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Intense NHRA Funny Car battle tops LVMS storylines

Sometimes what happens in Las Vegas begins on a dusty airstrip in Kansas.

A major milestone will be marked this weekend at the Dodge//SRT NHRA Nationals at Las Vegas Motor Speedway where the world’s fastest hot rods will burn rubber for the 21st time — and 1,000th time since the series’ baptismal at the Great Bend Municipal Airport on Sept. 29, 1955.

Art Chrisman’s Chrysler-powered dragster set the first top speed in NHRA history with a 145.16 mph run in 10.98 seconds — and no, he didn’t beat John Force in the finals.

Force, a 16-time Funny Car champion who is showing few signs of slowing down, has won three races this season at the age of 72.

Here are three other things to look for at the penultimate drag race of 2021:

Funny Car fight

The race for the Funny Car title couldn’t be any closer, with 2016 winner Ron Capps starting Las Vegas one point ahead of defending champ Matt Hagan. Adding intrigue to their battle is that the two are Don Schumacher Racing teammates.

Capps crossed the center line in the semifinals at Bristol, Tennessee, last week and was penalized five points, leaving him just ahead of Hagan.

Lurking 83 points behind in third place is two-time champion J.R. Todd, who closed the gap at Bristol by losing to Alexis DeJoria — the 10th different Funny Car winner of 2021 — in the final round.

Torrence vs. Force II

Steve Torrence has a 73-point edge on Brittany Force as he pursues his fourth consecutive Top Fuel championship. But he’ll also tell you this should be his fifth in a row after the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship playoff system enabled Force to overtake him for the 2017 crown.

“Brittany got hot in the last few races and did good, and you can’t take that away from them. But those guys wouldn’t even be in contention if it wasn’t for this (expletive) points system they’ve got,” Torrence said at the time.

It’s much the same scenario in 2021. Torrence raced to eight wins during the 13-event regular season while Force won just once before points were reset. Torrence added a Countdown victory at the Midwest Nationals while Force has yet to win during a postseason that has produced five winners in as many races.

Changes coming

Although none of the 2021 titles has yet to be decided — Greg Anderson leads Erica Enders by 81 points in Pro Stock and Mike Smith is 25 points clear of Angelle Sampey in Pro Stock Motorcycle — a couple of announcements that will significantly impact the 2022 season are creating a buzz.

Popular three-time Top Fuel champion Antron Brown will break away from the Don Schumacher Racing stable to form his own team. Teammate Leah Pruett also is leaving DSR to join forces with former NASCAR superstar — and fiancee — Tony Stewart in another start-up venture.

Stewart, who said he wanted “to do more than just stand and be a trophy wife next to Leah,” also will field a Funny Car for Hagan, winner of 39 races and three class championships.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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