The first race of the Countdown featured a few surprises and a few big shake-ups in the battle for Mello Yello championships with Steve Torrence as the only incoming points leader to reach a final round. The second Countdown race in St. Louis figures to be just as wild and unpredictable but Tricky Tipster, NHRA’s prodigy of predictions, has labeled Steve Torrence, J.R. Todd, Tanner Gray, and the father-son duo of Rickie and Matt Smith as the favorites.
Entering St. Louis with a 50-point lead over Clay Millican and Tony Schumacher, he’s got a chance to put a real hammerlock on the title with a victory here. The Capco car has barely skipped a beat all season and it’s also worth noting that he is the defending event winner.
Needed a big showing to start the Countdown and he got it with a runner-up in Reading. Now the challenge is to maintain momentum, which is something the Army team hasn’t done much of this season. They’ve only been past the second round once this season in the race following their four final round appearances.
Parts Plus/Great Clips
Set low E.T. and top speed in Reading and there’s a good chance they’d have won the race if not for a slight miscue in the semifinals. The Stringer team has been the real deal all season long and there is absolutely no reason to think they can’t finish the job and win the Mello Yello title.
If there’s one team that loves Gateway Motorsports Park, it’s the Matco crew and what’s not to like when you’ve won this event five times in the last eight years. For all his struggles early in the season, he’s poised to possibly win a fourth title.
Okay, so he’s not in the Countdown but there’s a good chance that he can make life miserable for anyone who is. It’s unfair to call this car a blocker. It is far more than a blocker. It’s a serious threat to win the entire event and the driver is less likely to feel pressure than anyone in the Countdown.
The possibility for a Top Fuel/Factory Stock double-up still exists here and she’s likely going to need a Top Fuel win in order to keep pace in the championship battle. It’s possible to make up 101 points in five events, but there is little margin for error.
Another guy who should strike fear into the hearts of any Countdown contender. He’s averaged 90-points in his seven starts this season. By comparison, points leader Torrence had a 79-point per race average for the first 18 events of the regular season.
To suggest this this has been an interesting week at Kalitta Motorsports would be a massive understatement but sometimes a change of scenery is beneficial to all involved. This much is a constant; Doug Kalitta is one of the best drivers in the history of the Top Fuel class and he's going to be in this thing until the end.
You win Indy and then you win the first Countdown event in Reading and you get the top spot. That’s a no-brainer but there are probably few things in life that would be more difficult than winning three Funny Car races in a row. He’s got the points lead with five to go. The big challenge now will be keeping it.
Auto Club Chevy
Rare red-light in Reading was costly, but the damage could have been much worse. He was able to escape with minimal damage in the points battle. Heading into a AAA-backed event, there is no reason to think the Auto Club crew won’t quickly right the ship.
After a pair of early losses in Brainerd and Indy, it was important for the NAPA team to get a fresh start during the first race of the playoffs and they did just that with a semifinal showing. The top eight drivers in Funny Car are separated by just 86 points so there is almost no way this one gets decided early. Expect this car to be there at the end.
Advance Auto Parts Chevy
At best, you get one mulligan during the Countdown and the Advance team used theirs in Reading but the news wasn’t all bad. She did qualify No. 1 (again) and being 25-points out of the lead with five races left isn’t exactly the worst spot for a racer to be in. There is nothing going on here that a semifinal (or better) finish wouldn’t cure.
Much like Courtney Force, a first-round loss in Reading was crippling, but not the end of the world. He’s very much in the battle for the Championship but can’t afford another bad weekend. Although he’s never won in St. Louis, he does have three runner-up finishes.
Levi, Ray & Shoup Mustang
Not like anyone needed more evidence that Funny Car 2018 is wild and unpredictable but this guy barely made it into the Countdown and then went to the final in Reading so he’s now just 65-points out of first place in the Mello Yello standings. St. Louis is (sort of) his home event so it’s not hard to imagine the impact that a win here would have.
Infinite Hero Dodge
With two wins and two runner-up finishes in St. Louis since 2010 this has been a good track for “Fast Jack” and he’s going to need another good outing to get back in the mix after a tough outing last week. Honestly, the difference between he No. 1 and No. 8 car in this field is minimal.
Tommy Johnson Jr.
His scorecard over the last five races reads one runner-up, three semifinals, and a quarterfinal. That’s all well and good but it’s going to take a final round or two in the next couple of races in order to remain in Championship contention.
Gray Manufacturing Technologies Camaro
One might argue that he had the best car in Reading because he had low E.T. and that’s a valid point but there wasn’t much difference between any driver in the top half of the field. He’s still the points leader but it’s going to take some effort to keep the rest of the field at bay.
Mountain View Camaro
The Mountain View crew has been hit or miss at times this season, but they were extremely impressive in Reading. In a sport where momentum can mean everything, that win might well set them up for a run to the Championship in Pomona.
Summit Racing Camaro
We’ve often heard Anderson say that he’s “got to find a way to get the job done” and he pretty much did last week with a holeshot win over acknowledged starting line master Jeg Coughlin. Anderson trails by just 30-points in the standings so he’s very much a championship contender.
Jeg Coughlin Jr.
The mark of a true champion is the ability to bounce back from adversity so after a frustrating loss to start the Countdown, it would be wise to expect a quick rebound from the five-time champion. His two St. Louis wins also bode well for an extended stay on Sunday.
She’ll be racing in Pro Mod again with the promising Elite Performance turbo Camaro but make no mistake, the real focus is on the Pro Stock car and a possible third championship. Five races left and 52-points to make up. That’s not too much to ask from a team that’s as deep as this one is.
Skillman Auto Camaro
The 2015 St. Louis champ picked the right time to snap out of his season-long funk with a much-needed runner-up in Reading. Another final round finish here and we’re going to have a heck of a fight for the Pro Stock title down the stretch.
American Ethanol Camaro
Have you seen his lights? Granted, more than half the field in Pro Stock is able to consistently hammer the Tree but this guy is able to hold his own with the best of them. He struggled in Reading but is primed for a big comeback in St. Louis. He’s going to need to win a few rounds to get back in the hunt for the title.
Butner Auto Camaro
To be honest, it’s going to take a monumental effort for him to successfully defend his 2017 Mello Yello championship but that’s not to say it’s impossible. Points aside, he’s still got the No. 1 on his car for a reason and it would be foolish to think he can’t end the year with a win or two.
Smith Racing EBR
He wasn’t able to finish the job last weekend, but the fact remains that he had the best bike in the class for every run but the final round. A two-time St. Louis winner, he’s going to be tough to stop if he can come anywhere close to his performance in Reading. At some point, he’s also going to run 200-mph, probably soon.
Hector Arana Jr.
Lucas Oil EBR
Would it be an exaggeration to call his performance in Reading the best race of his career? Probably not. He was brilliant when it mattered most and his Lucas Oil EBR was as quick as any bike in the field with the possible exception of Smith.
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson
While it’s true that “Steady Eddie” has two wins in St. Louis, Gateway Motorsports Park is far from his best track. He’s also coming off a tough loss last week in Reading. That being said, he’s still the points leader if only by three markers. His mission this weekend would be to extend that to at least double-digits.
Nitro Fish Suzuki
It was a bit of a shock to see him red-light by three-thousandths in the semi’s last week in Reading but he likely didn’t have enough to challenge Matt Smith’s 6.81 effort anyway. Tonglet remains a more-than-capable rider but he’s going to need to make better runs if he wants to with a second Mello Yello title.
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson
Historically, the Harley-Davidson bikes find another gear during the Countdown but not so much last week when Hines was outrun by Tonglet in the second round. This team is surely capable of a big turnaround, but it would need to happen quickly for both bikes to remain in title contention.
White Alligator Suzuki
Any trip to St. Louis is likely to stir special memories for Savoie who won his first race here in 2014 and then repeated the feat during his championship season in 2016. It’s safe to say he loves racing here and is very comfortable at Gateway Motorsports Park
Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson
The Harley team will again expand to three bikes with the addition of veteran rider Ellis. He looked just fine in his first event in Indy and figures to be in the mix again this weekend. The only question is how much damage can he do if he’s paired with title contenders, Matt Smith, Arana Jr., Tonglet, or Savoie.
Now 122-points out of first place the reality is that it would take a superhuman effort to win the championship but this is also a bike that’s quick enough to crush the dreams of those who are still in contention for the title. Historically, the Denso bike has a habit of toppling former and current world champions.
Smith Racing Camaro
He had a chance to distance himself from the field in Indy but that didn’t happen. Now he’s in a tie with Mike Janis for the title with three races remaining. No one races better with their back to the wall like Trickie Rickie and he’s also like to get his first win here after three runner-up finishes.
Jan-Cen Racing Camaro
At the start of the season, if someone had told him he’d be tied for the point lead heading into St. Louis we’re sure he’d have signed on the dotted line without hesitation. Very little doubt he’s going to bring his “A Game” to the remaining events.
Former Pro Mod champ is 110-points back with three to go. Stranger things have happened and when you have Frank Manzo in your corner, nothing is impossible. The mindset here is win this race and then look at the points later. That’s the primary focus of the AAP team right now.
He reportedly put aside other events on his calendar to focus on the all-important points battle in the E3 Spark Plugs Pro Mod series and after a thrilling win in Indy, why wouldn’t he? He may or may not get back into the battle for the championship but either way its going to be fun to watch.
Skipping events at mid-season cost him a realistic shot at the championship but he’s been a factor whenever he’s including Indy, where he was runner-up to Jackson. This car is capable of setting low E.T, top speed, and winning the event.
Bond Coat Camaro
So far this year, he’s been a rock-solid qualifier at almost every stop on the tour and with 32 cars trying for 16 spots, that’s a huge deal in Pro Mod. He has yet to win a race this year but all that could change soon enough.
Bahrain 1 Camaro
Nitrous cars have made some extremely impressive runs this year in NHRA Pro Mod competition and the former champ and former Top Fuel driver has been at the forefront. His last race at Indy was impressive with a semifinal finish. It will be interesting to see if he can carry that momentum on to the Gateway city.
J4 Racing Corvette
Consistency is a relative word in Pro Mod but this car is about as consistent as they come, at least during qualifying. There have been a lot of talented newcomers to the Pro Mod class this season and this team ranks as one of the field’s most impressive.