The 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Funny Car championship is going to come down to the outcome of the final two events of the season. Dodge//SRT Mopar drivers Matt Hagan, Jack Beckman and Ron Capps, all former Funny Car world champions, can enhance their chances of lifting the championship hardware again by hitting the jackpot in the Dodge NHRA Nationals Powered by Pennzoil at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend, November 1st to the 3rd.
The Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) trio ranks fourth, second and sixth, respectively, in the standings and each has a previous championship run in the past six seasons. A victory in the Dodge NHRA Nationals bodes well from a historical perspective also, with two of the previous three Funny Car champions clocking wins at the fall stop in Las Vegas. The success of the HEMI®-powered Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Cars in 2019, nine wins and 18 total final appearances, as well as in the Countdown, two wins, and a runner-up, enhances their odds of tightening the points chase.
DSR’s Leah Pritchett remains alive in her quest for her first Top Fuel world championship. She ranks fifth in the standings and is 104 points out of first. A first Las Vegas triumph, along with early exits by the point leaders, would likely cut that margin in half and increase her shot at the title.
Closing the points gap in Las Vegas is important for the Dodge//SRT Mopar drivers. The final race of the 2019 NHRA season, the Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona, California, on November 14th to the 17th, pays 1.5 times the points of the other races in the Countdown.
The Countdown started slow for two-time Funny Car champion Hagan, with second- and first-round defeats in Reading and St. Louis. Crew Chief Dickie Venables got things turned around on the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Widebody Funny Car in Charlotte as Hagan made a run to the semifinals, then picked up his third win of 2019 in the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex in the most recent event. His 32nd career Funny Car triumph was the result of consistency on race day as Hagan posted runs in the 3.90-second range throughout the day to score the first-ever victory in a Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Widebody Funny Car.
Winning in the Countdown has been a key to securing the championship. In five of the previous six Countdowns, the champion has won at least one race. In four of those years, the eventual champion picked up three or more wins. Hagan won three times during his title march in 2014, and he may have to duplicate that run in order to erase the 112-point deficit he currently faces.
Beckman, the 2012 Funny Car champion, opened the Countdown with an impressive victory at the Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pennsylvania. The Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car was locked down en route to his 29th career triumph and first of the season after reaching five previous finals. After a tough first-round loss in St. Louis, Beckman and his DSR team bounced back in Charlotte earning the No. 1 qualifier position and advancing the final.
Through four races in the 2019 Countdown, Beckman has matched the final-round stats recorded during his 2012 championship campaign. Scoring another win and a runner-up would greatly increase his chances as he trails Robert Hight by 60 points heading into Las Vegas.
Capps, the 2016 champion, opened his quest for a second title with a new track record and the No. 1 qualifier in Reading. He advanced to the semifinals in the first race and then again in Charlotte, but he lost a tough first-round battle with Beckman in Dallas, which has him 135 points out of first. The best-case scenario for Capps is to continue this year’s Countdown trend and become the fifth different winner in five races and also have the drivers in front of him stumble.
Despite being 194 points out of first, Tommy Johnson, Jr. doesn’t mind his longshot odds. After having the best regular season of his career that included a pair of wins behind the wheel of the Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car, the Countdown has been a struggle. He has scored only two round wins in the first four events, but going his way is his recent late-season heroics. Coming on strong late seems to be part of his DNA as evidenced by concluding 2015 with a pair of runner-ups and winning the 2016 and 2017 season finales.
Fox Sports 1 (FS1) will air coverage of qualifying Friday evening from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. EST. The network will broadcast coverage of eliminations Sunday from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m EST.
2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Championship: After 22 of 24 Rounds
(Season Wins in Parentheses)
NHRA Funny Car Points Standings:
1. Robert Hight (6) –2,437
2. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat (1) – 2,367
3. John Force (2) – 2,363
4. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Widebody (3) – 2,325
5. Bob Tasca III (2) – 2,315
6. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat (3) – 2,302
7. J.R. Todd (1) – 2,274
8. Tommy Johnson, Jr. Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat (2) – 2,243
9. Shawn Langdon (2) – 2,239
10. Tim Wilkerson – 2,188
NHRA Top Fuel Points Standings:
1. Steve Torrence (9) – 2,394
2. Doug Kalitta (2) – 2,361
3. Brittany Force (1) – 2,348
4. Billy Torrence (1) –2,323
5. Leah Pritchett, Pennzoil Mopar (1) – 2,290
6. Austin Prock (1) – 2,278
7. Mike Salinas (2) – 2,266
8. Antron Brown – 2,247
9. Richie Crampton (2) – 2,228
10. Clay Millican – 2,210