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3 things to watch for at Dodge NHRA Nationals in Las Vegas

Updated October 31, 2019 - 7:25 pm

With the Countdown to the Championship having reached the penultimate round, the Dodge NHRA Nationals at Las Vegas Motor Speedway will be mostly about the caps.

The green cap, for setting fast qualifying time, is worth bonus points in the taut battles for the Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle championships. But the yellow hat for winning this week could give drivers a big leg up on the white caps to be presented to the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series champions at the Auto Club NHRA Finals from Nov. 14 to 17 at Pomona, California.

“Our goal is to wear the white hat,” said upstart Matt Hartford, who trails Pro Stock championship leader Erica Enders by 28 points — less than one race round — entering Friday qualifying. “Vegas isn’t what our goal is. The goal is Pomona, come out of there, white hat.”

Here are three things to look for at the Dodge Nationals:

Who can shoot down J.R.?

J.R. Todd has some catching up to do if he’s to successfully defend his Funny Car championship from seventh place. But for him, there’s no place like Las Vegas to close the gap on points leader Robert Hight.

If Todd wins Sunday, he would become the third driver in NHRA history to win four consecutive races at the same track.

“Certain drivers in NASCAR and IndyCar have their (favorite) tracks; for us, for whatever reason, we’ve got a handle on the Las Vegas strip,” said the driver of the DHL Toyota Camry at Thursday’s news conference. “Since they’ve redone the track (for the advent of four-wide racing in spring), it seems we’ve got a real good handle on it.”

Force of two

John Force is 70 years old but simply refuses to slow down.

The 16-time Funny Car champion has won twice in 2019 and starts the weekend in third place in championship points, 71 behind teammate and son-in-law Robert Hight in his bid for his first title since 2013.

Despite the retirement of his daughter Courtney on the eve of the 2019 season, there still will be a Force family reunion at the Christmas tree — Courtney’s older sister Brittany trails defending champion Steve Torrence by 46 points in pursuit of her second Top Fuel dragster title in three seasons.

Countdown to chaos

Unpredictability has reigned during the first four races of the Countdown, with drivers ranked among the last qualifiers emerging with victories.

If it happens again in Las Vegas, the final countdown could be even more chaotic than usual, especially with bonus points available at Pomona.

“It kind of depends on what the other drivers in front of us do,” Todd said about having to win this weekend to remain in the title hunt. “The guys in front of us, they struggled at the last few races last year. I’m hoping that history kind of repeats itself.”

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

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