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Five things we want to learn at NHRA preseason testing in Phoenix

Nitro testing begins Jan. 30 in Phoenix, giving us the opportunity to learn something about the 2019 season for the first time. Here’s what we want to find out.
22 Jan 2019
Jacob Sundstrom, NHRA National Dragster Associate Editor
Clay Millican

Steve Torrence, J.R. Todd, Tanner Gray, and Matt Smith all held Wallys the last time we saw NHRA Drag Racing live and in person. The upcoming test session at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Phoenix will not be open to the public, but the staff at NHRA National Dragster, NHRA.com, and Fox Sports 1 will do their best to keep you up to speed on what happens out in the desert next week as we gear up for the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals. [TICKETS

To that end, let’s get up to speed on what happened over the offseason and what we’re hoping to learn when the rubber hits the road for the first time in 2019. Remember, we’ll be out at the track for the Nitro test session (Pro Stock won’t take to the track until later in the week), so we’re going to focus on those storylines for this post.

How will Bob Tasca III’s new Ford Mustang perform?
Tasca failed to qualify for the Countdown to the Championship in his full-time return to NHRA Drag Racing. The Rhode Island racer is back with a vengeance in 2019 with a new assistant crew chief (Mike Green) and a new ride: the all-new Ford Mustang Funny Car body. This is the first time Ford built a Funny Car body in a decade, so expectations are high. Expect a handful of shakedown runs before Tasca lets the pony ride.

How will Jordan Vandergriff look in his new Top Fuel dragster?
Vandergriff will not make his Top Fuel debut until the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, but he will test in Phoenix. He raced a handful of times in Top Alcohol Dragster in 2018 and enters 2019 as one of the leading candidates for rookie of the year (Jianna Salinas being one of the other frontrunners). We know the car will be good — now it’s just a matter of seeing how well Vandergriff links up with the rail assigned to him.

What kind of showing will Don Schumacher Racing have?
It sounds like Antron Brown and Matt Hagan will represent DSR at testing. Neither of the former world champions performed well during the Countdown in terms of round record (or in any underlying stat save reaction-time average). These are conditions Hagan and crew chief Dickie Venables typically thrive in, but it will be interesting to see how the heavy hitter approaches this season after taking a step backwards in 2018.

Can Cruz Pedregon tune himself back to glory?
Pedregon does not lack confidence in his own tuning ability. Glen Huszar remains on board as the multitime world champion’s crew chief (which in this case literally means being in charge of the crew), which frees Pedregon up to tune and drive his Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat. He’s not the only driver in the class doing it (Wilkerson, Tim) so it’s unfair to say he can’t do it — but we also know it isn’t easy.

How will Clay Millican’s new team look with Mike Kloeber in charge?
Dave Grubnic is no longer with the Parts Plus team driven by Millican and longtime partner Kloeber has partnered back up with the Tennessean. That’s going to draw a lot of attention during testing, and certainly at the first race of the season in Pomona. It’s going to take more than a few passes to work out the kinks, but it’ll take much less time for the chatter about this team’s 2019 fortunes to begin (fairly or unfairly).