CONCORD, N.C. — On a day when the mantra became “expect the unexpected,” the top four in the NHRA Top Fuel point standings were all eliminated by the end of the second round in a crazy Sunday at zMAX Dragway.
In addition, defending Funny Car champion and Countdown top seed Ron Capps was eliminated in the second round by J.R. Todd, shaking up both ends of the nitro championship chase in the first of six races in the NHRA playoffs.
The drama started in the third pair of the day, when No. 14 qualifier Wayne Newby powered Rapisarda Autosport to a huge victory over playoff favorite Leah Pritchett, beating Pritchett’s Papa John’s dragster off the line and then turning on the win light when Pritchett smoked the tires at half-track.
Newby’s 3.827-second pass at 313.66 mph, combined with a .038 reaction time, was more than enough to send Pritchett’s losing 4.172 at 300.06 packing back to the trailer.
As a result of that stunning upset, Pritchett dropped all the way to seventh in the Top Fuel standings.
Chaos continued to reign in round two, when fifth points seed Doug Kalitta defeated long-time rival Tony Schumacher in a big head-to-head matchup.
Kalitta’s Mac Tools dragster covered the thousand-foot distance in 3.775 seconds, with a speed of 325.53 mph, to defeat ‘The Sarge’ and advance past him in the standings. Schumacher was ranked fourth in points entering the day.
Clay Millican followed up Kalitta’s monster run with a stunner of his own, taking out Brown’s Matco Tools dragster on a 3.754-second, 323.35 mph pass that stunned the Don Schumacher Racing faithful and got Brown’s quest for a fourth Top Fuel title (and third-straight) off to a rough start.
But if all that wasn’t enough, Australian Richie Crampton delivered the biggest shock of the day.
Driving the SealMaster dragster for Kalitta Motorsports, Crampton smashed brackets across Concord when he put together a 3.768 at 319.67 to beat seven-time season winner and top-seeded Steve Torrence, whose Capco Contractors machine trailed despite a solid 3.782 at 325.30 mph.
Torrence, who entered the Countdown to the Championship as the points leader, fell to second behind eventual race winner Kalitta. He now trails by 14 points heading into the next race at Reading, Pa.
Todd’s upset of Capps in Funny Car, combined with Robert Hight knocking off Tommy Johnson Jr., meant that none of the eight Don Schumacher Racing entries across the two nitro classes advanced past the second round of Sunday eliminations.
The last time that happened was at Phoenix in 2016, a span of 19 months and 40 races.
Sunday also marks just the third time this season that a DSR nitro entry failed to win either of the nitro classes, following similar results in Sonoma and Indianapolis.
In both of those events, Torrence (Top Fuel) and Todd (Funny Car) were victorious, but Sunday it was Kalitta and Hight who went on to win and assume the points lead in their respective classes.
Hight commands Capps by 44 points after his third win of the year.
Those eliminated early will look to right the Countdown ship when the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series resumes with the Dodge NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway, Sept. 21-24.
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network.
Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 23-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
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