Over the course of the next eight weeks, 40-professional drag racing teams will do battle to determine who is the best in the top four Full Throttle Drag Racing divisions.
The NHRA will kick off its Countdown to the Championship this afternoon at Charlotte’s zMax Dragway as the top ten point earners in the Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock motorcycle divisions battle for the series championships. To qualify for a run at the title, drivers had to be in the top ten point standings of the first 17 events. Following last weekend’s NHRA U.S. Nationals the sanctioning body reset the point standings staggering No. 2 through No. 10 in ten point intervals. The No. 1 seed was given a one-and-a-half round headstart, thirty points.
Antron Brown [Top Fuel], Ron Capps [Funny Car], Allen Johnson [Pro Stock] and Eddie Krawiec [Pro Stock Motorcycle] enter the playoffs as the No. 1 seeds in their respective divisions.
Of the quartet of leaders, Brown surrendered the least amount of a lead at 5 points while Johnson gave up 42 points.
Brown has been in a neck and neck battle with teammates Spencer Massey and Tony Schumacher with the lead changing hands multiple times from February until last weekend. Both Brown and Massey have won four races while Schumacher has won two.
Each point, Brown admits, even though he was the least impacted, was tough to surrender.
“I’m not enthusiastic about giving any points to anybody, trust me,” Brown said. “I like the lead we had. This is the hand we are dealt and no sense in crying over spilled milk.”
Johnson, in the Pro Stock division, scored his lead on the strength of 36 round wins and the bonus points awarded for leading qualifying sessions. The NHRA awards three bonus points for leading a session. Johnson’s reset point total is the equivalent of 14 No. 1 qualifying sessions.
“I’ve been a very big proponent of the Countdown every year until this year,” said Johnson with a laugh. “I was usually always back in fifth or sixth place. Those years I gained, but this year I lost … gosh. It makes it exciting when we are all starting out grinding. This battle will be intense and everyone from racers to the fans will feel the intensity.”
The NHRA adopted the Countdown to the Championship format in 2007 following the lead of NASCAR’s “Chase for the Championship”.
The first season of the NHRA’s Countdown featured two resetting of the point standings narrowing to eight and then four. The NHRA adjusted the format to one reset, ten participants and a six race playoff ever since.
Brown raced in the NHRA’s Pro Stock Motorcycle division when the Countdown was introduced. He wasn’t an overwhelming fan of the format of the program then but has learned to adapt to the newer format.
“In NASCAR, if you make a mistake early in the race, you can make it up,” explained Brown. “In drag racing, you make a mistake and your day is done. The Countdown only gives you six races. We’ve adapted to it and gotten used to it. You use some of the regular races as test sessions and when the Countdown comes, you race hard. One thing about it, it gets our fans excited. You have ten people racing for a championship.”
However, with the introduction of 1,000 foot racing and the parity of the Top Fuel division, Brown believes his class is one of the few which didn’t need the Countdown. Six different drivers won races this season in the dragster division.
This marks the second time Brown has been the No. 1 seed in the Countdown. The last time, under the old format in 2009, Brown accrued enough points he could have won the championship.
“We probably didn’t need a Countdown this season,” Brown admitted. “We have about five cars right now who could win it all. Back in the day you might have had a one or two car championship race, not now.”
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