October 23, 2018 —
On the cusp of winning his first NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championship, Steve Torrence is keeping the status quo. It has worked perfectly through the first four races of the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship and the Top Fuel points leader is continuing to rely on that mindset heading to this weekend’s 18th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
It marks the penultimate race of the 2018 NHRA season and Torrence is firmly in command in his 10,000-horsepower Capco Contractors/Torrence Motorsports dragster, currently holding a 169-point lead over Clay Millican. Torrence has won the first four races of the Countdown to the Championship – the first time in NHRA history that has happened in Top Fuel or Funny Car – and he can close out his first world title this weekend in Las Vegas.
“To be honest, we don’t change anything,” Torrence said. “We just keep going. We just need to stay focused on the task at hand, try to qualify well and go some rounds. That’s what has worked well for us and you’ve got to keep your eye on the prize. We’ve gotten to where we’re at staying extremely focused, taking it one race, one round at a time. I think that’s the only way you can do things. We’ve learned to stay focused on the task and not let anything deviate you.”
Terry McMillen (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1 (FS1), including final eliminations coverage starting at 7:30 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Oct. 28. It is the fifth of sixth races in the Countdown to the Championship and the 23rd of 24 races in a 2018 season where Torrence has been even more dominant than a year ago.
He won eight races in 2017, finishing second in points, but Torrence has been even more impressive in 2018, winning nine races and staying perfect in final rounds this year. Four of them have come in the playoffs as his team, led by crew chief Richard Hogan, has found another level. With the maximum number of points achievable at the season-finale in Pomona being 191 points, one more strong showing in Vegas could mean an early celebration for Torrence.
“It’s remarkable to sit back and just watch,” Torrence said of his team. “What they’re able to do time and time again, it’s impressive. The guys are just tough. They work hard to keep this thing going, and it’s a passion and what they love to do. Everybody sets out and wants to be a winner and champion, but it’s difficult to get there and it takes a team to get there. It takes a lot of determination and these guys put in the work. If they get knocked down, they just stand back up.”
Torrence believes he’s become a more mature driver and able to handle stressful situations better than in the past, and that’s been obvious during this incredible run in the Countdown to the Championship. But he’s also only focusing on the immediate task at hand and that’s racing well in Vegas. If he does his job there, a championship will be imminent, but Torrence is confidently headed to The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with no stress and free of distractions.
“It helps that I’ve been in the situation before,” said Torrence, who has 25 career Top Fuel wins. “We still have to do the same thing at the last race as the first race. Your job doesn’t change. If you look at it that way, it makes it easier. But you need to enjoy the moment. I’m having so much fun. At the end of the day, I’m driving a Top Fuel dragster and racing for a championship. We’re going to stick to our guns, race hard in Vegas and I would love to put it to sleep there.”
Defending Funny Car world champion Robert Hight will look to get closer to a second consecutive world championship in Vegas, currently holding a slim 11-point lead on J.R. Todd.
In Pro Stock, second-year star Tanner Gray has posted seven victories in 2018, as he looks to claim his first world title. He leads Jeg Coughlin Jr. by 130 points heading to the final two races.
Matt Smith has two playoff wins in Pro Stock Motorcycle and the points lead, as he holds a 41-point lead on LE Tonglet and 56-point advantage on defending world champ Eddie Krawiec.