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Pritchett, Hagan, Capps, Beckman and Johnson all begin their champion run

by Patrick Rall on

The six-race playoff known as the NHRA Countdown to the Championship officially begins today and all five of the Don Schumacher Team Mopar drivers are in the hunt – including the four Dodge Charger drivers in the funny car class and Leah Pritchett in the Top Fuel class. This means that all five of the DSR Mopar drivers have a shot at their respective class championship title, but the winner in Funny Car and Top Fuel will have to bring their A Game for these next six races.

Countdown to the Championship

If you are unfamiliar with the format of the NHRA big leagues, known formally as the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, the Top Fuel and Funny Car classes compete in 24 events over the course of the entire season. The last six races are grouped together as the “Countdown to the Championship” and the first 18 races establish which 10 drivers from each class will be part of the six-race shootout to the title.

This playoff setup was established to help prevent one dominant driver from running away with the title early in the season, which is really just a way for the series to keep people interested throughout the season. After the 18th race, the top 10 drivers in each class have their points reset, with the 1st place driver getting 2100 points, with second getting 2090 and the 10-point increments continue to 10th place with 2000 points. The rest of the field starting with 11th are still technically running for points, but with the top 10 getting the bump up to 2000-2100, it is mathematically impossible for the 11th place car to catch the top 10.

The hard truth of this system is that over the past few years, Team Mopar drivers would have run away with the Funny Car championship early in the season, but with the points reset, drivers who were sparsely competitive during the first 18 races have been able to claim the title by winning two of the last six. Hopefully that is true for one of the Team Mopar funny car drivers this year, along with Leah Pritchett in Top Fuel.

Top Fuel Championship Race

While all of the drivers in the Top Fuel class run rail cars with no automaker affiliation, Leah Pritchett is sponsored by Mopar, so she is on our team regardless of the fact that she doesn’t drive something that resembles a modern Dodge product. Pritchett hasn’t had the best year in 2019, winning just one race, but she has routinely been one of the quicker drivers in the class, so it isn’t out of the question for her to put together a strong six-race run to claim the title.

Her biggest roadblock is Steve Torrence, who sits in first after winning 8 of the first 18 races on the season, but with class winners like Billy Torrence and Doug Kalitta in the field, it will be a hard-fought battle to the title.

Funny Car Championship Race

Over in the Funny Car class, Robert Hight and John Force have grabbed the top two spots heading into the championship playoffs, but Don Schumacher Racing Dodge Chargers are in the next four spots.  Tommy Johnson Jr is 3rd, Jack Beckman is 4th, Ron Capps and 5th and Matt Hagan is 6th, so the top six is comprised of the two John Force Racing Camaros and the four Don Schumacher Racing Chargers.

Joining these six are the Ford Mustangs of Bob Tasca III (7th) and Tim Wilkerson (10th) while the Toyota Camrys of JD Todd and Shawn Langdon are 8th and 9th.

Ron Capps is the winningest DSR Dodge Charger driver this year, taking home the Wally three times, while Matt Hagan and Tommy Johnson Jr. both won twice during the first 18 races of the season. Jack Beckman is winless this year, but with a long list of strong finishes that came up just short of the win, he managed to secure the 4th spot in the championship shootout.

The first leg of the 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship begins this weekend in Reading, Pennsylvania with the Mopar Express Lane Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway.

Leaderboard charts courtesy of the NHRA website

Patrick Rall was raised a Mopar boy, spending years racing a Dodge Mirada while working his way through college. After spending a few years post-college in the tax accounting field, Patrick made the jump to the world of journalism and his work has been published in magazines and websites around the world.

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