ATLANTA – Sometimes, even when you lose, you win.
Although his bid to repeat as event champion ended in the semifinals of the 38th annual NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway, Steve Torrence still managed to extend his Top Fuel point lead over Tony Schumacher after the first seven of 18 races leading into the Countdown to the Mello Yello Championship.
Surprised by second year Top Fuel driver Blake Alexander in the semis the 35-year-old Texan still extended his lead over Schumacher by almost 50 points.
When the championship battle resumes in two weeks in Topeka, Kansas, Torrence will send his Capco Contractors dragster into the first qualifying session six rounds ahead of Schuimacher, the eight-time series champion, and seven ahead of Clay Millican, Doug Kalitta and Atlanta winner Leah Pritchett.
“We let that one get away,” Torrence said, “and I hate that but that’s why we hit the gas. You never know what’s going to happen. We started to spin (the tires) and that gave Blake the opening he needed. I just wish he’d have gone ahead and taken out Leah in the final.
“Still, we’re leaving with a bigger lead than we had coming in here and we know we’ve got a bad ass race car for Topeka.”
Trying to win for the third time at Atlanta, Torrence overcame some more qualifying issues to qualify No. 3 behind Clay Millican and Brittany Force. After dispatching journeyman Terry Haddock in round one, the 19-time tour winner got the bet of a second round duel with Kalitta, winning in 3.841 seconds to Kalitta’s 3.862.
It’s the 17th time in 21 races that Torrence has left the track with the Mello Yello point lead but the cancer survivor isn’t yet thinking championship.
“The only time it’s important to be No. 1 in points is after the last race,” he said. “We led most of the way last year, too, but on that last day, we didn’t get it done. That’s a great motivator but it’s a long season. We just need to stay focused.”