The 2018 NHRA season hits the one-third mark this week in Topeka which means it's time to get serious about making the Countdown. Tricky Tipster, NHRA National Dragster's resident odds-maker, gives the edge to Steve Torrence, Courtney Force, Vincent Nobile, and Rickie Smith
He’s already got three wins this year and 11 in the last 31 events dating back to the start of the 2017 season. It wouldn’t be a Texas-sized exaggeration to suggest that this is the best team in Top Fuel at the moment.
Papa John’s Pizza/Dodge
Dominated in Atlanta, which is just the kind of win that will provide confidence and momentum to get through the upcoming mid-summer marathon of six events in eight weeks.
Mac Tools team generally does well in Topeka with two wins and five finals. One also gets the feeling their overdue for a breakthrough weekend after a couple of tough losses.
At the last four events, the reigning champ has qualified no worse than third and she scored a morale-boosting win in Houston. Topeka is historically a fast track which should give the Monster team a chance to flex its muscles.
Parts Plus/Great Clips
Qualified on top of the field for the third time this season and only a bit of bad luck on race day cost them a shot at the title. There is a second win coming for the Stringer team, and it’s likely to be sooner rather than later.
Surprised to learn that he’s only won here once (2010) and has just one runner-up (2013). Regardless, the Army car seems to be turning the corner, even though they’re coming off back-to-back first round losses. This team rarely struggles for long.
Amalie Motor Oil
After back-to-back finals in Houston and Charlotte, Atlanta was a huge letdown. The importance of a week off between events can’t be ignored, especially for the single car teams. Expect a solid rebound in Topeka, old stomping grounds of crew chief Rob Wendland
Last year, the Matco team failed to win the first round just once and that was more than halfway through the season in Seattle. Today, they’ve gone three-straight races without a round win. That is completely out of character for a team so used to success.
Advance Auto Parts Chevy
The Funny Car class is so tough that the difference between first and tenth right now is minute. That being said, this team is currently the best of the best with four poles and two wins in the first seven races of the season.
Twenty-years ago, he beat the late Al Hofmann to win the first of his four Topeka titles. Funny Car class was plenty competitive then, but not sure it compares to today’s deep and talented field with at least a dozen potential winners.
Strange line for the DHL team this year with two wins but zero runner-up or semifinal finishes so it’s been mostly all or nothing. Early Atlanta loss cost them two spots in the points standings which they’d most certainly like to get back here.
Mopar Express Lane Dodge
Qualifying has been a bit of an issue lately but there was nothing wrong with their race-day performance in Atlanta where the Mopar crew made four solid runs to reach the final round for the third time this season. Back-to-back Topeka finals as well.
Auto Club Camaro
Lost one of the craziest races of the year in Atlanta when he and Bob Tasca III both smoked the tires early. A bit of a surprise that the Auto Club team hasn’t won a so far after seven races this season. Expect that to change soon.
Two-time champ has been really good lately, so he should probably be ranked a bit higher. Depends on weather this is a finesse race or a “give it all you got” race. Historically, Topeka can go either way. Oh, and he has four wins here but none since 1995.
Infinite Hero Dodge
Only lost in the first round once this year, and that was when he broke against Richard Townsend in Phoenix. That sort of consistency is a key to navigating the minefield that is Funny Car 2018. It’s entirely possible to semifinal one’s way to a championship.
Tommy Johnson Jr.
Solid qualifying efforts. Nine round wins. Fourth in the Mello Yello Funny Car points standings. Looking at the big picture, hard to find fault in anything they’ve done this year. Only thing lacking is a victory.
Mountain View Camaro
For a team that almost hung it up last season, this has been a remarkable turnaround with two wins in the first seven races and the points lead. Pro Stock can be a fickle class but there’s nothing to suggest they won’t hover around the top spot all year long.
Time and time again, she’s proven that she doesn’t need the best car in order to win. Atlanta was a disaster, but the Elite cars are clearly better than last year and that should mean more wins for the popular two-time champion.
He’s qualified first in four of the last five races and has yet to appear in a final round. Anderson would be the first to say that’s unacceptable. He’d also likely say it’s time to “dig deep and find a way to get it done.”
Gray Manufacturing Technologies Camaro
Always interesting to watch how a Pro Stock driver’s confidence soars whenever they have a fast and reliable race car. The Gray team’s Camaro appears to have turned the corner, and Tanner is certainly doing his part behind the wheel.
Skillman Auto Camaro
Moved up a few spots this week thanks to a strong qualifying performance and a semifinal finish in Atlanta. Success in Pro Stock is measured in fractions and right now, the Skillman team is just a fraction of a fraction behind the leaders.
Harlow Sammons Camaro
If he doesn’t shake the tires, he’d have probably given Vincent Nobile all he could handle in the second round in Atlanta. That’s water under the bridge now. He’s good enough to win anywhere. Just needs to put all the pieces together on the right day.
Jeg Coughlin Jr.
Elite-powered cars have won four of seven races this season which is great news for the five-time champ, who is incredibly, seeking his first Pro Stock win since the 2014 season. He just needs to find a way to win the really close ones.
Butner Auto Camaro
What’s the world champ doing way down here? A couple of sub-par qualifying efforts and a couple of early losses will have an effect. No reason to hit the panic button but something is clearly out of synch in the Butner Auto camp.
It’s extremely difficult to deliver consistent results in Pro Mod but somehow this guy always finds a way to get the job done. Rarely makes a bad run, which helps explain why he’s got three championships and the points lead.
It’s go time for Castellana and crew. Currently 92-points behind Smith in the standings, that number needs to shrink at the next couple of races. The good news is that they were in the final round last year at this event, so they know Topeka well.
When he arrived on the NHRA scene this year, everyone knew he’d be good. They just didn’t expect it do happen so soon. Charlotte champ is going to contend all season.
Jan-Cen Racing Camaro
The words consistency and Pro Mod generally don’t go together very well but this is a guy who pretty much qualifies everywhere and wins more than his fair share of rounds. That would help explain how he’s just 35-points out of first place after three events.
J&A Service Camaro
Following up an impressive Houston win with a devastating DNQ in Charlotte. There is plenty of time to right the ship and make a run at the title but can’t afford another mulligan.
He’s got the same stuff as teammate Rickie Smith and most times, his car runs like it. No reason to think the former series champ can’t get similar results from strong nitrous tune-up.
Going to be interesting to see how quickly he can bounce back from devastating final round crash in Charlotte. He’s racing Shadow 2.0, his popular small tire car so this should be very interesting.
Haney Racing Camaro
Well-know, colorful, and outspoken radial tire racer is making his long-awaited NHRA debut in the E3 Pro Mod series. He probably won’t win, but by the end of the weekend, everyone in Topeka should know his name. Bonus points if he lines up against Steve Jackson at any point.