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The latest update as of September 12, 2019

Mopar Express Lane Nationals

NHRA Reading Nats (Maple Grove Raceway - Reading, PA)

Scroll down to see our review of the Countdown to the Championship chases and the Lucas Oil Top Alcohol Dragster points battle. We'll update the report tomorrow and start looking at the results from Maple Grove as they come in over thw weekend. As always: STAY TUNED!

The latest update as of September 11, 2019

It always amazes me when I realize how quickly time slips by. Today marks 18 years since the day our western world changed forever - in a mix of good and bad ways - and when I reflect back on the incredible events of September 11, 2001, it seems as fresh and incredibly shocking now as it did all those years ago. Let us always remember that day and not let it slip quietly into history.

NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to The Championship review

We're almost on the eve of the start of the 2019 NHRA "Countdown to The Championship" as pit parking has begun at Reading, PA's Maple Grove Raceway and the first day of sportsman qualifying begins in less than 24 hours. The Pro and Pro Sportsman racers hit the track on Friday, and continue through eliminations on Sunday. With the re-setting of the points for the Top Ten coundtown contenders following Indy, the battle for the Mello Yello crowns now takes on a completely different dimension. While the gap between #1 and #10 is only 100 points, and only six races left in the season, an early round loss at any of those events will put a racer in a deep hole very quickly. Do that at the first two events in the countdown and your season is virtually over.

In TOP FUEL, the defending champion Steve Torrence has given up the most ground with his incredible 558 point lead over Doug Kalitta shrinking to just 20 points. That's just one round win so you can see how important qualifying as high as possible (to avoid facing the best cars early), then going rounds will be. It will be very interesting to see how "Team Torrence" works out their strategies as #10 Billy Torrence is just 100 points behind his son and he's entered all six races in the countdown. Obviously they will try to avoid head-to-head matchups until the finals, so qualifying position(s) will be ultra-important. Hang on, it's going to be quite a ride!

Looking at the results of the previous 18 races, the Torrence domination is clear, with Steve notching eight wins (during a nine-race streak), father Billy taking two Wallys, then a very steep drop-off to Doug Kalitta and Mike Salinas's two wins each, and one going to Kalitta's teammate, Richie Crampton. In the shocking but true department, the vaunted JFR team has just two Top Fuel wins in 2019, with Brittany Force in the revamped David Grubnic-tuned car, and rookie Austin Prock notching just one victory each. Even more surprising is the DSR team's T/F record, with Leah Pritchett claiming the sole win for the team, and that was the 17th race of the season (Brainerd). Obviously, the lack of Tony Schumacher competing has put a very BIG hole in their hopes, but to see Pritchett and teammate Antron Brown reach the final round just four times combined so far this year has to be especially troublesome for "The Don".

FUNNY CAR is shaping up to be one of the most interesting countdown chases since the concept was instituted. Points leader Robert Hight of the JFR team only gave up a small number of points when the reset occurred. His 105 point gap over teammate (and boss) John Force dropped to just 20, so a real intramural battle for the championship could be in the offing. One caveat however: the next four spots in the standings are occupied by DSR (Don Schumacher Racing) drivers: Tommy Johnson Jr., Jack Beckman, Ron Capps, and Matt Hagan. Even the sixth place Hagan is only 60 points behind the leader. That's a margin that could be erased in just one event.

One wild card at play in the various scenarios leading up to the Auto Club Finals - which may well be the race that decides the championship - is the parity in the class. While Hight has notched five wins and two runner-ups in 2019, the "Boss" (John Force) has but two wins and one runner-up, yet his consistent performances, which includes eleven semi-finals or better (in 18 races) and just two 1st-round losses has kept him close. And what really closed the gap is two wins in his last three races, finally breaking through the 150 win barrier. The DSR team cars have notched a total of seven wins between them, with Capps leading the way at three, Johnson and Hagan with two apiece, and Jack Beckman the only winless member of the quartet.

The other "super" team from Kalitta Motorsports has seen both their drivers, defending Mello Yello champion J.R. Todd, and second year flopper pilot Shawn Langdon visit the winners circle once. The only independent winner this season has been Bob Tasca III with two wins and seventh place in the standings. But for all intents and purposes, the battle for the Funny Car championship will boil down to a series of head-to-head matchups between the Force and Schumacher teams, with qualifying position being a major strategic move for both teams. While the hot hand(s) currently belong to Force and Hight, the balance of power could change very quickly, starting this weekend at Maple Grove Raceway.

NHRA Lucas Oil National Championship - Top Alcohol Dragster

It's been quite a season in this class, with defending champion Joey Severance getting off to a slow start, then falling well out of contention by mid-season. At this point he has no chance of capturing a fifth consecutive Lucas Oil National Championship. In fact, with just five national events and a handful of regional races left in the 2019 season, the championship chase has been whittled down to just three racers: current leader (and runner-up for the past two years) Shawn Cowie, followed very closely by the awesome A/Fuel car of Megan Meyer, and the constantly improving East Coast threat of Troy Coughlin Jr in the well-financed JEG's A/FD. The balance of the top ten points earners are mathematically eliminated already.

The championship chase which began back in February at the Winternationals has seen Cowie in front from the start, taking the win at Pomona with a series of dominating performances at the rain-delayed event, which saw most of the eliminations run on the Monday. Shawn laid down a career best 5.151 e.t. at 279.38 mph in the semi-finals and backed it up in the final round with a 5.156 - 279.73 for the victory. That early lead didn't last long however, as a first-ever trip to the Gatornationals ended with a very disappointing first-round loss, as Megan Meyer took over the lead with a win at the Gators that followed her runner-up at the Eastern Regional event there the preceding week.

Meyer continued to rack up points over the next two months, with two wins (Dallas regional and Houston national) and two runner-ups (Chicago national and Belle Rose regional), while Shawn notched a regional win at Las Vegas and a national win at Topeka, in addition to two semi-final finishes at national events in Las Vegas and Charlotte. At this juncture of the season, Meyer had built a 139-point lead after competing in five national and three regional events. Cowie had also run five nationals, but just one regional event.

Then the momentum quickly shifted in Cowie's direction, starting with the Heartland Nationals (Topeka) as he took his second national event win of 2019, while Meyer lost in the first round. He started building an incredible win streak by taking his next race, the Western regional at his home track (Mission Raceway Park), followed by another regional at Woodburn, OR, yet another regional at Sonoma, CA, then the Northwest Nationals at Seattle, and the Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd. At this point, Shawn had built a 20-round win streak, and had taken a solid points lead over Ms. Meyer. She wasn't sitting idle though as she took two regional wins at Topeka and Tulsa, then challenged Cowie at Brainerd. Going into that event, Cowie had 616 points to Meyer's 573, for a margin of just 43 points.

In the pivotal final round at Brainerd, Cowie took the automatic win when Meyer redlighted (by just -.015 second) and stretched his lead to 64 points heading into the U.S. Nationals. Both racers have enjoyed some success at that event, but Cowie's dream season hit it's first roadblock when he dropped a very close first-round match to Josh Hart - on a holeshot - and saw Meyer go on to win the event. The victory cut Cowie's lead to just TEN points, with Meyer holding a small advantage as she has three events remaining where she can improve her points total, while Cowie only has two races left.

That leads us to this weekend and in a very surprising - but not really surprising - move, the Mundie's Towing team has entered the Mopar Express Lane Nationals in an attempt to derail Meyer's chances for her first championship. In fact, the top seven racers in the T/AD points are at this race so the level of competition promises to be outstanding. For the real hard-core numbers folks, here's how Cowie and Meyer's chances for the remainder of the season stack up. Shawn has competed in eight national events and can only improve on his two worst results, namely his first round losses at Gainesville and Indy (31 points earned at each). If he can win this weekend and at his final points earning race of the season, he could post a total of 840 points.

Meyer has three chances left to improve, with Topeka (31 points earned), Charlotte (53 points), and Chicago (64 points) being the races to waive. If she can win this weekend and at her last two races of the season, she could gain 107 points, for a total of 829 points for the season. That would give Cowie the championship by just 11 points in a very close finish. Despite Cowie's four national and four regional wins, versus Meyer's three national and three regional victories, the points chase is still very much up in the air. The results of this weekend's event may well be the deciding factor in the Lucas Oil national championship for 2019. Stay tuned for what should be an incredibly exciting event, starting tomorrow.