BRAINERD, Minn. – For the first time in 12 races and for just the fourth time all season long, there wasn’t a Capco Contractors Top Fuel dragster in the final round of an NHRA national event Sunday when Leah Pritchett won the 38th annual Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway.
Reigning series champion and runaway point leader Steve Torrence dropped a narrow second round decision to Doug Kalitta and dad Billy’s first foul start as a pro ended his bid in the same round, placing in peril his eleventh hour bid for a berth in the Countdown to the Mello Yello Championship.
When racing begins Labor Day weekend in the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Ind., Billy Torrence will trail Terry McMillen by 41 points in the battle for the 10th and final starting spot.
To make the playoffs, the elder Torrence would need to go two rounds further than McMillen and 11th place Scottt Palmer to qualify for the six-race Countdown.
As for the younger Torrence, he already has clinched a record-setting third straight regular season championship and will be the No. 1 seed regardless of what transpires at the U.S. Nationals. After qualifying second for Sunday’s race, he breezed past Cameron Ferre in round one
Sunday, though, he couldn’t get past veteran Doug Kalitta despite a stellar 3.757 second effort at 322.19 miles per hour.
Kalitta, who had qualified only seventh, put up his best numbers of the weekend at 3.733 seconds at a speed of 331.28 mph, second fastest of the entire weekend to even his career record with Torrence at 16-16.
He leads Kalitta by more than 600 points after winning eight of the season’s first 17 races including five in succession.
Torrence has won 14 times in his last 23 starts and has won eight races or more in each of the last three seasons.
The last time one of the Torrence Racing dragsters failed to reach the finals was April 14 when Steve was ousted in the semifinals of the NHRA Spring Nationals at Houston Raceway Park by Antron Brown.
Billy Torrence, the founder and CEO of Capco Contractors, a Texas-based oil-and-gas pipeline construction and maintenance business, had been trying to repeat as Top Fuel champion at Brainerd where he earned his first pro win one year ago.
Instead, he had to settle for the quickest run of the event at 3.685 seconds in beating Brown in Sunday’s first round.