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Torrence, C. Force, Gray, Krawiec are Tricky Tipster's Championship favorites

Tricky Tipster gives odds on the Countdown to the Championship contenders ahead of the playoff opener in Reading, Pa. How does your favorite driver stack up with the Dodge NHRA Nationals looming?
12 Sep 2018
National Dragster staff
Tipster

The 12th rendition of the Countdown to the Championship kicks off with the Dodge NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway and the Tricky Tipster is here to offer pre-playoff odds for your debating, complaining and otherwise prognosticating pleasure. Below are odds for all 40 drivers with the opportunity to win a class championship in each of the four Mello Yello Drag Racing categories along with a handful of regular season statistics. 

TOP FUEL

FUNNY CAR | PRO STOCK | PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE

Don’t let the diversity of winners fool you: This is Steve Torrence’s championship to lose. The 2017 runner-up came into the 2018 season with vengeance on his mind, and the Capco Contractors Top Fuel team looks poised to wreak havoc during the Countdown to the Championship. With that said, the field improved tremendously a year after fans witnessed the deepest Top Fuel classes in Countdown history. One thing’s for sure: We’re in for a wild ride to the finish line.

S_Torrence.jpgSTEVE TORRENCE
Capco Contractors Top Fuel Dragster
Odds: 3-1
Average e.t.: 3.792
Average r.t.: .074
Run-completion rate: 66.4%

If Torrence stepped back in 2018, it’s only because the competition stepped forward. He holds a 5-0 final-round record, is tied for the quickest average elapsed time in the class, and drives the most consistent dragster amongst full-time competitors. This team is the whole package: One of the best drivers in the class at the top of his game, a pair of crew chiefs who know the car inside and out, and the resources needed to get the job done funneled into one championship-contending dragster. There are other teams capable of winning a championship, but it’s hard to pick against the Capco kid. 

T_Schumacher.JPGTONY SCHUMACHER
U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster
Odds: 4-1
Average e.t.: 3.792
Average r.t.: .078
Run-completion rate: 60.5%

The only thing Schumacher and the Mike Neff-tuned U.S. Army dragster lacked during the regular season is good luck. He drives the second-most consistent dragster in the category, leaves the starting line on time, and is tied with Steve Torrence on average elapsed time. For most teams, getting to this point with a brand-new crew chief would be considered a success, but this is not most teams. There is one more reason for encouragement: In a tougher Top Fuel field than 2017, Schumacher managed to move up a spot. This team is a contender. 

C_Millican.JPGCLAY MILLICAN
Parts Plus/Great Clips Top Fuel Dragster
Odds: 5-1
Average e.t.: 3.802
Average r.t.: .081
Run-completion rate: 51.4%

Millican starts the Countdown to the Championship in second place but with a Top Fueler that struggles with consistency. That’s an area crew chief Dave Grubnic attacked all regular season, often with spectacular results. Millican enters the Countdown in his highest ever position (second), and getting 10 points closer to Torrence could be the difference between winning his first NHRA championship and not. With three victories to their name, there’s no question the team can win two-three times down the stretch. The challenge comes in being perfect over the next two months. 

A_Brown.JPGANTRON BROWN
Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster
Odds: 6-1 
Average e.t.: 3.812
Average r.t.: .064
Run-completion rate: 56.6%

Let Brown's 2018 season dispel the longstanding idea that great drivers need a great car to stay on top of their game. The three-time Top Fuel champ hung with it long enough for Mark Oswald and Brad Mason to fill the void left by Brian Corradi to make themselves a contender for a fourth championship. The Matco Tools team is only a hundredth behind Steve Torrence over the past three months and Brown is the second-best leaver in the category, and at this point the biggest hurdle is the number of points they need to make up.

L_Pritchett.JPGLEAH PRITCHETT
Mopar/Papa John’s/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster
Odds: 13-2
Average e.t.: 3.827
Average r.t.: .074
Run-completion rate: 63.5%

Only one dragster has gotten down the track more often than the one driven by Pritchett over the past three months, and it’s the one driven by the points leader. Here’s the rub: The oft-changing-sponsor dragster hasn’t always been that quick. That’s a fine sacrifice to make in the name of consistency, but it’s only worthwhile when you can step on the gas again when the weather cools down (hint: the Countdown). This team has shown it can do that in the past, but the track prep was vastly different when we visited Phoenix than it will be when we head to Reading and Pomona. 

B_Force.JPGBRITTANY FORCE
Monster Energy Top Fuel Dragster
Odds: 10-1
Average e.t.: 3.801
Average r.t.: .088
Run-completion rate: 53.7%

In a narrative-driven world, the Monster Energy team enters the Countdown in a strange position. Force won her first championship as the No. 6 seed, so the narrative will likely go this season isn’t that dissimilar as she enters the Countdown as the No. 8 seed. Here’s the problem: Force hasn’t run all that well over the past three months, a big departure from her 2017 campaign when she got something of a running start into the Countdown. Her e.t. average is two-hundredths behind Steve Torrence’s, and tuners Alan Johnson and Brian Husen have struggled to get the dragster down the track. That’s not a great recipe come Countdown time. 

D_Kalitta.JPGDOUG KALITTA
Mac Tools Top Fuel Dragster
Odds: 12-1
Average e.t.: 3.828
Average r.t.: .063
Run-completion rate: 58%

Kalitta won the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals and leads the category in reaction-time average, but his Mac Tools Top Fuel dragster has been consistently behind the pack in elapsed-time average all season. That hasn’t exactly translated into getting down the track consistently, either. Despite that, Kalitta’s two biggest advantages are the following: He wound up in the top half of the field in points, and Richie Crampton can serve as a blocker if they so choose. There’s no question Kalitta has the driving ability to earn his first career championship, but he needs a little help to get there. 

T_McMillen.jpgTERRY MCMILLEN
Amalie Motor Oil Top Fuel Dragster
Odds: 13-1
Average e.t.: 3.836
Average r.t.: .075
Run-completion rate: 48%

A mediocre Western Swing put McMillen behind the eight ball, but a great start to the Countdown to the Championship, which started with a U.S. Nationals win, could change things for the Amalie team. McMillen obviously has the parts and people to compete with anyone else at the dragstrip, but doing so over the entire stretch of the playoffs is a different animal. He finished the season in ninth last year, so taking another step forward while eyeing a true championship chase in 2019 should be on "The Gator’s" mind. 

M_Salinas.jpgMIKE SALINAS
Scrappers Racing Top Fuel Dragster
Odds: 14-1
Average e.t.: 3.827
Average r.t: .079
Run-completion rate: 46.7%

It took some heroics during eliminations at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals to get into the field, but Salinas made it. Now that he’s here, he has the equipment capable of doing some damage but probably not the experience to run for a championship, though that won’t stop them from trying. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Salinas in the winner’s circle before the season ends, and that could decide the fate of the 2018 championship, even if the San Jose, Calif., native isn’t the one who ends up on top. 

S_Palmer.JPGSCOTT PALMER
CatSpot Top Fuel Dragster
Odds: 15-1
Average e.t.: 3.837
Average r.t.: .092
Run-completion rate: 61.1%

It speaks to the improved quality of the field that Palmer enjoyed his best season ever (again) and still needed the last race of the regular season to qualify for the Countdown. It’s going to be another grind during the playoffs for the CatSpot team, but a complete reload ahead of the U.S. Nationals means Palmer and company are ready for it this time around. The team is one of the most consistent, if not the quickest, and that could spell disaster for the championship hopes of more than one contender as the season heats up. 

FUNNY CAR

The flopper category only got more competitive in 2018 as Shawn Langdon and Bob Tasca III joined the fray, making up for the departure of Alexis DeJoria. Langdon, a Funny Car rookie, qualified for the Countdown to the Championship despite a midseason crew chief change while Cruz Pedregon didn’t survive a similar decision. With the field set, things look crowded at the top as one of the toughest Funny Car fields in Countdown history gets set to rumble. 

C_Force.JPGCOURTNEY FORCE
Advance Auto Parts Chevy Camaro
Odds: 3-1
Average e.t: 4.002
Average r.t.: .084
Run-completion rate: 60.3%

The best season in Force’s career slowed down once she became the runaway points leader, but don’t be fooled by the Advance Auto Parts team turtling a handful of races ago. Crew chiefs Brian Corradi and Danny Hood may have been testing ahead of the Countdown, but this Chevy Camaro remains just as dangerous now as it was when it piled up Wallys by the truckload at the beginning of the season. Force has never driven so well, as only teammate Robert Hight drives a Funny Car this quick. If you don’t think she can handle pressure, you haven’t been watching closely enough this season. It’s her title to lose. 

R_Hight.JPGROBERT HIGHT
Auto Club of Southern California Chevy Camaro
Odds: 5-2
Average e.t.: 4.002
Average r.t.: .070
Run-completion rate: 58%

The defending Funny Car champion got off to a slow start as crew chief Jimmy Prock adjusted to the new track prep, but once he did the Auto Club Chevy Camaro got right on track. Now Hight drives the second-quickest car (by ten-thousandths of a second), boasts the second-best reaction time amongst Countdown drivers, and can become the first Funny Car driver since John Force to win back-to-back championships. Both John Force Racing cars come with similar personality traits: Pick up a hundredth on the field, give up a little consistency. That diversity is why Funny Car racing is so fun to watch.

R_Capps.JPGRON CAPPS
NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger
Odds: 4-1
Average e.t.: 4.014
Average r.t.: .073
Run-completion rate: 65.5

If you told us that Rahn Tobler ran a four-disc clutch on his Funny Car, I’d still pick Ron Capps to win on Sunday. It almost goes without saying that this is the most consistent car in the class, but it’s worth repeating how impressive it is that the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger goes from A to B more than 65 percent of the time. And that’s over the entire season as Tobler went from a six-disc combination that proved not-so-fruitful back to the five-disc clutch the team won a championship with in 2016. Make no mistake, this team can win another title this year. 

M_Hagan.JPGMATT HAGAN
Mopar Dodge Charger
Odds: 5-1
Average e.t.: 4.014
Average r.t.: .070
Run-completion rate: 63.1%

An easy (and stupid) thing to do: Devalue the accomplishments of Hagan and Dickie Venables this season because they’re batting .500 in final rounds. Going to six finals, given the depth of the Funny Car field, is damn impressive, and so are the rest of the numbers the team has posted this season. Bringing the brand-new Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car into a final is proof enough Venables has a handle on it heading into the Countdown. It seems silly to call a two-time world champion a sleeper pick, but given the names ahead of him, Hagan might end up being just that. 

J_Todd.JPGJ.R. TODD
DHL Toyota Camry
Odds: 7-1
Average e.t.: 4.021
Average r.t.: .069
Run-completion rate: 61.9

Todd did a lot of work to score a pair of wins in his rookie Funny Car season in 2017. A year later, he’s an even better driver and the car is more consistent and just a hair slower than the championship favorites. Over a six-race sample size, this team can win a championship — especially if winning the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals was the start of a similar roll to the one the squad was on at the beginning of the season. The team has the driver to get the job done when things go wrong, and right now things are going right. 

J_Beckman.JPGJACK BECKMAN
Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger
Odds: 15-2
Average e.t.: 4.022
Average r.t.: .072
Run-completion rate: 62.6

A recent win at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals put some pep in the team’s step, but following it up with a first-round defeat at the U.S. Nationals may have taken the wind out of the Infinite Hero team’s sails. Still, this is about the long game more than the short game. Beckman has had one of the most consistent cars in Funny Car over 18 races, if not the quickest, and he has proven his driving chops over the years. The fact of the matter is in a six-race sample size, someone is going to rely on a little good fortune to win a championship with the field packed this tight. So, why not Beckman?

T_Johnson.JPGTOMMY JOHNSON JR. 
Make-A-Wish Foundation Dodge Charger
Odds: 8-1
Average e.t.: 4.021
Average r.t.: .079
Run-completion rate: 61.5%

It looked like things were turning around for Johnson and the Make-A-Wish team when he captured the Wally at the season-ending Auto Club NHRA Finals last year. He has now gone 18 events without a win despite posting solid numbers in the interim, a drought that can largely be chalked up to tough competition at the top of the field. It’s not going to get any easier during the Countdown, so the team either needs to hope for a change in luck or find a little more performance in a car that is stuck in the middle of the pack. 

S_Langdon.JPGSHAWN LANGDON
Global Electronic Technology Toyota Camry
Odds: 10-1
Average e.t.: 4.027
Average r.t.: .077
Run-completion rate: 56.1%

The firing of Tommy DeLago came as a surprise this season if only because the Funny Car wasn’t performing all that poorly. The Global Electronic Technology flopper continued to improve in DeLago’s absence as Langdon became more comfortable in his rookie season behind the wheel. It’ll be tough for this car to fight its way up the field for a championship, but it wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see Langdon race to the winner’s circle in a Funny Car for the first time in his career before the season ends. 

T_Wilkerson.JPGTIM WILKERSON
Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Mustang
Odds: 13-1
Average e.t.: 4.049
Average r.t.: .082
Run-completion rate: 54.3%

Wilkerson muscled his way into the Funny Car field on the final day of the regular season, and now that he’s here, he has a chance. His 18-race averages don’t do him any favors because he started the season on the wrong foot, struggling to get down the racetrack on pass after pass. Wilk found a solid combination over the past three months and at the very least looks a threat to win, if not take home the title. It would be a hell of a story if the veteran came from the bottom to take home his first championship, but Wilk has never done things the conventional way. 

J_Force.JPGJOHN FORCE
Peak Coolant Chevy Camaro
Odds: 15-1
Average e.t.: 4.063
Average r.t.: .076
Run-completion rate: 55%

Force won a race this year despite how poorly his season started, but it’s going to be an uphill battle for the 16-time champ to get a 17th — no matter how good his equipment is. The team has struggled to find a tune-up that the Peak Coolant Chevy Camaro likes, and Force has not been himself behind the wheel for long stretches of this season. This would be a great time for the Hall of Famer to find himself because he’s going to need to go to the semi’s or better from here on out if he wants to reclaim his former glory. 

PRO STOCK

In a season that has already featured nine different winners in the first 18 events, it is reasonable to assume that the championship is up for grabs, but in recent weeks, second-year racer Tanner Gray has begun to separate himself from the field. Gray rates a slight edge, if only because he is the No. 1 seed and enjoys a 20-point cushion before the first race. Should Gray stumble, there are several drivers who will be waiting to pounce, including second-ranked Greg Anderson and Elite teammates Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Erica Enders, who have already combined to win seven Pro Stock titles. If you’re looking for a dark horse, look no further than Deric Kramer, who has already won twice this season.

T_Gray.JPGTanner Gray
Gray Manufacturing Technologies Camaro
Odds: 4-1
Average e.t.: 6.595
Average r.t.: .024
Run-completion rate: 77.2% 

Statistically, the reigning rookie of the year, the best driver in the class (at least as far as reaction times go), and he has shown a determination to better himself at every event. It’s been all but confirmed that he’s going to race elsewhere next season, so this might be his only opportunity to win an NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series championship. We can’t imagine that he’s going to let that opportunity go to waste. His advantage over the rest of the Pro Stock field is slim, but he is the pre-Countdown favorite to capture the title.

J_Coughlin.JPGJeg Coughlin Jr. 
JEGS.com/Elite Camaro
Odds: 5-1
Average e.t.: 6.582
Average r.t.: .025
Run-completion rate: 74.7%

When it comes to been there, done that, there are few who can compare to Jeg Coughlin Jr., who has won five NHRA Mello Yello Pro Stock titles in his career and has a Super Gas championship thrown in for good measure. Coughlin hasn’t been properly armed for a championship fight for the last few years, but in 2018, the Elite team gave him a sharpened blade, and he has gone to work, carving out three wins in four final rounds so far. Coughlin may not be the holeshot machine he once was, but he’s still able to consistently get the job done.

G_Anderson.JPGGreg Anderson
Summit Racing Equipment Camaro
Odds: 6-1
Average e.t.: 6.583
Average r.t.: .039
Run-completion rate: 81.8%

What do you want first: the good news or the bad news? Okay, here’s the good. This car was amazing during qualifying this year with nine pole positions in 18 races. That’s a whole lotta bonus points that will come in handy during the Countdown phase of the championship. The downside is that even with a dominant car, the four-time champ won just once in three final rounds. Four losses came via holeshot and another by red-light. He can absolutely win the title, but it’s going to take an error-free Countdown.

D_Kramer.JPGDeric Kramer
American Ethanol Camaro
Odds: 8-1
Average e.t.: 6.596
Average r.t.: .026
Run-completion rate: 72.2%If you’re looking for a script that directs the American Ethanol team to the Mello Yello championship, you need look no further than 2017 champ Bo Butner. Much like Butner, Kramer has used the tools that the KB team has provided and built a solid program that can go the distance. Pursuing the championship for the first time, he’s already got two wins in five finals. Red-lights have been a bit of an issue from time to time, but his reaction time average is only slightly behind Erica Enders and Tanner Gray, the class leaders. 

E_Enders.JPGErica Enders
Melling/Elite Performance Camaro
Odds: 9-1
Average e.t.: 6.586
Average r.t.: .022
Run-completion rate: 75.2%

Starting from the No. 3 seed, the two-time champ is just 30-points out of first place, a number that can easily be made up in one or two races. Her Elite Camaro has been off a tick lately in the performance department, but the real issue here is her clutch foot, which never seems to slump. During both her second championship runs in 2015, Enders’ performance during the Countdown was staggering with an 18-3 record in the six-race playoffs. She also qualified in the top four at five of six events. Anything close to that will surely get the job done again. 

V_Nobile.JPGVincent Nobile
Mountain View Tire & Auto Camaro
Odds: 11-1 
Average e.t.: 6.592
Average r.t.: .030
Run-completion rate: 73.1%

He had a nice groove going in the early part of the season with two wins, which helped him land a favorable starting spot for the Countdown. Since Atlanta, he’s only been to the semifinals twice. That clearly won’t get the job done. The Mountain View crew is capable of finding and extra gear, and they’re going to need it in order to out-point Gray, Anderson, Enders, and the rest of the field down the stretch. They tend to do well in Las Vegas and Pomona, so that’s also an added bonus.

J_Line.JPGJason Line
Summit Racing Equipment Camaro
Odds: 12-1
Average e.t.: 6.589
Average r.t.: .044
Run-completion rate: 74.8%

Now wouldn’t it be something if a guy who hadn’t won a race yet this season went on a tear and won the Pro Stock championship? Possible, but not overly likely. Line could certainly win some races. In fact, it’s shocking that he hasn’t done so already, but to come from 80-points back, he’d likely have to win multiple races and count on a stumble or two from the top cars. The stars might align perfectly, and he could secure a fourth Pro Stock title, but he’s far from the favorite. 

C_McGaha.JPGChris McGaha
Harlow Sammons Camaro
Odds: 14-1
Average e.t.: 6.595
Average r.t.: .031
Run-completion rate: 76.2%

After making the final round in Las Vegas in April he was ranked No. 2 in the standings but begins the Countdown in the No. 10 spot, so he’s got to climb over nine other drivers to take the title. Then there is the small issue of consistency. McGaha’s Camaro can be the quickest car in the field or he can qualify in the bottom half of the field, and it’s hard to know from race to race what’s going to happen. If he has a monster Countdown, all things are possible but a top-five finish would also be remarkable.

B_Butner.JPGBo Butner
Butner Auto Sales Camaro
Odds: 15-1
Average e.t.: 6.597
Average r.t.: .032
Run-completion rate: 81.0%

Talk about a deal that could go either way. Butner is the reigning champion and a former Comp winner, so he knows the pressure of a points battle. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, which also helps in pressure situations. Starting the Countdown from the No. 9 spot, he’s going to need to be even better than last year, and it’s hard to imagine that happening. Butner has spent much of his life beating the odds, and it would be foolish to count him out, but a second-straight Mello Yello title might just be a bit too much to ask.

D_Skillman.JPGDrew Skillman
Skillman Auto Group Camaro
Odds: 16-1
Average e.t.: 6.597
Average r.t.: .032
Run-completion rate: 80.8%

Seventh in average reaction time (among full-time teams) and tenth in average elapsed time, it’s not hard to see what this has been a frustrating season for the Skillman Auto Group. He’s made it known that this is his last full-time season in the Pro Stock class (at least for a while) so this might be his final opportunity to win a championship. We’ve waited all year for these guys to get hot, and it’s a real possibility that they do, but it has to happen right now. Anything less than a semifinal in Reading would be tough.  

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE

With a combined nine championships, it would be easy to label Harley-Davidson riders Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines as the co-favorites to win the Pro Stock Motorcycle championship, especially since they are the top two seeds headed into the Countdown to the Championship. Tempting, but recent Indy winner LE Tonglet has already proven that he’s not intimidated by the factory HD team, and he seldom, if ever, gets rattled under pressure. Arguably, neither Krawiec, Hines, or Tonglet can claim to have the best bike in the class at the moment. That honor most likely goes to Matt Smith, who was the low qualifier at Indy, or possibly Hector Arana Jr., who has already made numerous runs more than 200 mph. 

E_Krawiec.jpgEddie Krawiec 
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson
Odds: 3-1
Average e.t.: 6.869
Average r.t.: .040
Run-completion rate: 89.1%

Let’s see, he’s already won four championships, including last year’s title, and he’s enjoying one of the best seasons of his career with four wins in five final rounds and just two round-one losses. He also starts the Countdown in the top spot, which is always a plus. Losing the U.S. Nationals final certainly wasn’t pleasant, but it might just provide the extra motivation needed to knuckle down and cruise to a fifth championship. He also collects bonus points in batches, which is Countdown critical. 

L_Tonglet.jpgLE Tonglet
Nitro Fish Suzuki
Odds: 7-2
Average e.t.: 6.885
Average r.t.: .031
Run-completion rate: 83.3%

Those who know LE Tonglet know that he’s one of the most humble racers in the NHRA Mello Yello Series, so when he comes out and says he’s going to win the championship, as he did after his recent Indy win, people are going to take notice. Confidence isn’t a problem here. Tied for the class’ reaction time lead, he rarely leaves much on the table. You generally have to out-run him, which is hard to do. Right now, he’s a co-favorite along with Krawiec.

M_Smith.jpgMatt Smith
Smith Racing EBR
Odds: 4-1
Average e.t.: 6.868
Average r.t.: .039
Run-completion rate: 66.7%

Matt Smith describes his EBR-bodied bike using terms like “hateful, mean, and nasty,” and he’s spot-on. Lately, he’s had the best bike in the class, and there isn’t a rider in the field who doesn’t respect his riding and tuning ability. He’s got all the ingredients necessary to win a third championship except for one, and that is luck. He’s got bad luck in bushels, but the one lucky break that is often necessary to win a championship has been sorely lacking. All he can do is keep fighting, and clearly, that’s the mindset at MSR.

A_Hines.jpgAndrew Hines
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson
Odds: 6-1
Average e.t.: 6.868
Average r.t.: .041
Run-completion rate: 86.4%

Hard to imagine we’d get to this point in the season and the most successful rider in the history of the Pro Stock class would be 0-for-10. That’s baffling, but at the same time, championships are won in the last six events, not the first ten, and he’s go a new lease on life as the No. 2 seed because he’s just 20 points behind teammate Krawiec. One early Countdown win in Reading or St. Louis, and all is forgotten. The Harley team is well known for their ability to step up in the playoffs. It’s not likely he goes winless much longer.

H_Arana_Jr.jpgHector Arana Jr. 
Lucas Oil EBR
Odds: 7-1
Average e.t.: 6.872
Average r.t.: .033
Run-completion rate: 74.6%

When you open the season by making the sport’s first official 200-mph run (and then make several more), the only way to top it is to win a championship. It’s interesting to note that he only has two first-round losses this season, and they happened at the first two events. Since then, he has got a 16-7 record in eliminations, including a big win in Denver. When his father, Hector Sr., won his championship in 2009, he did so by hogging up a lot of qualifying points. It’s entirely possible that Junior follows that script as well. 

J_Savoie.jpgJerry Savoie
White Alligator Suzuki
Odds: 9-1
Average e.t.: 6.900
Average r.t.: .052
Run-completion rate: 80.7%

Two years ago, Savoie won the NHRA Mello Yello Pro Stock Motorcycle championship on the strength of two wins and a runner-up in the six Countdown events, and even then, he only led the points once: on the final day of the season. Savoie isn’t the least bit intimidated by the Harley-Davidson team or anyone else in the class, so he’s not likely to feel any added pressure during the Countdown. He’s also got a great record (two wins) in St. Louis, which is a critical stop on the tour.

S_Pollacheck.jpgScotty Pollacheck
Suzuki Extended Protection Suzuki
Odds: 11-1
Average e.t.: 6.913
Average r.t.: .033
Run-completion rate: 68.0%

It’s a tall order to expect a rider who is still waiting for his first national event win to suddenly step up and battle for a Mello Yello Series championship, but stranger things have happened. Pollacheck’s talent has never been disputed, but finding the right bike at the right time has been a challenge. His current ride with the Stoffer/Underdahl team is a good one, but he’s going to need some luck to battle the Harleys, Hectors, Smiths, and WAR bikes that seem to have done most of the winning this year. 

A_Smith.jpgAngie Smith
Denso Spark Plugs Buell
Odds: 16-1
Average e.t.: 6.931
Average r.t.: .032
Run-completion rate: 66.0%

If you’re looking for positives (and who isn’t?), her reaction times are very much in line with class leaders Tonglet, Gladstone, and Pollacheck. Also noteworthy, of her six round-wins, four have come since Norwalk, but there is also the matter of that frustrating, maddening DNQ last weekend in Indy. Smith’s Denso Buell is usually very quick, so it is almost a given that she’ll qualify for all six Countdown races, but there’s going to need to be quite a few round-wins added in order to contend for the title.  

A_Sampey.jpgAngelle Sampey
Precision Service Equipment Buell
Odds: 20-1
Average e.t.: 6.927
Average r.t.: .080
Run-completion rate: 54.9%

By a razor-thin margin, Sampey made the Countdown and will have a chance to race for her fourth Mello Yello Pro Stock Motorcycle championship although the reality is that her Liberty Racing Buell is on average, more than five-hundredths behind the class leaders. Engine builder Larry Morgan has delivered big gains this year, but he’s going to need to step up a lot more for this bike to contend, although she can sure make life miserable for the leaders.

S_Johnson.jpgSteve Johnson
MacRak Suzuki
Odds: 21-1
Average e.t.: 6.927
Average r.t.: .049
Run-completion rate: 73.9%

Johnson entered Indy in 12th place in the standings with just two round-wins to his credit in the first nine races, yet he somehow reached the semifinals and snuck into the field, and actually moved to eighth-place. Now, the heavy lifting begins. Of the four riders that Johnson has defeated this year, only Angie Smith is a Countdown contender. Johnson has spent more than 30 years in the class, and he does have six wins in 20-career finals, so an improvement from eighth-place would not be out of the ordinary.