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The latest update as of April 2, 2022


The following is a few random notes on the current inhabitants of the Top Ten in NHRA points standings. We've also added a few racers that are sitting just outside that zone as the group will almost certainly see some changes throughout the season. In a departure from the past few seasons, it will be impossible to pick the Countdown to the Championship contestants until well into the season. At this writing, there's more than a dozen drivers and teams with the capability of finishing in that group when the points reset following the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals. We've listed the drivers in order, and added a few that are sitting just below the 10th spot.

Mike Salinas - #1 - 256 points

He had an up-and-down season in 2021, but finished strongly with three final round appearances in the last five races to finish solidly in the #3 spot. But the off-season saw a major change as crew chief Alan Johnson and assistant Brian Husen moved to the Kalitta Motorsports team. In what nearly amounted to a sports trade, ex-Doug Kalitta crew chief Rob Flynn took over crew chief duties on the Scrappers Racing entry for 2022. The balance of the Salinas stayed on, providing Flynn with a great starting point, and it showed, as they ran well in Phoenix during the Nitro Spring Training test session.

A win at that same track just a month later at the Arizona Nationals gave Salinas the early lead in the points chase. If they can hold it is open to question, but Salinas seems to be more determined than ever, the car is running well, and he's been getting some sponsorship help, as in the Pep Boys to help fund the operation. A Top Ten finish seems assured, but the placing remains unclear.

Justin Ashley - #2 - 233 points

Coming off a very successful sophomore season in Top Fuel, Ashley has the same crew, led by veteran Mike Green. They finished #5 in the final standings last year, with one win in three final rounds. The season started slowly, but they improved throughout and with the help of numerous minor and major sponsors, made a serious impact in the class. The lowpoint of the season was being forced to shutoff due to heatstroke in the mid-season "Winternationals" but he made his mark at this year's season opening edition of that event, by taking the win. He followed a first round loss at Phoneix with a semifinal finish at Gainesville and now sits just 23 points behind Salinas.

Steve Torrence - #3 - 209 points

Currently sitting in an unaccustomed position, ie., anywhere but #1, the four-time defending Top Fuel champion has had a decent, but unspectacular start to the season, with two semifinal finishes and a second round loss at the Gatornationals. The team, led by Richard Hogan and Bobby Lagana has run well, but just not quite quick enough to get past some very tough competitors. He's lost very close races to Justin Ashley twice already and the car only failed him once, as he went up in smoke at Phoenix against Mike Salinas.

This team knows what it takes to win and they will certainly be visiting the winners circle soon, maybe this weekend, in fact. He's sitting third on the qualifying list, just .02 behind leader Leah Pruett, and in a good position to work his way into the later rounds. With all the data they accumulated over the past four seasons, the dominance that Torrence has exhibited is not gone, just slightly dormant at this point.

Brittany Force - #4 - 178 points

This ten year veteran of Top Fuel racing has a world championship to her credit (2017) and finished (a distant) second last season. She's back with the same sponsors, same crew, led by David Grubnic, in search of a second championship. The car always qualifies well, usually at the top, but getting through eliminations has always been somewhat problematic. Six final round appearances, and one win last year was good, but the Monster Energy team is always looking for more. While good e.t.'s are almost guaranteed, the reaction time department has been their downfall at times, but Ms. Force is always working to improve in that area of driving.

The 2022 season started decently, with a semifinal finish at Pomona, followed by a second round loss at Phoenix, and a disappointing first round exit at Gainesville after qualifying second and running nearly 338 mph in qualifying. The one word lacking in the team's vocabulary is consistency, but if they can overcome their lack of it, Brittany could literally become a Force in the class.

Clay Millican - #5 - 173 points

A constant in NHRA Top Fuel racing for nearly a quarter of a century, and still looking for a championship, is Clay Millican. His highest finish in the standings was #3 in 2018, and since then he's bounced around near the bottom of the top ten. Despite a solid relationship with crew chief Mike Kloeber since he came onboard the Parts Plus team in 2019, the team released him earlier this week and replaced him with Jim Oberhofer, who was just let go from the Paul Lee Funny Car team. While this sort of merry-go-round action usually happens in the off-season, the pressure to perform early and not get too far behind in the standings, appears to have been the catalyst.

The results so far this year for Millican have been high and low, starting with a first-round loss at Pomona, followed a week later by a runnerup finish at Phoenix, then a second round loss at Gainesville. The car has so far been oildown free, after a dreadful run last year, with 75 points deducted for that infraction, second only to Doug Kalitta's horrendous 105 points in penalties. The crew chief change has so far proved inconclusive, as after two qualifying sessions yesterday, they've yet to get to the finish line under power, despite some promising early numbers, with a 3.992 - 235.10 best at this point.

Trip Tatum III - #6 - 160 points

This racer came out of almost nowhere at last year's Dodge//SRT NHRA U.S. Nationals, making his first appearance since late in 2017. This time around he came prepared with a virtual clone of a CAPCO car, an experienced crew chief in John Stewart and car chief Tony Shortall, both veterans of fuel racing. He followed that up with a very strong 3.714 - 331.36 pass in a first round win at his second race (St. Louis), then matched the e.t. at Vegas, before going to the semifinals at the season ending Auto Club NHRA Finals, to close out a very successful four-race season.

Tripp opened his 2022 campaign at Phoenix, where he qualified very well (#4) at 3.684, then suffered a parchute malfunction that caused a first round loss. He rebounded strongly with his first national event win at Gainesville, qualifying #1 with new career bests of 3.674 - 331.53, and kept up the pace throughout eliminations, with his slowest run of the day being a 3.72 in the second round.

However, the Gainesville race was the last event on his current schedule, as he's not in Vegas this weekend, or entered (so far) in any of the next four events on the calendar. His plans for the balance of the year are not known, but until he finds some serious funding help, he will only be competing occasionally. That's bad news for fans of the sport, but good news for his competitors as this car and driver are capable of running with - and outrunning - anyone in any field.

Josh Hart - #7 - 157 points

The biggest surprise of the 2021 season in the class was Josh Hart. Led by crew chief, and now partner, Ron Douglas the former A/Fuel Dragster racer made his Top Fuel debut at the season-opening Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals last year and shocked the field by winning the event. With a rookie team and hampered by moving his entire operation from his home base in Florida to "Nitro Alley" in Brownsburg, IN, the team only competed sporadically, attending just five of the first 11 races on the schedule, effectively eliminating themselves from contention to be in the Countdown. They finished the season racing at the last eight events, ringing up a second win at Charlotte and three semifinal appearances, before a run of three consecutive first round losses at the end of the year.

With the team settled in their new race shop, more funding with the addition of some sponsors, and the committment to run the full schedule in 2022, they have had an up-and-down start, with a round win at Pomona, a semifinal finish at Phoenix, followed by a disappointing first round loss at Gainesville as they failed to repeat their dream debut at last year's Gatornationals. This weekend they're off to a slow start, popping the blower on their first qualifier and skipping the second session. While they're safely qualified, and currently in the fast half of the field, they need to show some of the consistency that carried them so far last year.

Doug Foley - #8 - 155 points

Another racer that is not on the pre-entry list for this week or the next four races (to this writing) is the runnerup from the recent Gatornationals. The Foley & Lewis started the season by appearing at the Phoenix pre-season test session, then competed at the first three races on the 2022 schedule before stopping to apparently regroup. While they stated that they intended to compete as hard as they were capable of until their funding was depleted, they appear to have "pulled the pin" early. It's doubly surprising in light of their solid performance at Gainesville, as they ran solidly in the 3.70's and low 3.80's throughout the event.

With the addition of a top-flight crew chief in Aaron Brooks, a trailer full of new equipment, and a major sponsor (Protec) for the start of the season, the team seemed poised to make a serious challenge to join the Countdown this year. After many years competing on the fringes of NHRA Top Fuel, with most of his racing done on the IHRA circuit, it appeared that 2022 would be the "make or break" year for the team as they stated early in the season. They will most likely drop out of the Top Ten after this weekend's race, and getting back in there will become more difficult with each passing race.

Austin Prock - #9 - 146 points

Doug Kalitta - #10 - 130 points

Tony Schumacher - #11 - 120 points

Shawn Langdon - #12 - 96 points

Antron Brown - #13 - 90 points

Leah Pruett - #14 - 76 points

The only racer below this point that could have an impact on the standings is last year's #6 finisher, Billy Torrence in the second CAPCO Contractors car. While he could almost certainly finish in the Top Ten again, it would require him to run a full season, which, due to business and family committments, just won't happen in 2022. He ran at Gainesville and won a round, and is currently entered for the final race at Houston (the NHRA SpringNationals) and the NHRA Virgina Nationals in Richmond, but that's only three of the first seven races of the season. It remains to be seen if he does add more races to his schedule, but if he doesn't hit the circuit full-time very soon, he won't have a chance to make the Top Ten this year.

Below Torrence, who currently sits #16 in the standings, are only part-time racers, none of whom have the funding to mount a challenge for more than an occasional race.

We'll post our synopsis on the Funny Car class tomorrow.