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Defending Funny Car champ Todd flying ‘under the radar’

Jeff Birchfield • Jun 14, 2019 at 5:30 AM

BRISTOL — J.R. Todd hit a milestone for Kalitta Motorsports last week in Kansas. This weekend, he hopes to thunder down the track for his first win in Tennessee.

The defending Funny Car champion comes to Bristol Dragway looking for his first win in the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals. This weekend’s visit comes on the heels of Todd earning the 100th No. 1 qualifying effort for his Kalitta Motorsports team.

That proved Todd’s cars are as fast as anyone’s in the class, and it was another way of paying tribute to the late Scott Kalitta, who drove the DHL Toyota before his fatal crash at Englishtown, New Jersey, in 2008.

“We’re definitely competing with the top cars in qualifying, and we showed that last week when the conditions were right,” he said. “It’s just a shame we didn’t have the No. 1 position pay off, but it was the No. 100 top qualifying spot for Kalitta Motorsports. To be able to do that in Scott’s car was a pretty incredible accomplishment.”

There have been plenty of incredible accomplishments for the team in recent years. They include winning two of the last four NHRA Funny Car world championships, as Del Worsham piloted the cars to the 2015 title and Todd won his first one last November.

Despite their success, the Kalitta team often seems overlooked in the Funny Car division — which has the high-profile teams of Don Schumacher Racing and John Force Racing. It’s been the case early this season with Force driver Robert Hight winning four races so far.

“It seems like we’re always under the radar and DSR and JFR are always getting talked about,” Todd said. “They’ve been the top-performing cars for a while, but so has the DHL Toyota Camry. We won the championship in 2015 with Del Worsham and with me last year. There’s no reason we can’t compete with those cars. Robert Hight has had the best car in class this year, but there’s no reason we can’t compete for wins with those guys.”

Todd does have a win earlier this season at Las Vegas, the 18th of his career, and a pair of runner-up finishes at Phoenix and Richmond. He comes to Bristol ranked fifth in the Mello Yello point standings. It’s a place where Todd has struggled in the past, although he felt he showed strength a season ago, making it to the semifinal round. He also feels the team is further along than last year and believes they can contend for another championship.

“We had a car capable of winning at Bristol last year, but we dropped a cylinder in the semifinals and that was the end of our day,” he said. “Hopefully, we can get back there and pick up the performance and turn that into a win.

“We’re better than where we were this time last year, so we’re hoping we can keep that consistency and pick up another win before the Countdown to the Championship and get rolling like we did last year.”

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