There are just eight races left in the 2018 season and two events before the start of the all-important Countdown to the Championship playoffs, so it’s put up or shut up time for NHRA Mello Yello Series drivers. This weekend’s Brainerd event will tell us a lot about who is ready for the long haul and who isn’t. As far as Tricky Tipster, NHRA National Dragster’s resident Wizard of Odds is concerned, Steve Torrence, Ron Capps, Jeg Coughlin Jr., and Eddie Krawiec are the pre-race favorites.
The Capco team didn’t have a particularly great Western Swing and they’ve never won in Brainerd but don’t forget they have five wins in five final rounds this year and enjoy a solid lead in the Top Fuel standings. That gives them a slim edge against a tough field.
Scored a win and a runner-up on the Western Swing and the Dodge/Pennzoil/Papa John’s team is also the defending event winner in Brainerd. That should be a recipe for another solid weekend.
The eight-time champ comes into Brainerd 161 points out of the top spot in Top Fuel. With two races left, it’s unlikely that he’s going to catch Torrence, but we’ve seen the Army crew perform the impossible before. That being said, almost any scenario to take the top seed would have to involve a Brainerd victory and he’s got three of them in his career.
Parts Plus/Great Clips
Seven times this year the Stringer Performance crew has donned the green hat as the low qualifier in Top Fuel including three of the last six events. Winning the race will also give him an even 200 round wins for his career in NHRA events.
If there is any team that needed a win, this is the one and after a momentum-boosting victory in Seattle, it will be interesting to see where they go from here. Conventional logic says the three-time champ has found his groove and will be primed for a big playoff run. He’s also been to the final here in four of the last seven year including 2016-17.
The Western Swing was a success with six round wins including a runner-up finish in Denver so things are looking up in the Mac Tools camp. He’s got two wins in Brainerd although they came in 2003-05. Also coming off his best qualifying performance of the year as the No. 2 seed in Seattle.
With the exception of two-time event winner Blake Alexander, no one does more with less seat time than the captain of the Capco fleet. Sooner or later, Billy will win a Top Fuel event and no one should be surprised if it happens here in northern Minnesota.
Fighting like crazy to secure a spot in the top ten which means he needs to make a big move in Brainerd and/or Indy. Coming off a semifinal in Seattle, and honestly, he should probably have made the final round. Qualifying in the top six here would be a huge plus.
Was the undisputed star of the Western Swing with a sterling 10-2 record and a win in Seattle. When it comes to Brainerd, he’s also a big favorite among the Zoo crowd with three-straight wins in 2012-14. The NAPA team is peaking at the right time to make a big run at another Mello Yello title.
Auto Club Chevy
A round two loss in Seattle took a little air out of the Auto Club team’s balloon but it’s worth noting they’ve won two of the last eight races and have qualified No. 5 or better in six of the last seven races. No reason to panic here. They’re in this deal for the long haul.
Advance Auto Parts Chevy
Entering Brainerd with a class-best 32-12 record in elimination rounds and perhaps most impressive of all is the string of 10 low qualifier awards. She’s never been in a final in Brainerd but there is a strong chance that will change this weekend. No matter how the rest of the season goes, this is a vastly improved team.
Coming off a win in Epping he had high hopes for the Western Swing so we’re sure that just two round wins was a big disappointment. He’s a two-time Brainerd finalist so he knows the track well. Oh, and he gets extra Tipster credit for a spectacular burnout on Woodward Ave. during last weekend’s Roadkill Nights event in Detroit.
Tommy Johnson Jr.
Back-to-back semifinals in Sonoma and Seattle was a massive boost to Countdown hopes but he’s not totally out of the woods yet. Another couple of round wins should do the trick and it appears the Make-A-Wish team finally has the performance to contend.
There have been 36 national events in Brainerd and this guy has been in the final of 14 of them with an amazing 11 victories so it’s safe to say he knows this place well. A big weekend here would also help lock up a Countdown spot in what has become a very competitive points battle.
Infinite Hero Dodge
This is one of the most difficult cars to handicap in any pro class. They are capable of dominating a given event, but their last final was Las Vegas and last victory was Gainesville. Basically, they could use a small break in order to get over the hump.
So far the second half of the season has not gone according to plan but at least the DHL team’s early season success has kept them out of the multi-way battle for the final Countdown spots. They’re currently safe in the No. 6 spot, so barring something crazy, they’ll race for the title.
Jeg Coughlin Jr.
A tale of two seasons: Last year, he went 22-24 for the entire season with zero victories. This time around, he’s 22-13 with three wins and eight more races to improve. Obviously, he’s got a much-improved car but his driving has also returned to 2000-era levels, which makes him a leading candidate for the title.
Gray Manufacturing Technologies Camaro
In his first 40 starts, he’s got nine wins in 12 final rounds which means he’s kinda good at this whole Pro Stock thing. Capped off the Western Swing with a win in Seattle and a very respectable 6-2 record for the three-week marathon. Oh, and he won here last year.
Summit Racing Camaro
Grew up racing in Brainerd and it’s easily his favorite stop on the tour. He’s only won two races here which illustrates how difficult it is for a driver to win one’s home event. Regardless, this is a really strong car that should be in the mix.
American Ethanol Camaro
Not that there was ever a lot of doubt but this season he’s proved that he’s a very capable driver. Crew chief Michael Hiner is also the real deal on a team that is coming off of back-to-back final round finishes in Sonoma and Seattle.
Mountain View Racing Camaro
Holding steady in fourth place in the Mello Yello standings which sets up for a nice Countdown run. Drove a solid race in Seattle with a pair of big round wins and a semifinal finish.
Summit Racing Camaro
The Line family will have multiple entries at their home event in Brainerd so it’s likely that at least one of them will make the money rounds. This one seems to have the best chance thanks to a win and a pair of runner-up finishes in the last four years here.
The good news is that the two-time champ has been to six final rounds this season but so far she’s only cashed in one of them. That trend will likely not continue much longer. Based on the performance of the Elite cars, and her quick left foot, there should be a couple more wins before the end of the season.
Butner Auto Camaro
Salvaged the Western Swing with a much-needed semifinal in Seattle. The world champ has also recently addressed some of his issues in qualifying. There is still time for a run at a second title, but it would be dependent on moving up a couple of spots before the Countdown starts.
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson
This isn’t necessarily his best track but after joining the Denso 200-mph club in Sonoma and qualifying No. 1 for the second-straight race he rates a slim edge for this event. There is also the possibility that he knocks teammate Andrew Hines from the top spot in the Mello Yello points with a victory here.
Smith Racing EBR
This will be the first race for his new EBR body which apparently performed well in testing. It’s not likely that he’ll go 200-mph, but there is a distinct chance that he’ll set low E.T. and/or win the race. He is also the 2008 Lucas Oil Nationals champion.
Nitro Fish Suzuki
Two wins and a runner-up in the last four events has the Nitro Fish rider thinking championship and to be honest, there is no reason to think he won’t get it. He won here in 2011 and older brother GT also scored a Brainerd win in 2005 as a member of the Vance & Hines Harley team.
White Alligator Suzuki
White Alligator bike has reached the final round here in each of the last two seasons with a win in 2017. He’s also in the midst of a solid season with a win in Charlotte and runner-up finishes in Norwalk and Denver.
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson
Three wins in five final rounds while racing among the pine trees and fresh water lakes that surround Brainerd. Recent final round loss to Tonglet in Sonoma was depressing, but he managed to hold on to the points lead.
Hector Arana Jr.
Lucas Oil EBR
Has qualified either first or second at every event since Atlanta and then there is that growing pile of 200-mph time slips. If there was ever a time for Arana to make a serious run at the Mello Yello world championship, this is it. When it’s right, this bike is almost untouchable.
Yellow Corn Suzuki
It might be a bit premature, but Sonoma seemed to be a big turning point for the Yello Corn team. After a rough start, he qualified No. 5 and turned in a couple of the best runs of his career. Give this kid a bike that’s competitive and he’s more than capable of doing the rest.
Suzuki Extended Protection Suzuki
The tide seems to be turning in the Stoffer/Underdahl camp and he could be one of the biggest beneficiaries. Much like Gladstone, we’ve got plenty of talent here to get the job done. Just waiting for proper opportunities at this point.