The next-to-last race on the 2013 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule is the NHRA Toyota Nationals, taking place Thursday through Sunday, October 24th through 27th at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The fifth race of the six-race Countdown to the Championship promises to be a tough battle for drivers in all four NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series categories. Last year’s winners were Bob Vandergriff Jr. (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle); all four drivers are currently in the top 10 in points in their respective categories.
The tightest race in the Countdown is in Pro Stock, where the top six drivers are within 120 points of each other: Jeg Coughlin Jr. leads Mike Edwards, Jason Line, Allen Johnson, Erica Enders-Stevens and Shane Gray.
"There's little question in my mind that the championship will come down to the last day of the year in Pomona," said Coughlin Jr. "That seems to be the way they script it every season and certainly that makes it exciting for all of us, fans and racers alike. Having said that, we can arrive in Pomona with some level of comfort if we can take care of business this weekend in Las Vegas. We need to be perfect. The guys need to check and double check every component on the racecar before each and every run we make. At the same time, my driving needs to be spot on. We need to be clicking on all cylinders to achieve our goal of winning another title."
PSM leader Matt Smith has a 125-point lead on Hector Arana Jr., who sits just two points ahead of Michael Ray and four points ahead of his father, 2009 PSM champ Hector.
"The only way we're going to win the championship is by winning rounds," said the Arana family patriarch. "We can't think about the championship. We've got to forget about it and just do our jobs and see what happens. Sometimes you need a little luck on your side in order to make everything happen, and we haven't had any luck. But we're going to stay focused and go run by run. We'll see what happens. We could definitely use some luck in Vegas."
In Top Fuel, the top three drivers – leader Shawn Langdon, second-place Doug Kalitta and third-place Spencer Massey – are separated by 86 points, with each driver looking for his first NHRA Top Fuel title. Massey finished second in 2011 and third in 2012, and looks to improve on those numbers in 2013.
"We're still racing for the championship," said Massey. "We're just over four rounds out of the lead and there are eight rounds left. We need a little bit of luck on our side and for some things to go our way. But if we can't get the championship we'd still like to end the season with a couple more Wallys. I'm excited. I feel good about our chances. Vegas is usually a good track for us. We have a couple of wins there, a runner-up at this race last year. That's all we need to do is just go rounds and turn on win lights and everything will play out the way it's going to. We just need to do our part."
John Force leads Matt Hagan by 65 points in Funny Car, with 2012 champ Jack Beckman (126 points back) and 2009 champ Robert Hight (134 points back) still within striking distance. Beckman, who is winless so far this season, knows the only way to defend his title is to win in the final two races.
"Force has found some magic and made us all look silly the last couple events," said Beckman of Force’s two-race winning streak. "We're in a position that if we are going to win the championship we have to win the next two races and John would have to do terrible at the next two, and with Nitro Funny Cars anything and everything is possible. Things like that happen. If we win the next two races and qualify better than John and John doesn't win more than two rounds over the last two races then we could pass him. It's doable, but there is a very slim chance because he would have to stumble significantly. We're in a unique position because we really don't care about the points, we really just want a trophy. We just want to win a race or two."
Qualifying for the NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway begins Friday, October 25th at 1:15 and 3:45 p.m. PT, continuing Saturday, October 26th at 12:15 and 2:45 p.m. PT; final eliminations take place at 11 a.m. PT on Sunday, October 27th. Keep up with the action at www.nhra.com.
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