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Tricky Tipster: Points leaders Torrence, Hight, and Gray among Charlotte favorites

NHRA National Dragster’s resident odds-maker, Tricky Tipster, picks Steve Torrence, Robert Hight, Tanner Gray, LE Tonglet, and Rickie Smith as the pre-race favorites for the NHRA Carolina Nationals.
08 Oct 2018
NHRA National Dragster staff
News
Tipster

Another week, another solid outing for Tricky Tipster, NHRA National Dragster’s resident odds-maker who correctly picked points leaders Steve Torrence, Robert Hight and Tanner Gray to score wins last week in Dallas. Seeing no need to rock the boat with three events left, that trio is once again favored as the series shifts to Charlotte. Pro Stock Motorcycle points leader LE Tonglet is also favored and homestate favorite Rickie Smith gets the nod in Pro Mod.


TOP FUEL

FUNNY CAR | PRO STOCK | PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE | PRO MOD

S_Torrence.jpgSteve Torrence
Capco Contractors

Even though he has three-straight wins to start the Countdown, the championship is far from a done deal although his chances of wearing the No. 1 next year look mighty good. Right now, the Capco boys can do no wrong and another win here will pretty much seal the deal.
Odds: 3-2

C_Millican.JPGClay Millican
Parts Plus/Great Clips

A semifinal finish in Dallas would normally be a good thing, but not when the points leader goes the distance. At this point, this race almost becomes a must-win, or at the very least they’ve got to figure out a way to gain ground on Torrence. Qualifying points are great, but the Stringer team needs more to stay in the hunt.
Odds: 4-1

T_Schumacher.JPGTony Schumacher
U.S. Army

The Sarge has pulled off a few miracles in his career and he’s going to need another one to win the 2018 Mello Yello championship. With 165-points to make up, he absolutely positively must win this race to keep the battle going to Las Vegas and Pomona. He won the first race here in 2008, and again in 2014.
Odds: 5-1

T_McMillen.jpgTerry McMillen
Amalie Motor Oil

Remember when this guy had only bad luck or no luck at all? Now, he seems to be the guy in the right place at the right time and he’s got five final rounds this year to prove it. A run at the title is out of the question, but a top five finish is not and that would be a major achievement.
Odds: 6-1

L_Pritchett.JPGLeah Pritchett
Dodge/Pennzoil/Papa John’s

She celebrated a race win and a championship in Dallas, but it came in the SAM Tech Factory Stock showdown, not Top Fuel. Now, there is a singular focus for the last three events. It’s not out of the question that she earns another Wally before the end of the 2018 season.
Odds: 7-1

B_Torrence.jpgBilly Torrence
Capco Contractors

Who needs a blocker when your kid just goes out and wins all of the races? Truth be told, there isn’t a whole lot of drama left over in the battle for the championship, so Billy can pretty much go out and concentrate on winning his second event of the season. He’s more than capable of doing just that.
Odds: 9-1

A_Brown.JPGAntron Brown
Matco Tools

Historically, zMax Dragway is a welcome sight for AB since he’s got five wins and a runner-up in 19 events since the Bellagio of Dragstrips was built in 2008. This hasn’t been the best year for the Matco team but a victory here would go along way towards building momentum for the 2019 season.
Odds: 10-1

D_Kalitta.JPGDoug Kalitta
Mac Tools

Despite their recent struggles, the Mac Tools team has been to five final rounds this season and they have a win in Pomona to start the season. They’re not as far off as some people might think and they could easily make life rough for some of the championship contenders.
Odds: 14-1


FUNNY CAR

R_Hight.JPGRobert Hight
Auto Club Chevy

Apparently, you don’t need to have a healthy clavicle to win a Funny Car race. Just days after surgery, he turned in a gutsy performance to win in Dallas and gain the upper hand in the battle for the Funny Car championship. With two wins and a semifinal to start the Countdown, he’s built a nice, but not insurmountable, cushion in the standings.  
Odds: 4-1

J_Todd.JPGJ.R. Todd
DHL Toyota

By reaching the final round in Dallas, he managed to mostly minimize the damage in the points standings. Being 50-markers back with three races left is not the worst spot to be in. He’s never been to a final round in Charlotte, but this would be a great time for the DHL team to buck that trend, get a win, and carry the fight on to the final two races. Somehow, they’re going to have to figure out a way to stop Hight.
Odds: 5-1

T_Johnson.JPGTommy Johnson Jr.
Make-A-Wish Dodge

Arguably, he had the best car in Dallas but lost a heartbreaker to Todd in the semifinals. Still, there should be a renewed sense of optimism in the Make-A-Wish camp. If this car continues to run the way it did at the Motorplex, he won’t finish the season winless.
Odds: 6-1

T_Wilkerson.JPGTim Wilkerson
Levi, Ray & Shoup Mustang

A quarterfinal loss to Hight in Dallas might have crushed his dreams of winning the title, especially after his two biggest rivals went to the final round. A 133-point deficit is going to be tough to overcome but it shouldn’t detract from the fact that this car is one of the best in the class right now. It’s light years better than it was at mid-season and that should concern everyone else in the field.
Odds: 7-1

C_Force.JPGCourtney Force
Advance Auto Parts Chevy

An early exit in Dallas was easily the low point of the season for the Advance crew since it all but killed their chances to win the title. At this point, the focus should be on winning one, two, or even all three of the remaining events. Their qualifying game remains strong and a little race-day luck wouldn’t hurt either.
Odds: 8-1

B_Tasca.jpgBob Tasca III
Motorcraft Quick Lane Ford

The Dallas race was one of his best of the season, even though it didn’t result in a Wally trophy. Progress this year has been slower than expected but this car is slowing gaining the performance and consistency necessary to go the distance. We don’t think anyone would be surprised to see a win at one of the final three races.
Odds: 10-1

R_Capps.JPGRon Capps
NAPA Dodge

A first-round loss in a Countdown event is drag racing’s answer to a root canal. The NAPA team lost a heartbreaker to arch rival John Force in Dallas so its best to look ahead to the next stop in Charlotte where they’ve got a pair of wins since 2008.
Odds: 11-1

J_Force.JPGJohn Force
Peak Chevy

How many drivers get to race at a track that has a grandstand named after them? It’s not like this guy needs any extra motivation to chase career win No. 150 but Bruton Smith’s place would be a good spot to get it. He’s already got two wins in four finals here.
Odds: 14-1

PRO STOCK

T_Gray.JPGTanner Gray
Gray Manufacturing Technologies Camaro

If there is any pressure associated with being in the middle of the Countdown, he sure isn’t feeling it. His worst race-day light in Dallas was a .018 and he followed that with a .010, .012, and a .007. As long as he’s got enough race car under him, he’s more than capable of doing the rest. Having an 89-point cushion also allows for at least one mulligan in the last three races.  
Odds: 3-1

J_Coughlin.JPGJeg Coughlin Jr.
JEGS.com/Elite Camaro

If it wasn’t for Tanner Gray winning two of the first three Countdown races, he’d be sitting pretty. As it is, he’s managed to keep pace with the leaders with three solid events of his own. At this point a win would mean everything in terms of contending for what could be a sixth Pro Stock world championship. That’s true even if he defeats Gray in the final round.
Odds: 4-1

V_Nobile.JPGVincent Nobile
Mountain View Camaro

His win over teammate Erica Enders in Dallas was clutch, but he couldn’t get past Coughlin in the semifinals and that put a damper on his title hopes. Much like Coughlin, he’s in the danger zone, but a win here would go a long way towards carrying the fight to Pomona, the home turf for the Mountain View team.
Odds: 5-1

E_Enders.JPGErica Enders
Melling/Elite Camaro

She’s got two wins here so it’s safe to assume she like racing at zMax and this would be a great time for the two-time champ to repeat her performance from April, when she won the Charlotte Four-Wide race. She lost by five-thousandths of a second in the second round in Dallas but that’s life in Pro Stock. They’re all close.
Odds: 7-1

G_Anderson.JPGGreg Anderson
Summit Racing Camaro

The KB team tests frequently at zMax Dragway and their home base is just up the road in Mooresville. He’s got three wins in seven finals here so obviously that testing pays off.  Facing a large 143-point deficit to leader Gray, it will take a miracle to get back in the points battle. Tipster has to wonder if the KB team would attempt the unusual, but not unheard-of strategy of intentionally qualifying at the bottom of the ladder in an attempt to draw Gray in the early rounds. It only needs to work once in order to be effective.  
Odds: 8-1

D_Skillman.JPGDrew Skillman
Skillman Auto Camaro

He says he’s leaving Pro Stock after this season and that means he’s got three more chances to add another Pro Stock Wally to his collection. The car is good enough to do it. The driver is good enough to do it. They just need a bit of luck. There was a good chance that he was going to win Dallas until a -.003 red-light interrupted his day in the second round.
Odds: 9-1

J_Line.JPGJason Line
Summit Racing Equipment Camaro

The blue Summit Camaro was a rocket ship in Dallas, but race day luck was non-existent. Once again, it’s fair to wonder if the KB team wouldn’t consider using this car as a blocker to try and put the brakes on points leader Gray. It’s fourth-and-ten at the two-minute warning. The KB camp needs a hail Mary in order to stay in this deal. A perfectly-executed blocking strategy would be the talk of the Pro Stock pits.
Odds: 11-1

D_Kramer.JPGDeric Kramer
American Ethanol Camaro

What has happened to the guy who went 10-2 with a win and two runner-up finishes in Sonoma, Seattle, and Denver? He’s lost in the first round at the last four events and slipped to ninth in the points standings. This car is better than that, but that’s the nature of the Pro Stock class. The difference between first and eighth is often miniscule.
Odds: 14-1

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE

L_Tonglet.jpgLE Tonglet
Nitro Fish Suzuki

When he won his first championship in 2010, Tonglet was a young kid who was immune to the pressure of a points battle. Now, he’s a not-so-young kid who is apparently still immune to the rigors of a title fight. His win in Dallas was a thing of beauty and it might well represent the turning point of the season. Now that he’s got the points lead, it’s going to take a lot of work to get it from him.
Odds: 3-1

M_Smith.jpgMatt Smith
Smith Racing EBR

The Dallas race was nothing short of a disaster after a late light cost him a round one win against Karen Stoffer, and no one could blame the two-time champ for wanting to put Texas in his rearview mirror. Fortunately, he’s headed home to North Carolina and he’s still very much in the points battle. With three races left, 48-points isn’t much to make up. He’s still very much in control of his own destiny but there is no room for another major mistake.
Odds: 4-1

E_Krawiec.jpgEddie Krawiec
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson

Much like Smith he’s happy to be out of Texas after a disappointing semifinal loss. zMax should be a welcome relief considering he’s been in ten final rounds here and has three wins to his credit. The Pro Stock Motorcycle points battle is shaping up to be the best of the four NHRA pro classes and there’s no reason to think the reigning champ won’t be in it until the last day of the season.
Odds: 5-1

J_Savoie.jpgJerry Savoie
White Alligator Suzuki

He got to the final in Dallas but didn’t gain any ground in the points battle because the leader won but that aside, it was a great race for the White Alligator team with a 1-2 finish between Tonglet and Savoie. He won the Charlotte Four-Wide here last spring which should provide some good vibes for a return trip to the Bellagio of Drag Strips. Changing three engines on race day does represent a bit of a warning sign, though.  
Odds: 7-1

C_Ellis.JPGChip Ellis
Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson

He sat out the Dallas race and should be fresh for this one, which is in his backyard. The last time he raced in St. Louis, he was rewarded with the No. 1 qualifying spot and a career-best elapsed time. No one should be the least bit surprised if he’s the last man standing on Sunday at zMax Dragway.
Odds: 8-1

H_Arana_Jr.jpgHector Arana Jr.
Lucas Oil EBR

Lately, the Christmas Tree has not been kind to the Lucas Oil team and coming off a tough loss in St. Louis, the last thing they needed was another early exit in Dallas. All things considered, he’s luck to be only 103-points out of first place so a title run is still very possible. A win here, regardless of who is in the final, would be a huge deal as far as the points battle is concerned.
Odds: 9-1

A_Hines.jpgAndrew Hines
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson

His lack of success is one of the great mysteries of the 2018 season and things went from bad to worse in Dallas with a rare round one loss that all but extinguished his hopes of winning a sixth title. Given the vast resources of the Vance & Hines team the potential is there for a quick turnaround but the question is, will they?
Odds: 11-1

S_Johnson.jpgSteve Johnson
Johnson Racing Suzuki

He’s been impressive in qualifying lately and has been to the semifinals in two of his last four events. At times, he’s had arguably the best Suzuki in the field as well. A win would require a bit of good fortune, but stranger things have definitely happened.
Odds: 14-1

PRO MOD

R_Smith.jpgRickie Smith
Smith Racing Camaro

His results have not been the best lately but he’s still very much in contention for another E3 Pro Mod championship. He gets the top spot here for a couple of reasons. First, he’s desperate for a win after three tough races. Secondly, he’s racing at home which is always a plus. Finally, he’s Rickie Smith and throughout his entire career he’s prevailed when one least expects it.   
Odds: 4-1

M_Janis.JPGMike Janis
Jan-Cen Racing Camaro

Ugly first round loss in Dallas was tempered only by the fact that he was able to hang on to the points lead with two events remaining. He’s got a 25-point lead over Smith which is hardly safe. The Jan-Cen team is going to have to right the ship, and do it quickly before Smith gets a handle on his car. A semifinal or better finish here would mean a lot.
Odds: 5-1

M_Castellana.JPGMike Castellana
AAP Camaro

Pretty much needed a win in Dallas to have a shot at the title and that didn’t happen. Still, this might be the best car in the Pro Mod series right now so there are still two races to be won this season and it’s not out of the question that they win one or both of them. It’s just that Pro Mod is so darned competitive and even more unpredictable. Anything can happen at any time.
Odds: 6-1

J_Ray.jpgJeremy Ray
J4 Racing Corvette

You didn’t need a magic 8-ball to see his win in Dallas coming. In his first full season in NHRA Pro Mod this team has done nothing but improve at each stop. And, they’re also based in the Carolinas so they’re returning home with a nice gold Wally trophy to show for it. Not out of line to think there might be a second one coming soon.
Odds: 7-1

S_Jackson.JPGSteve Jackson
Bahrain1 Camaro

After two great races in Indy and St. Louis, a bit of a let-down in Dallas was not unexpected. He struggled in qualifying and that made for a short day on Sunday. Jackson is another guy who appears to be immune to pressure so there is no reason not to expect a quick rebound. He was in the Four-Wide final here in April and it didn’t end well but that should not be a factor this time around.
Odds: 8-1

S_Frigo.JPGSidnei Frigo
Artivinco Corvette

Turned in a great effort in Dallas with a 5.77 to qualify No. 1 and a strong semifinal on race day. If not for a close red-light, there is every reason to think he would have sealed the deal. The Dallas track definitely favored the turbo cars and it will be interesting to see if they have the same edge in Charlotte.
Odds: 10-1

S_Whiteley.JPGSteven Whiteley
YNot Racing Camaro

Coming off a strong qualifying performance and a semifinal in the Lone Star State he’s got a lot of momentum on his side which may or may not count for anything in the rough ad tumble world of NHRA Pro Mod racing. The entire field in Dallas was separated by just seven-hundredths of a second which makes the whole deal one big crap shoot.
Odds: 12-1

T_Tutterow.jpgTodd Tutterow
WYO Racing Camaro

Qualified in the back of the pack in Dallas but made up for it with a strong semifinal finish on race day. Realistically, there are about a dozen Pro Mod drivers would could be added to Tipster this week, but he earned the honor with his performance in Texas.  
Odds: 14-1