Special to the News-Journal

LAS VEGAS, Nevada. – Steve Torrence will roll his Capco Contractors dragster to the starting line two weeks hence knowing that despite a runner-up finish in Sunday’s 19th annual Dodge Nationals at the Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, he still controls his own destiny in his bid to become only the eighth driver in NHRA history to win back-to-back Top Fuel Championships.

In a battle between the two most recent Mello Yello champions, Brittany Force got the better of Sunday’s final round, laying down the quickest run of eliminations to relegate Torrence to the runner-up position for the fifth time in a dominating season in which he has won a category-best nine races.

It was just the second win of the year for Force, who will move on to the season-ending Auto Club Finals at Pomona, Calif. in virtually the same position she occupied when she won the championship in 2017.

That year, she left Vegas 20 points behind Torrence before winning the finale and her first title. This time, she is only 16 points behind going into an event that pays one-and-a-half times the number of points of any other event in the six-race Countdown.

“We still control our own destiny,” said an obviously disappointed Torrence, “and that’s all you can ask for. The bottom line is the same: if we win Pomona, we win the championship. So that’s our goal.”

By reaching the final round, Torrence equaled his personal record for rounds won in a single season with 58, almost twice as many as Force but, in the Countdown Era, as the 36-year-old Texan knows as well as anyone on the planet, success is measured only by how good you are in one six-race stretch from September through November.

Force, who set a national speed record at 338.17 mph in qualifying, ran 3.652 in the final round to cover Torrence’s solid 3.719. In the semifinals, she beat Billy Torrence by an even smaller margin in what may have been the race of the day.

The younger Torrence advanced out of the semifinals at the expense of hard luck pro Doug Kalitta, whose car had issues on the burnout, activating the automatic safety system which deployed the parachutes and forced him to abort the run. The outcome was what Torrence wanted but not in the manner it was achieved.

Billy Torrence, founder and CEO of Capco, a Texas-based oil and gas pipeline construction and maintenance company, also still is in contention for the championship although he will start the final race in fourth place, 86 points behind his son.