In what has been a year of interesting battles, the NHRA Funny Car class championship comes down to the wire this weekend at Pomona. The action begins Friday afternoon with the first round of qualifying.
Currently, there are five drivers that have a mathematical chance to win or steal the championship but all will have to go their way to win the 2021 title amid numerous scenarios that could play out. Realistically, however, there are three drivers that have a better shot at winning. But let’s start off with the basics. The five drivers that are hunting for the championship are John Force who is fifth in points, J.R. Todd in fourth, Cruz Pedregon who is currently third in points, last-year’s champion Matt Hagan in second and the point leader, Ron Capps.
Items of note – There are 187 maximum points available for Pomona II. Fifteen points are awarded for a qualifying attempt and 22 maximum points are available to earn in qualifying. A round win will be worth 30 points instead of the traditional 20. Four points are awarded for the low ET of each session as well.
John Force (Fifth in points, -155, seeking 17th Funny Car Championship)
The 2021 Funny Car season has been interesting for the all-time great John Force. He’s picked up three wins that have occurred at the Four-wide Charlotte Nationals, Epping, and his last win that came in August in Topeka. With the win in Topeka, Force was able to grab the points lead and it appeared as though he was starting his run toward a 17th Funny Car championship based on his summer success.
Unfortunately, since Topeka, he’s been hot and cold. Force lost the points lead following Topeka where he fell to fourth in Brainerd after a first-round loss to Ron Capps. The California native retook the points lead with a runner-up finish to Tommy Johnson Jr. (subbing in for Matt Hagan) at Reading. But after Reading, Force has been struggling and losing momentum, falling to fifth in the standings following the most recent race at Las Vegas. He’s had a quarterfinal loss to Tim Wilkerson at Charlotte 2, a semi-final loss at St. Louis to Bob Tasca, and a quarterfinals loss to Cruz Pedregon at Dallas and J.R. Todd at Bristol while falling to Chris Morel at Vegas.
However, despite losing momentum, Force is going to a track where he leads the Funny Car class with the most at-track victories with seven and he knows the championship can come down to the wire should things go his way.
“I’m still in it,” Force said. “It could still happen. I know it’s a slight chance, but it’s still a chance and we’re going to do everything we can to try to make it happen. Winning championships, it comes down to the wire, things can get wild. I would know. It’s going to be a fight, but I know this PEAK Chevy team, they’re up for it. Danny Hood, Tim Fabrisi, Joe Barlam and all my guys, they want it just as much as I do.”
J.R. Todd (Fourth in the standings, -138, seeking second Funny Car Championship since 2018)
J.R. Todd has been in this position before, after all, he won the 2018 Funny Car title. When Todd began the 2021 season, he opened with a win at the famous Gatornationals and had the points lead right away. Since that victory, he’s earned four runner-up finishes at Charlotte I, Pomona I, Topeka, and Bristol. Those runner-up finishes along with more consistent finishes throughout the year kept Todd in the upper half of the championship point standings, despite a couple of slip-ups along the way.
Todd has fallen as low as sixth after losing to Robert Hight in a quarterfinal finish at Sonoma and the runner-up finish at the first Pomona race to current points leader Ron Capps. Todd began climbing up the ladder once more at Brainerd going to second in the standings falling to Cruz Pedregon. Following Brainerd, Todd fell back to fifth in the standings after losing to Matt Hagan in the quarterfinals at St. Louis and the semi-final finish at Dallas once more to Hagan. After the Las Vegas II race, Todd sits fourth in the standings due to the first-round loss at Vegas to Paul Lee.
“We hurt ourselves in Las Vegas, but we can still finish strong in Pomona,” said Todd. “This championship has been a battle between four or five drivers all season it seems. No one has really dominated. I am proud of everyone on this DHL Toyota Funny Car team because we fought hard all season and it is coming down to the last race.”
In addition, Todd knows he can’t suffer another first-round loss this weekend or his championship chances are over.
“Everyone knows you have to avoid first-round losses in the Countdown, and we have avoided them almost the whole season,” said Todd. “This DHL Toyota has been one of the most consistent and quick race cars all season. I have to thank Todd Smith and Jon Oberhofer plus all these Yella Fellas for giving me a great race car every event. We are going to leave it all on the table in Pomona this weekend.”
Cruz Pedregon (Third in the standings, -83, looking for third Funny Car Championship and first since 2008)
Pedregon, the California native, has enjoyed one of his best Funny Car seasons in quite some time.
The 2021 Funny Car season has been quite the bounce back for Cruz Pedregon and his Snap-On machine. Pedregon earned two wins at Norwalk and the most recent race at Las Vegas II by defeating Ron Capps to put him back in championship contention. Throughout the year, the California native has garnered six semi-final appearances and two runner-up finishes at Charlotte II and at Brainerd to Matt Hagan.
Despite those consistent finishes, Pedregon spent most of the summer in the bottom of the standings. Even though he lost in the quarterfinals to J.R. Todd at Reading, Pedregon began climbing up the standings to fifth after Charlotte II, fourth following St. Louis and the up to third at Dallas after a loss to Capps in the semis. He lost again to Capps at Bristol, which knocked Pedregon back down to fourth but gained another spot and some big momentum by winning against Capps a few weeks ago at Vegas.
“The good people, the good team, have kept us alive this season…J.C. (John Collins), Rip (Reynolds) and the guys, they mean a lot to me. We made a big investment to bring them on board and it has been a game-changer,” Cruz says. “Things have really come together for us this year. We had an advantage going into Vegas with consistent runs the last half of the season. And a .004 reaction time helped us get to the finals, win, and head into this weekend in a solid third place in the standings.”
Matt Hagan (Second in the standings, -58, poised for fourth Funny Car Championship)
Matt Hagan is looking to defend his 2020 Funny Car championship this weekend in Pomona, California. The last couple of months has been newsworthy for Hagan, as he will be switching to Tony Stewart Racing in 2022.
Hagan opened up the year with a first-round loss to Bob Tasca at Gainesville, but since then picked up momentum in the summer. He’s claimed victories at Denver, St. Louis, and Brainerd along with earning three runner-up finishes and three No. 1 qualifiers. With those wins, Hagan was second in the standings following a runner-up finish at Sonoma to Robert Hight. Unfortunately, after the runner-up finish at Sonoma, Hagan suffered first-round losses to John Force at Pomona I, and a quarterfinal loss to Blake Alexander at Topeka. This saw the Don Schumacher Racing driver fall to fifth in the standings but he got back to first with the win at Brainerd.
But, Hagan had to sit out at two races at Indianapolis and Reading, due to testing positive for COVID-19. Fortunately, former DSR driver Tommy Johnson Jr. filled in for him at those two races and helped earn him points. Johnson even got the win at Reading, which gave points to Hagan to keep him in title contention.
Since then, Hagan won at St. Louis by defeating Bob Tasca in the finals and earned a runner-up finish to Capps at Dallas. Around this time, Hagan and Capps were tied in the standings. But, with the most recent losses at Bristol to J.R. Todd and Vegas II to Chad Green, Hagan now finds himself 58 points behind his teammate, Capps.
“We’re heading into Pomona fighting for a championship and I’ve been on both sides of this battle,” says Hagan, who has raced for the Funny Car crown as either leader or challenger heading into the season finale on seven occasions and won three (2011, 2014 and 2020). “My first championship, I just had to show up and go two rounds to be crowned a champion, similar to what Ron has to do. Last year, we were going into the last race two rounds ahead and this year, we’re going in two rounds behind, so, it’s nothing new for us, but I think we have to be super aggressive rolling into qualifying and get some valuable points. The game plan is just really run hard, run smart and be aggressive. We’ve got nothing to lose. This is Ron’s to lose honestly, and ours to win.”
With that in mind, Hagan knows those two first-round losses have hurt his points going into the final race of the year.
“We’ve had two bad races in a row in the Countdown and that’s been a big hit,” says Hagan, who is on track to score his 11th Top 10 finish. “It’s unfortunate but we’ve just got to bounce back. I’m very aggressive about it. Dickie is going to be aggressive. I’m going in there full steam ahead. I’m pumped up. I’m ready to go and fired up about it. I want to go race and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Ron Capps (First in the standings, +58 ahead of teammate Hagan, seeking first championship since 2016)
Last, but not least, Ron Capps is looking to capitalize on a solid season after earning two wins at Pomona I and Dallas and having three runner-up finishes and six semi-final appearances. The NAPA Auto Parts/Gearwrench driver has also gained four No. 1 qualifiers to his credit.
Capps has notably been the most consistent driver ever since winning the Pomona race earlier this year. He’s remained first or second in the standings all season long, only falling to fifth at Brainerd due to a quarterfinal loss to Pedregon. However, Capps has traded the points lead back and forth after Charlotte II with a semi-final loss to Tim Wilkerson and a quarterfinal loss to Force at St. Louis. Things began to look upward and forward for the 2016 Funny Car champion with a win at Dallas by eliminating Matt Hagan.
“It’s been so fun getting to know this new NAPA AUTO PARTS team. We were teamed up over the off-season and it’s been such a great year,” said Capps, referring to the decision to pair him with the longtime DSR co-crew chief tandem of Antonelli and Medlen and their crew after former NAPA crew chief Rahn Tobler announced his retirement in late January.”
“We’ve qualified well throughout the year, and have been consistently strong all season and now here we are, running for a championship. ‘Guido’ and Medlen, and our NAPA AutoCare team, we came together quickly like a duck to water at the beginning of the season, and it just felt like a natural fit. They’ve gotten to know me, and our last race in Vegas was a perfect example of how well we all work together, because, as much pressure as there was on race day, especially with all of the other top Countdown cars going out early, they really knew how to loosen me up and keep me in the right frame of mind. They’ve certainly helped me and my driving throughout the year. The big key for us this weekend is just to continue what we’ve been doing.”
The action begins Friday afternoon with the first round of qualifying at 3 p.m. PT live on NHRA TV (with a subscription). The final two rounds are scheduled for Saturday at 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. PT to set the field. Final round eliminations began at 10 a.m. PT. Fox Sports 1 will showcase the finals beginning at 4 p.m. ET.