NHRA RACING / TOP FUEL DIVISION

Torrence defends Sonoma title

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SONOMA, Calif. – No matter what transpires at this weekend’s 31st annual Toyota Sonoma Nationals, no matter the track conditions, no matter who wins the race or who doesn’t, no matter whether it rains or shines, Kilgore’s Steve Torrence will leave town Monday as the Mello Yello point leader.

Having driven the Capco Contractors Top Fuel dragster to victory in more than a third of the NHRA races contested over the last two seasons (13 of 38) including last year’s Toyota Nationals, Torrence has grown accustomed to life at the top. After all, he’s been No. 1 following 23 of the last 28 NHRA tour events including 13 of 14 this year.

Nevertheless, the odds of the 35-year-old Texan growing complacent, even with a massive 173-point advantage, are astronomical.

“After what happened last year we don’t take anything for granted,” he said, recalling that he was in a similarly dominant position a year ago before fate intervened and snatched the championship from him on the final day of the season.

“In this sport, it doesn’t take long to go from zero to hero or hero to zero,” he said. “Last year we were close enough to taste it and when we didn’t win it, it was a big kick in the gut. But you know, when you get that close, you just want to win it that much more.”

The upshot is that Torrence has been on a mission this year. He’s won five times in the first 14 races (that’s three more victories than anyone else) and when he rolls his 10,000 horsepower hybrid to the starting line for Friday’s first qualifying session he’ll be roughly nine racing rounds ahead of Clay Millican and Leah Pritchett and 10 rounds ahead of eight-time series champion Tony Schumacher.

His plan is to keep the hammer down even though he knows the NHRA will reduce his advantage, however large, to just 20 points to start the Countdown.

“We’re not testing, we’re not preserving parts, we’re not coasting,” said the 21-time Top Fuel winner who is trying to become the first driver to win NHRA championships in both the Alcohol and Fuel divisions. “We go out there every run to try and crush ‘em. That’s what we’ve done all year. No reason to change now.”

See coverage of the event on the NHRA’s new Saturday night show, “Saturday Nitro Live,” tonight beginning at 7 p.m. on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), and then the finals live on Fox Network tomorrow, beginning at 3 p.m.

After Sonoma, Torrence and company go to Seattle for the Cat Spot Northwest Nationals next weekend, then to Brainerd, Minn., on Aug. 19 for the Lucas Oil Nationals.

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