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Sat, 16 Nov 2019, 21:22 PM

S. Torrence, Hagan, Coughlin and M. Smith Earn No. 1 Qualifiers Heading into Championship Sunday
Courtesy of NHRA Communications
Photo copyright 2019 NHRA/National Dragster

At Auto Club NHRA Finals

Steve Torrence
POMONA, Calif. - Defending world champ and Top Fuel points leader Steve Torrence made an impressive statement during the final qualifying session on Saturday at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, vaulting to the No. 1 spot at the Auto Club NHRA Finals.

Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are all No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the last of six races in the 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs. The race also serves as the finale of the 24-race 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.

After struggling on Friday, Torrence unleashed an outstanding run to close out qualifying on Saturday, jumping to the top with a run of 3.686-seconds at 329.99 mph in his Capco Contractors dragster. Looking to win his second straight world title, Torrence earned his fifth No. 1 qualifier this year and 24th in his career and will face Cameron Ferre to open eliminations. He takes a 22-point lead over Brittany Force into raceday, and the past two world champs could meet in the second round. Force qualified eighth with a 3.726 at 331.69 and races Antron Brown in the first round. If Torrence and Force both win, they would face off in the second round.

"It's a little bit disturbing how relaxed I've been coming into this weekend," said Torrence, who has nine wins in 2019. "I've been in this situation before and come here with the lead, and it didn't pan out the way we wanted it to. We came here last year and were already the champs, but you just have to step back and look at what we're doing here. It's the final race of the year and you need to go four rounds. Tomorrow, it's going to be sudden death. You've got Brittany and I, and we'll try to keep Doug (Kalitta) from jumping on us, and try to keep my dad from getting there, too."

Leah Pritchett qualified second with a 3.694 at 322.88 and Clay Millican is third after going 3.699 at 328.30. Doug Kalitta, who is 63 points behind Torrence, sits sixth with a 3.717 at 324.28, while Billy Torrence is 89 points back of his son heading into raceday.

Matt Hagan
Hagan continued to impress on Saturday with a pair of solid runs, taking the No. 1 spot on the strength of his 3.872 at 333.58 mph from Friday in his MOPAR Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Widebody. He earned his second No. 1 qualifier this season and 36th in his career, matching up with Jonnie Lindberg in the opening round. Thanks to his performance in qualifying, he'll head into eliminations 44 points back of leader Robert Hight, who qualified fifth with a 3.895 at 330.55.

"We've had a great racecar for a while and now it's really shining," Hagan said. "I'm feeling really good about things and you can't ask for too much more. I'm excited and we're hungry for it. We all live to be in this position to have the opportunity to win world championships, and we're just going to keep doing what we've been doing to get here. I feel no pressure right now, but that's why you race on Sunday. I'm really excited about it and I feel really confident in my guys. They're going to put a great racecar underneath me, and I'm going to drive my butt off and see what happens."

Jack Beckman shot up to the second position on his final run, going 3.876 at 332.43. He'll start Sunday 38 points back of Hight. Tim Wilkerson took the third spot with his 3.876 at 327.43. John Force trails Hight by 76 points going into eliminations.

Jeg Coughlin Jr.
Coughlin's 6.533 at 210.70 in his Chevrolet Camaro from Friday gave him his third No. 1 qualifier in 2019. The five-time champ impressed on Saturday, making the quickest qualifying run of the final qualifying session, getting within 81 points of leader and Elite Motorsports teammate Erica Enders heading into eliminations on Sunday. Coughlin faces off with Joey Grose to open raceday, while Enders, who qualified second for the third straight race with a 6.538 at 210.93, meets No. 15 qualifier Greg Anderson in the first round. Enders is seeking her third world title.

"We're just trying to make good quality runs tomorrow," said Coughlin, who has 32 career No. 1 qualifiers. "Erica's had a good season and a great Countdown. We're working hard to get every point we can and see if we can parlay this into something exceptional, which would be a Pro Stock championship or at least the top two in points. There's a lot of racing left. Pomona is a fun place to be and I like where I'm sitting. Sunday is going to be a fun day."

Jason Line qualified third with a 6.544 at 210.01. He is 110 points behind Enders, while Bo Butner qualified fourth with a 6.557 at 210.83, sitting 111 behind Enders. Should Enders knock off Anderson on Sunday, everyone but Coughlin would be eliminated. From there, Coughlin would need to win the race and Enders would have to lose in the second round to slip past her.

Matt Smith
Defending Pro Stock Motorcycle world champ Smith earned his third straight No. 1 qualifier on his Denso Auto Parts/Stockseth/MSR EBR thanks to his 6.815 at 197.33 from Friday. It's his seventh top spot this year and 38th in his career, and he'll head into eliminations 106 points behind leader Andrew Hines knowing he'll need something incredible to happen to defend his championship.

"I feel good about tomorrow," Smith said. "We were basically low of every round but one and we've been good all weekend long. I'm just going out there to run my race and try to turn on a win light each round. If I get lucky enough and turn four of them on, and Andrew loses in the first round then we become the champion. I'm really just going to go do my job and see what happens."

Karen Stoffer qualified second with a 6.834 at 195.00, and Jerry Savoie, who trails Hines by 116 points, will start from third after going 6.837 at 193.35. Hines can clinch his sixth world championship by simply winning in the first round tomorrow. He'll meet Jianna Salinas to open eliminations after qualifying fourth with a 6.845 at 196.22. Eliminations at the Auto Club NHRA Finals begin at 11:00 a.m. PT on Sunday.

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