5: Final Eliminations 11-1 p.m. ET FS1
Sunday, Sept. 5 Final Eliminations 1-4 p.m. ET FOX
Normally, the US Nationals ends on Labor Day. For the second consecutive year though, due to the pandemic and trying to conserve resources from all sides, a day was taken off the weekend schedule. The finals will now take place on Sunday, not Monday, so plan accordingly.
FRIDAY, Sept. 3 –
|Dodge HEMI Challenge – Round 1||11:00 AM|
|Midway Open/Suggested Time of Arrival||12:30 PM|
|Dodge HEMI Challenge – Round 2||1:15 PM|
|Jegs Allstars – Round 1||1:30 PM|
|Top Alcohol Qualifying Session||3:00 PM|
|Dodge HEMI Challenge – Round 3||3:40 PM|
|Jegs Allstars – Semi-Finals||3:45 PM|
|Top Fuel Harley Qualifying||4:30 PM|
|Factory Stock Showdown Qualifying||4:45 PM|
|Pro Mod Qualifying Session||
|Dodge HEMI Challenge – Round 4||5:30 PM|
|Jegs Allstars – Finals||5:35 PM|
|Midwest & Southeast Nostalgia Pro Stock Association Exhibition||6:00 PM|
|Scott Rods Exhibition||6:10 PM|
|Pro Stock Qualifying Session||
|Dodge HEMI Challenge – Final||7:25 PM|
|Jegs Allstars Parade||7:30 PM|
|Nitro Qualifying Session||
|“NitroMike” PT Cruiser Wheelstander Exhibition||8:45 PM|
SATURDAY, Sept. 4
|Sportsman Eliminations||8:00 AM|
|Top Alcohol Eliminations- Round 1||
|Midwest & Southeast Nostalgia Pro Stock Association Exhibition||11:30 AM|
|Midway Open/Suggested Time of Arrival||11:45 AM|
|Top Fuel Harley Qualifying||11:45 AM|
|Factory Stock Showdown Qualifying||12:00 PM|
|Pro Mod Qualifying||12:15 PM|
|Pro Stock Qualifying||
|Top Alcohol Eliminations – Round 2||3:00 PM|
|Scott Rods Exhibition||3:35 PM|
|Top Fuel Harley Qualifying||
|Factory Stock Showdown Eliminations – Round 1||3:55 PM|
|Pro Mod Qualifying Session||4:10 PM|
|Pro Stock Qualifying Session||
|Nitro Qualifying Session||
|“NitroMike” PT Cruiser Wheelstander Exhibition||6:45 PM|
|Sportsman Eliminations||6:45 PM|
SUNDAY, Sept. 5 –
|Midway Open/Suggested Time of Arrival||8:00 AM|
|Sportsman Eliminations||8:00 AM|
|Nitro Eliminations – Round 1||
|Pro Stock Eliminations – Round 1||
|Pro Mod Eliminations – Round 1||
|Factory Stock Showdown – Round 2||12:00 PM|
|Top Fuel Harley Eliminations – Round 1||12:10 PM|
|Nitro Eliminations – Round 2||
|Pro Stock Eliminations – Round 2||
|Pro Mod Eliminations – Round 2||1:20 PM|
|Factory Stock Showdown Eliminations – Round 3||
|Top Alcohol Eliminations – Semi-Finals||1:35 PM|
|Top Fuel Harley Eliminations – Semi-Finals||1:50 PM|
|Nitro Eliminations – Semi-Finals||
|Pro Stock Eliminations – Semi-Finals||
|Pro Mod Eliminations- Semi-Finals||2:35 PM|
|Factory Stock Showdown Eliminations – Semi-Finals||2:40 PM|
|Sportsman Eliminations – Finals||2:45 PM|
|Top Alcohol Eliminations – Finals||3:10 PM|
|Top Fuel Harley Eliminations – Finals||3:35 PM|
|Factory Stock Showdown Eliminations – Finals||
|Pro Mod Eliminations – Finals||
|Pro Stock Eliminations – Finals||
|Nitro Eliminations – Finals||
THEY SAID IT:
“I always conceptualize winning Indy as a ‘snowglobe.’ We all see what it looks like from the outside, yet want to be inside,” said Leah Pruett. “We’ve heard stories of how magical it is inside that globe from those that have visited by way of a win, and see the prestige that goes with it. Some call this place the winners circle but for this Dodge team it is our globe. The more years I race Indy, the less I become infatuated with having a name tied to the prestigious race win and more obsessed with our journey, memories and character building through the challenges of obtaining such a goal.”