Story By: NHRA – READING, PA – The NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship playoffs are back and so is a trip to Maple Grove Raceway for the 36th annual Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil on Sept. 10-12.
It is the first of seven playoff races during the 2021 season and the action will be intense with championships on the line. The NHRA didn’t race at Maple Grove Raceway or conduct the Countdown to the Championships a year ago due to the pandemic, but the playoffs and a race weekend returning to one of the fastest tracks on the NHRA circuit will make the kickoff event to crown champions a memorable one.
All the stars in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle will look to start the playoffs in impressive fashion, with the beautiful hills of the beautiful Pennsylvania countryside provide a picturesque backdrop for the 11,000-horsepower nitro-burning machines to put on a show. Maple Grove Raceway has always been a fan favorite facility, while race teams have enjoyed the incredible performance numbers capable on the track. Combined, it makes for a thrilling weekend and the event will be televised on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including final eliminations on Sunday, Sept. 12 at 2 p.m. (ET).
Steve Torrence remains the man to beat in Top Fuel, as the three-time defending world champ has maintained his dominant winning ways in the class. He currently has seven wins this season and is a resounding favorite heading into the Countdown to the Championship. Torrence won the race at Maple Grove Raceway in 2018, the year he won every playoff race, but there’s plenty of worthwhile challengers, including former world champ Brittany Force, who won in Topeka, three-time world champ Antron Brown, Leah Pruett, Justin Ashley, Clay Millican, veteran Doug Kalitta, Mike Salinas and Shawn Langdon.
It’s been a tight battle in Funny Car all season and the points leader has changed four times in the past four races. Bob Tasca III, Ron Capps, John Force, who has seven victories at Maple Grove Raceway, and defending world champ Matt Hagan have all held the points lead in that time, with Hagan jumping to the top spot after his victory in Brainerd. But the field is as close as ever in the class and the competition will be fierce throughout the Countdown to the Championship. Getting off to a quick start will be key, as other contenders like J.R. Todd, a former world champ, Cruz Pedregon, Alexis DeJoria, Robert Hight and Tim Wilkerson all have championship aspirations as well.
In Pro Stock, Greg Anderson is on the hunt for a fifth world championship and the veteran has been the points leader for the entire regular season. He’s been incredible in qualifying, taking the No. 1 spot eight times and has racked up two wins and five final round appearances. But it’s been 15 years since Anderson last won at Maple Grove Raceway, something he would like to change as the playoff begins. Standing in his way are the likes of defending world champ Erica Enders, who is gunning for her fifth world title and third in a row, rookie Dallas Glenn, Aaron Stanfield, Matt Hartford, Troy Coughlin Jr. and Kyle Koretsky.
Matt Smith has dominated the Pro Stock Motorcycle regular season, holding the points lead for all but one race in 2021. The defending world champ has put together four wins in six final round appearances this year and will look to start the playoffs in impressive fashion. He’s won twice at Maple Grove Raceway, but he’ll have to deal with a loaded field that includes Steve Johnson, Scotty Pollacheck, 2019 world champ Andrew Hines, three-time world champ Angelle Sampey, Sonoma winner Karen Stoffer, Eddie Krawiec, Angie Smith, Ryan Oehler and Joey Gladstone.
The event also features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport, as well as riders in the Top Fuel Harley Drag Racing Series.
As always, fans are granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity gives fans a chance to see teams in action and service their hot rods between rounds.
NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature one round at 4:45 p.m. ET on Friday, Sept. 10 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Sept. 11 at 12:15 and 3:45 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. ET on Sunday, Sept. 12.