EPPING, N.H. – Steve Torrence continued to set records Sunday, driving his Capco Contractors Top Fuel dragster into the final round for the eighth straight event, repeating as champion at the NHRA New England Nationals and becoming the first driver, regardless of category, to secure a starting spot in the 2019 playoffs.

In winning for the seventh time this season and for the 26th time in the last 56 tour events, the 36-year-old Kilgore native extended his advantage over second place Doug Kalitta to 477 points with just five races remaining before the points are adjusted for the Countdown to the Mello Yello Championship.

“I want to give all the glory to God and these Capco boys,” said a beaming Torrence. “We had some struggles in qualifying (leading to a No. 9 start, his poorest since he was 14th last February at Phoenix) but (crew chief) Richard Hogan and Bobby Lagana and the boys got it figured out in time to go racing.”

In fact, after a best run of only 4.170 seconds in qualifying, which shut him out of qualifying bonus points for just the second time this year, Torrence was quickest in every round Sunday and his 3.756 in a first round conquest of rookie Austin Prock stood as the quickest of the entire event.

“That’s a great team,” Torrence said of the Mike Green-led John Force Racing unit that supports Prock, “but my guys are pretty good, too.”

After dispatching Terry McMillen in the second round and Richie Crampton in the semifinals, he outran close friend Scott Palmer, one of his boyhood racing heroes, in the final round to extend his record in two-car races the last two seasons to 80-18.

When racing resumes in two weeks with the start of the grueling Western Swing featuring three races in three weeks at Denver, Colorado., Sonoma, California. and Seattle, Washington., Torrence will start 23 rounds ahead of both Kalitta and Antron Brown. That advantage will shrink to a paltry 20 points to start the Countdown.

In winning for the 34th time in his pro career, Torrence moved into a tie with Cory McClenathan for eighth place on the NHRA’s all-time Top Fuel list. Next up that imposing ladder is “Big Daddy” Don Garlits with 35 wins.

The only Top Fuel driver to race in more consecutive final round appearances is eight-time champion Tony Schumacher who, in 2008, put the U.S. Army dragster in the money round 11 consecutive times.