ST. LOUIS – In drag racing, one can go from zero to hero in less time than it takes the average person to finish reading this sentence. Of course, the reverse also is true, a reality to which reigning Mello Yello Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence readily can attest.

Six weeks ago, after winning eight of nine races in one remarkable stretch, Torrence and his Capco Contractors team were being touted as unbeatable, virtually certain repeat champions in a category once dominated by drivers like “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, Shirley “Cha Cha” Muldowney and “The Sarge,” Tony Schumacher.

The only real question posed by the so-called experts was whether Torrence, who survived cancer and a heart attack to become the first driver to win NHRA series championships in both the Alcohol and Fuel divisions, could do once again what he did a year ago when, against the odds, he swept the six races comprising the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship.

After one playoff race, the answer is “no, no he can’t.” Next question, please.

When the sport’s top teams return to competition this weekend in the AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, a race Torrence has won the last two seasons, the talented Texan will be racing his Capco dragster from an unfamiliar position.

For the first time in the last 14 playoff races, he won’t start an event either first or second in points. Is that cause for concern? Apparently, that depends upon one’s perspective.

Torrence, crew chiefs Richard Hogan and Bobby Lagana Jr. and all those who have been on board with the Capco crew since it first began winning races in 2012, categorized a first round loss two weeks ago in the Countdown opener at Reading, Pa., as an unexpected speed bump that makes the path to their goal a bit more challenging.

For those newly aboard the bandwagon, though, it apparently has been perceived as a complete disaster.

“It’s one race,” Torrence said. “Did we plan to go out in the first round? No. You never plan to do that. To be honest, we got behind in qualifying and we never caught up. We qualified eighth and instead of getting a reasonable first round (opponent), we got the ‘Hillbilly’ (Clay Millican) and he took us out.

“I don’t know why anyone would think this was going to be easy for us or anyone,” Torrence said. “There are bad asses top to bottom in this class. Terry McMillen didn’t even make the playoffs and he could win any of these races.

“All we can do is what we can do,” he said. “This week we’ve got St. Louis, after that Charlotte and Dallas and then Vegas and Pomona. There’s no going back; you just gotta move ahead.”

See the AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals finals coverage live on Sunday, beginning at 1 p.m. on Fox Sports 1 (FS1).

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