St. Louis is the current home of NHL’s Stanley Cup, but the racers who descend on World Wide Technology Raceway for this weekend’s AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals will have a different trophy on their minds; a coveted NHRA Wally.
This is also the second race in the Countdown to the Championship and for almost anyone in the top ten, there is still time to make a move in the standings. According to Tricky Tipster, Doug Kalitta, John Force, Jason Line, Jerry Savoie, and Pro Mod’s Steve Jackson are the early favorites.
Even though he didn’t win in Reading, Tipster had no choice but to elevate the Mac Tools crew to the top spot in Top Fuel. After their performance over the last three races, with a semi in Brainerd, a win in Indy, and a runner-up in Reading, it had to be done. There are very few people in this sport who wouldn’t be happy to see this guy get a long-awaited championship. There is much work to be done before that becomes a reality but for now, this is the team to beat.
Well, there will be no Countdown sweep this year, after a shocking round one loss in Reading but anyone who thinks the Capco crew can’t or won’t bounce back hasn’t been paying attention. Making up 47-points with five races remaining is not that difficult, especially for someone who’s won 20 of the last 43 races. The Capco team will be in this fight till the bitter end. Count on it. He’s also riding a two-year win streak at World Wide Technology Raceway.
Advance Auto Parts/Carquest
If not for a fuel leak in the semifinals in Reading, there is a strong likelihood that the Advance team would have run the table and emerged as the points leader. The national record is nice, but a second Mello Yello championship is, and has always been, the top priority. Fair to expect another strong qualifying performance and a strong push to make the final round on Sunday.
With five wins in a six-year span from 2009 to 2015, it’s safe to say that AB loves racing in St. Louis. In the bigger picture, he’s just 53-points out of the lead and for someone who has yet to win a race this year, that’s a huge accomplishment. The Matco Tools car has been solid over the past few races, especially in qualifying, and this would be the perfect opportunity for them to find another gear and collect their first Wally of 2019.
When it comes to the Countdown, almost every race is a “must win” event as far as the championship contenders are concerned. That’s especially true for this team, since they are currently ranked No. 8 and need to make a move sooner rather than later. That being said, the Brainerd champ is just 93-points out of first place and a win here could cut that margin dramatically. The bottom line is the Dodge/Pennzoil team is still very much in control of their own destiny.
Well hello there, where have you been? Following their win in Gainesville, the DHL team had a relatively quiet summer, and they barely squeezed their way into the playoff round. Now, things have changed dramatically thanks to a clutch win in Reading. Currently in fifth place with a race car that has finally shown some consistency and all of a sudden, the prospect of a Mello Yello championship isn’t so far-fetched.
Montana Brands/Rocky Mountain Twist
Since his first-career win in Seattle, the rookie of the year favorite is 10-3 in elimination rounds and it right in the thick of the championship battle. He’s also the class reaction time leader, which is not a comforting feeling for anyone in the other lane. It might be a bit early for him to be considered a championship favorite, but at this stage of his career, he’s well ahead of schedule.
It’s not an exaggeration to suggest that his win over then-points leader Steve Torrence in Reading was the most important round of the season in Top Fuel, but the Parts Plus team wasn’t able to finish the job. Time and time again, this car puts up huge numbers, but does not do it consistently. As soon as that changes, the rest of the pack is going to have a huge problem on their hands and if there is a championship in their future, it needs to change fairly quickly.
Two months ago in Seattle, while everyone else was searching for the world’s best cup of coffee, this guy apparently found the fountain of youth. A win in Seattle and a win in Indy followed by a runner-up in Reading and suddenly it’s 1999 all over again. More importantly, he is just 19 points out of first place with five races left so the notion of a 17th championship is not far-fetched at all. He’s also got three previous wins in St. Louis for what that’s worth.
Infinite Hero Dodge
He was recently quoted as saying he’d prefer a win in Reading over an Indy win, simply because of the points implications. Well Jack, your wish has been granted. Now that he’s got the top spot in Funny Car, the real challenge will be holding on to it. With nearly a dozen cars in the class that are honestly capable of winning a race, it’s obviously going to take more than one victory to seal the deal. Honestly, two or three wins might not be enough.
Auto Club Chevy
As the defending event champ, he’d love nothing more than a repeat of last year’s final round, minus the post-race ambulance ride. The Auto Club team hasn’t been to a final since Sonoma, and the coughed up the points lead in Reading two weeks ago, but a recent test session reportedly yielded positive results. In fact, they’re rolling into the Gateway city with as much confidence as they’ve had at any points this season.
Easy to make the case that he had the best car in Reading, but his chances for a clean sweep ended in the semifinals. The 2017 St. Louis champ, he’s in a great spot as far as the championship goes. Like many of the other championship contenders, an early loss would be devastating at this point while a final round would be just what the doctor ordered. Smart money would lean towards the latter.
A year removed from their first Mello Yello series championship, the DHL crew probably never expected to be in seventh place in the standings with five races left but the news isn’t all bad. For one, they are just 90-points out of the lead and they are bringing a pretty good hot rod to the Gateway city. The last two races have produced two semifinal finishes and they could desperately use another one here. A final round would be even more beneficial to the cause.
A runner-up here in three of the past seven years, this would be a great time for another final round showing, especially after a tough round two loss in Reading. The trouble began when he qualified uncharacteristically low in the No. 9 spot and drew teammate Capps in round two. Expect a better qualifying effort here, which helps pave the way for a less stressful Sunday.
Tommy Johnson Jr.
With wins in Chicago and Denver, and a runner-up in Brainerd, one could have made a case for the Make-A-Wish Dodge as the best car in the country, but now we’re not so sure. Back-to-back round one losses has been a brutal way to enter the Countdown and quite honestly, these guys can’t afford another one any time soon. Expect to see something along the lines of a semifinal or better.
Global Electronic Technologies Toyota
How do you get over a first round loss in Reading? This guy hopped in his dragster and headed to Bristol where he was runner-up in a $30,000 bracket race at the Fall Fling event. Nothing is able to boost confidence better than a few win lights, no matter where they come from. Tenth place with 136-points to make up is going to be tough to do, but not impossible given the competitive nature of the Funny Car class.
Summit Racing Equipment Camaro
After his latest win in Reading, he joked about “not doing a great job in any aspect of driving.” That’s okay, when things are going your way, you can stumble and fumble your way to a championship. All kidding aside, he’s got arguably the best car in the class right now and if he can get his lights to come around, even a little, this will be a tough combination to beat heading down the stretch.
To be brutally honest, Reading was a disaster, but the damage could have been much worse. As painful as it was to lose a round two match to a non-Countdown car (Fernando Cuadra), she actually picked up a spot in the points. She also had the best car in qualifying, and all things considered, a 78-point deficit isn’t too much to overcome. Back-to-back wins here in 2012-13, and a runner-up in 2015 is also a positive omen going forward.
Truth be told, there are about ten cars that could win this race, and this is certainly one of them. Actually, his chances might be a bit better than most when one factors in his recent Indy win and the sizzling 6.48 he ran in Reading to qualify No. 2. Also, it’s worth mentioning that he’s got 25 round wins this season, which is tops in the Pro Stock class.
Total Seal Camaro
That whole business about ten cars that can win here? Yep, this is another one of them. His wins over Greg Anderson and Alex Laughlin in Reading were exactly the sort of clutch victories that will keep him in this deal until the end. Currently trailing by 91-points, he can’t afford to fall back much farther, so it’s important to notch a few victories this weekend.
Butner Auto Camaro
For the first time this season, he’s not the points leader in Pro Stock which makes this perhaps the most critical race of the year. His last three race results have all been quarterfinal losses and that won’t cut it during the Countdown phase of the season. He’s going to need a semifinal or better to keep pace, and a win would be even better.
Jeg Coughlin Jr.
Historically, World Wide Technology Raceway has been good to the JEGS flagship with a win and four final rounds since 1997. This would be a most opportune time to add to that total. He’s one of four drivers that are flirting with the line that separates the title contenders from everyone else. With five races left, he can make up 95-markers, but that’s about the limit
American Ethanol Camaro
After qualifying No. 4, he probably deserved better than a quarterfinal loss in Reading, but that’s now ancient history. The sole focus here should be geared towards pecking away at teammate Jason Line’s lead in the standings. He’s got to cut at least one or two rounds from the deficit, and needs to do it soon.
Summit Racing Equipment Camaro
This guy has a never-say-die mentality and that’s a good thing because he’s going to need it in order to challenge for a fifth championship. When it comes to “must win” situations, this one is fairly clear cut since he’s 102-points back of teammate Line, and would need to climb over seven drivers to take the lead.
White Alligator Suzuki
Three races ago, he was tenth in the standings and seriously considering a reduced schedule for the remainder of the season. Now, after back-to-back wins in Indy and Reading, he’s the points leader and there is every reason to believe he can win his second Mello Yello championship in the last three years.
With three wins here, including last year’s event, this qualifies as one of his better tracks and after a tough loss to Steve Johnson in Reading, he could use a boost. Right now, he’s 23-points out of the lead with five races remaining and as history has shown, this bike has the ability to dominate. No reason to hit the panic button but also no reason to step off the gas.
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson
Not really sure why all of the Harley-Davidson bikes slowed on Sunday in Reading, but it cost them the points lead. To make matters worse, no Harley has won here since 2012 and Hines has not won this race since 2008. This was easily the best bike in the class for the first ten races of the season and he’s still got a chance to make history this season. They just need to right the ship quickly.
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson
It’s troubling to see a four-time world champion go 11 races into the season with zero wins but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The potential is certainly there, even if the results have not been. The funny thing is that he’s just 32-points out of first place which means that if he wins this event, no matter who is in the final, he’ll be right in the thick of the battle, perhaps even the point leader.
Big St. Charles Suzuki
Reading was a huge event for the Suzuki teams but the big question now being asked is can that momentum continue? If the answer is yes, then this team figures to be in the mix till the end. Her riding has never been better and St. Louis is the home base for sponsor Big St. Charles so there would be no better time for a breakthrough victory.
Hector Arana Jr.
Lucas Oil EBR
Is it possible that this year turns out like last season where no one was able to hold on to the points lead for very long. The Lucas bikes have historically done well in St. Louis and with a 49-point deficit, this would be a good time to turn the wick up a notch. Incidentally, he hasn’t qualified worse than seventh at any race this year so there’s a good chance to collect some bonus points as well.
Johnson Racing Suzuki
Where the heck did this guy come from? After sitting out multiple races, he returned to Reading and stunned many of the Countdown contenders en route to a runner-up finish that no one could have predicted. If that level of performance continues, he’s going to severely cripple the dreams of several of the Countdown riders if he hasn’t already done so.
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson
Lots of good news here and a bit that isn’t so good. First the good stuff; with back-to-back low qualifying efforts she’s got the best bike that she’s had in years (perhaps in her whole career). Now the not-so-good; the Sunday win lights are still infrequent. With 83-points to make up, she’s teetering on the edge of competitiveness as far as the championship is concerned. A final round showing would cure a lot in the Vance & Hines camp.
Bahrain 1 Camaro
This is a guy who doesn’t seem to feel pressure and with a 122-point lead in the standings and just three races left, he quite honestly shouldn’t be feeling any. He can almost sleepwalk his way to the title but that’s not his style either. Expect a full court press to wrap this deal up sooner rather than later. It probably won’t happen this weekend, but likely will very soon.
Al-Anabi Performance Camaro
No matter what happens the rest of the season, he’ll be forever known as the 2019 Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals Pro Mod champ. Of course that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t like to finish the season with another win or two. That scenario is entirely possible.
Bahrain 1 Camaro
Interesting that he’s never won this race, but has been to the final round in three of the last six years. After the way his car ran at Indy, with a string of 5.7s, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that he’ll add another trophy to the collection this weekend.
AAP/Janis Superchargers Camaro
His title defense clearly hasn’t gone as well has he’d hoped but a win and four semifinals in nine races isn’t half-bad especially when one considers the level of talent, and the overwhelming numbers in the NHRA E3 Pro Mod Series. A second title might be out of reach, but a second victory certainly is not.
His accident in Topeka was clearly a big set-back and it might well have cost him a shot at the 2019 NHRA Pro Mod championship, but he’s beginning to find his footing again. Kept slim championship hopes alive when he defeated Jackson in the first round at Indy. A similar feat here would go a long way towards extending the title to the final events of the season in Charlotte, Dallas, and Las Vegas.
In the interest of fair reporting he’s coming off a DNQ in Indy, but this team went to a pair of final rounds in the two events prior to that which is far more indicative of their potential. As far as NHRA Pro Mods goes, this is about as good as it gets. Remember, he’s also qualified No. 1 at two events this season, which is another positive sign for the rest of the season.
Bahrain 1 Camaro
The nitrous cars were quite competitive at Indy including this one. After qualifying No. 8, he dropped a close round two battle to teammate Rickie Smith. If you want to discuss ancient history, he was the winner in Norwalk two races ago and has five career victories in NHRA Pro Mod racing.
Once again, lets look back to the most recent event at Indy where we see a team that ran solid 5.7s and should have made it to the final round. He’s holding on to a spot in the top ten, so another strong showing is in order to preserve that ranking for next season.