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Nitro Shots: Countdown Critical

With the Western Swing of the NHRA schedule in the books, just two races remain before the start of the Countdown to the championship. Some of the top contenders have already locked in a spot, but, of course, some are still fighting for their place.

Adding more intrigue to that fight is the fact that the U.S. Nationals, the final race before the Countdown cut, carries more points than a regular event, paying 150 to win instead of the usual 100, and then on down through the points, paying 1.5 times the normal amount. This bonus could allow for a lot of movement among those drivers trying to secure the last few spots.

This is also a bad time for a team to have to suffer an oildown points penalty. Scott Palmer has already found himself outside the top ten once this year because of penalties. Here’s a class-by-class look at how the Mello Yello Series drivers and riders are doing heading into that final two race rush for a spot.

In Top Fuel, Steve Torrence, Tony Schumacher, Clay Millican, Leah Pritchett and Doug Kalitta are all locked in. Antron Brown has not yet locked himself in, but looks good for a spot. Terry McMillen, Brittany Force, Richie Crampton and Scott Palmer are currently in the top 10, but with just 110 points separating them, their positions are in no way secure.

Just outside the top 10, Mike Salinas, trailing Palmer by just 50, and Blake Alexander, 127 behind Palmer, have not been eliminated.

In Funny Car, Courtney Force, Ron Capps, Robert Hight and Matt Hagan are your lock-ins. Jack Beckman, J.R. Todd, Tommy Johnson Jr and John Force all look good for a spot too. Shawn Langdon and Bob Tasca III are both in the top 10, but Langdon only holds a points margin of 45 over Tasca. Neither driver is guaranteed to be out of reach of Tim Wilkerson, who sits just three behind Tasca, and Cruz Pedregon, just 50 behind the cutoff.

Moving on to Pro Stock, your locked-in drivers are Greg Anderson, Tanner Gray, Erica Enders, Vincent Nobile and Jeg Coughlin Jr The back half of the top 10, made up of Chris McGaha, Deric Kramer, Drew Skillman, Jason Line and Bo Butner, are not locked in. With a separation among themselves of just 44 markers, those five have not necessarily settled the question of position either, but it’s not likely anyone from outside the top 10 will overtake them.

The first driver outside of the top ten is Alex Laughlin, who trails 10th place Butner by 214 points. While the rankings may still be subject to change, you’re probably looking at your 10 Pro Stock Countdown contenders already.

For Pro Stock Motorcycle, it is both the halfway point, with eight of 16 in the books, and crunch time, with just two events until the Countdown. Locked in already are Andrew Hines, Eddie Krawiec, LE Tonglet, Hector Arana Jr and Jerry Savoie. Matt Smith and Scotty Pollacheck are not looked in, but look pretty good where they sit, with Pollacheck still 129 points ahead of the 10th place rider.

Angie Smith, Hector Arana and Angelle Sampey are the bubble riders in seventh through 10th, separated by just 16 markers themselves, and with a pack breathing down their necks. Jimmy Underdahl, Steve Johnson and Cory Reed are all within 20 points of Sampey. Joey Gladstone isn’t much further back, trailing Sampey by just 36.

Really, it’s not the drivers and riders at the top of the standings that are the story this time of year, but those at the bottom of the top 10. That’s where all the excitement and intrigue is going to be for the next two events.

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About Toni Montgomery

Toni Montgomery
A writer for Frontstretch since 2002, and editor since 2006, Toni heads up the NHRA coverage for the site. She’s responsible for post-race coverage in the weekly Pace Laps multi-series round-up along with the weekly Nitro Shots column featuring news and features from the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. An award-winning former writer for the Presbyterian Church, Toni works in web design and freelances with writing in North Carolina.

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