INDIANAPOLIS – Just nine points separate Scott Palmer, Mike Salinas and Richie Crampton, three standout Top Fuel drivers competing for what could possibly be the final two spots in the upcoming NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.
With the final regular-season spots to be determined at this weekend’s prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, it adds one more thrilling layer to the world’s biggest drag race.
The top 10 advance to NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series’ six-race playoffs and Palmer sits ninth in his 10,000-horsepower CatSpot/Tommy Thompson Motorsports dragster, just seven points in front of Salinas, who holds a slim two-point lead over 2014 Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals winner Richie Crampton. Palmer is after his second straight playoff berth, hoping to add to a strong regular season that has already included his first career final round appearance.
“Our sponsor is Tommy Thompson and his No. 1 instruction to us is to always have fun,” Palmer said. “That’s what we’re going to do at Indy and we believe that mindset will help us run at our best. If we do the best we can, we will make it into the playoffs. The difference between this season and years past is that we’re a good team now that no one takes lightly. When people race us they know we are going to put up a number and that they’re gonna have to run strong to beat us.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), J.R. Todd (Funny Car), Drew Skillman (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the U.S. Nationals. It is the 18th of 24 races during the season and racing on drag racing’s grandest stage could bring out the best in Salinas.
It will be his first time racing at the Big Go, but Salinas has built up strong momentum in his Scrappers Racing dragster. Competing in his first full season, Salinas advanced to his first career final round in Bristol and has posted back-to-back semifinal appearances heading into Indy. But Salinas also insists he feels no pressure heading into the biggest race of the year.
“Actually, it’s pretty awesome to be honest,” Salinas said. “This is what we’re here for and I love it. I love the pressure of racing the best guys in the world. But we’re going there to win, not just to get some points. That’s our mindset for every race and this is a big one for us. We’re happy to be in the position where we have a chance to do this and we need to capitalize on it. We’ve got a very competitive racecar and we’re excited. Bring it on, let’s go.”
With the points-and-a-half system in play (150 points to the winner) at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, it sets the stage for a number of dramatic possibilities. The trio of Palmer, Salinas and Crampton could all finish in the top 10 should they all have big weekends and Terry McMillen and Brittany Force struggle.
McMillen leads Palmer by 90 points, while Force has an 86-point advantage over Palmer. Crampton, meanwhile, posted an early-season win in Gainesville and has made three Countdown appearances in his young career. Getting a fourth in his Craftsman dragster will require Crampton coming up big, much like he did in 2014 at Indy.
“For me, it’s the first time coming into Indy not really securely in the top 10, so you’re definitely aware of the situation,” Crampton said. “But that being said, as a driver, I’m just going to come here and do my job and let the points take care of themselves. There’s enough pressure as it is and I definitely want to secure a spot in the Countdown. We’ll do our thing and I’m confident that my Craftsman/Toyota team, led by Connie (Kalitta) and Rob Flynn, will be good.”