13-Point Margin Entering 30th Lucas Oil Nationals

August 16, 2017 -- Drag racing’s Salt-and-Pepper Showdown moves this week to Brainerd International Raceway where off-track friends Steve Torrence (aka “Salt”) and Antron Brown (aka “Pepper”) resume their on-track battle for Top Fuel supremacy in the 36th annual Lucas Oil Nationals.

When qualifying begins Friday, Torrence, winner of more races this season than any other Top Fuel driver, will trail his bud, a finalist this season in nine of 16 starts, by 13 tiny Mello Yello points, a margin so small that it could evaporate before the start of Sunday eliminations.

At stake is the No. 1 starting position in the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship and an accompanying 30-point advantage over a field that won’t be set until after the Labor Day U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Ind.

The importance of starting No. 1, particularly in the Top Fuel category, is lost on neither driver.  Of the 10 champions crowned in the Countdown Era, six have started the playoffs from No. 1 and no champion has started from further back than No. 4.

“It’s huge,” Torrence said of a playoff starting position.  “You can go from hero to zero and zero to hero pretty quickly in those last six races.  The further back you start, it’s just that much harder to make up the difference when you’re trying to catch Antron, Leah (Pritchett), Tony (Schumacher), Doug (Kalitta) or anybody else for that matter.”

Not that the 34-year-old Texan wouldn’t be happy for Brown if he was to once again claim the No. 1 spot, as he did en route to two of his three championships (2012 and 2016).

“I always want to see him do well,” Torrence said, “and he always wants to see me do well.  We support each other on and off the track.”

There is one exception, of course.  All bets are off when the two line up against one another in what has become one of the most intense rivalries on the tour.  This season, they’ve opposed each other in four final rounds with Torrence getting his Capco Contractors entry to the finish line first in each of the last three, the most recent three weeks ago in Sonoma, Calif.

Of course, it wasn’t always so.  Entering the current campaign, Torrence had beaten Brown exactly one time in 23 head-to-head meetings and was 0-for-six in final rounds. 

“Lopsided doesn’t really describe it,” Torrence laughed after finally breaking through earlier this year in the final round at Englishtown, N.J., Brown’s home state.  “It’s still pretty one-sided, but we’re working on it.”


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