There were 71 points separating the top four Top Fuel dragster drivers in the Countdown to the Championship heading into the Dodge NHRA Nationals at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Sunday.
Now there are 16 separating the first two.
Things literally change that fast during the closing races of the drag racing season.
Brittany Force defeated Steve Torrence with a LVMS track record elapsed time of 3.652 seconds at 334.73 mph in a showdown of the past two Top Fuel champions to dramatically close the gap on the points leader heading into the season finale at Pomona, California, in two weeks.
“This weekend has been incredible for this team,” said Force, who set a national speed record (338.17 mph) Friday and took back the track elapsed time record (3.659) after Leah Pritchett lowered it again to 3.654 during Saturday’s final qualifying round. “Las Vegas is kind of a home track for me — I grew up out here, I raced Super Comp and (Top Alcohol Dragster), and I’ve always wanted to win here.”
It was the 151st NHRA victory by a female driver, following by 13 minutes the 150th by Erica Enders in the Pro Stock class.
Force started the weekend third in the Countdown before leapfrogging Doug Kalitta en route to her 10th career win and second of 2019. It was her first LVMS victory, and a much more satisfying result than her final round performance in 2017 when she red-lighted against Torrence before overtaking him at Pomona for the championship.
“That popped in my head today and I thought get rid of it, because we’re going back out for this final and we’re going to chase down Steve-O,” Force said.
In two weeks, she’ll have a chance to complete the mission.
“We have the national (speed) record with 338 and the E.T. record this year. So we’ve accomplished a lot,” said the lone remaining racing daughter of 16-time Funny Car champion John Force, who signs her paycheck. “But really what we’re going after is a championship together.”
Hagan back in hunt
After being written out of the Funny Car championship he won in 2011 and 2014, Matt Hagan wrote himself back into it by defeating upstart Jonnie Lindberg in the final.
It was Hagan’s 33rd career win, his second in a row and fourth of the season, and pulled him within 56 points — less than two race rounds — of championship leader Robert Hight into third place behind Jack Beckman.
“I’m excited and I’m fired up right now,” said the Don Schumacher Racing driver who advanced through the bracket after posting only the seventh-fastest qualifying time. “I love winning races. But when you have the opportunity to come into Pomona and still have a championship hunt, that is why we do this.”
Enders closes in
Erica Enders beat Jeg Coughlin off the line in a showdown of Elite Motorsports teammates to win in Pro Stock final and take a huge step toward nailing down her third series title.
“My guys just keep giving me a good race car,” said the 2014 and ‘15 champion, who extended her lead over Coughlin to a comfortable 92 points with her 25th career win and her fifth in Las Vegas. “We weren’t the fastest one on the property today, but we were certainly able to get it done.”
In the Pro Stock Motorcyle final, Matt Smith (6.855 at 195.90) edged Steve Johnson (6.863 at 194.04) in a showdown of the top two qualifiers.
Dodge NHRA Nationals
Sunday’s pro division finals at Las Vegas Motor Speedway:
— Top Fuel: Brittany Force, 3.652 seconds at 334.73 mph, def. Steve Torrence, 3.719 at 330.63.
— Funny Car: Matt Hagan, 3.876 at 331.36, def. Jonnie Lindberg, 3.945 at 321.12.
— Pro Stock: Erica Enders, 6.617 at 208.04, def. Jeg Coughlin, 6.620 at 201.70.
— Pro Stock Motorcycle: Matt Smith, 6.855 at 195.90, def. Steve Johnson, 6.863 at 194.04.