With half of the season in the books, we’ve seen numerous trends in NHRA nitro racing, and they include the domination of reigning Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence and, to a lesser extent, the recent emergence of Bob Tasca III, as a legitimate Funny Car championship contender. With the tour headed to scenic Epping, N.H., to start the second half, those two drivers are picked by Tricky Tipster to be the favorites in their respective categories.
Everything he touches turns to gold, or so it seems. Given his recent record of six wins and a runner-up in the last seven events, one has to wonder how he managed to go winless through the first five races of the season. If that was indeed a “championship hangover,” it was extremely mild and short-lived. Now, let’s see about that ESPY award.
He’s yet to win in Epping but was the runner-up here in 2014. He finished the “Summer Swing” with two semifinals and six round wins, but there is much, much more potential here. Remember, this is the team that opened the season with a top shelf performance in their Pomona victory.
Given the steady progress that the Matco Tools crew has made this season, it’s obvious that he’s going to win a race soon and wouldn’t this be a great place to do it. After all, he’s been in the last three finals here with a win in 2016, and runner-up finishes the past two seasons.
Advance Auto Parts
Crew chief David Grubnic is admittedly a bit perplexed by the recent performance of the Advance team, but the last race in Norwalk, where they qualified No. 1 and reached the semifinals, was perhaps just what the doctor ordered. They are not as far off as it might seem.
Amalie Motor Oil
Tricky Tipster rarely allows a single run to influence his decisions but there are exceptions to every rule. It’s not an exaggeration to suggest their 3.71 in Norwalk was one of the best runs of the season and even if you disagree, it’s a positive sign that this team is turning the page on a rough month of June.
There is a large party scheduled for sometime this summer, and the guest of honor will be this promising rookie, who seems destined to win a race before long. There is still work to be done, but as a whole, they are clearly better now than they were at the start of the season. It’s just a matter of time before the win lights start coming on.
Lots of ups and downs lately for the Parts Plus gang but their potential remains strong. Perhaps a return to Epping, where the Millican/Mike Kloeber combo had much early success, will help ignite a strong second half of the season.
Middle-of-the pack qualifying has been a huge challenge this season since more often than not, this car is the first car down the track on race day. The potential is there for top four qualifying results, which would help smooth out the road to a final round. Then again, he won Gainesville from the No. 12 spot so what do we know?
Bob Tasca III
It’s certainly a bit premature to suggest this is the best Funny Car in the class right now but the Motorcraft team has certainly been impressive the last two races. He gets the top spot this weekend, not just because he’s won the last two races, but because he’s playing a home game for the team’s many New England friends, fans, and family members.
Auto Club Chevy
The Summer Swing was very much a mixed bag with a win and runner-up in Chicago and Topeka followed by a pair of early exits but who are we kidding here, the Auto Club team has led the points since day one and they’re an overwhelming favorite to go into the Countdown as the No. 1 seed. Entirely possible they’ve been using the last few events for testing.
Infinite Hero Dodge
First things first: he’s sitting on 696-career rounds in a nitro car so if he should make it to the final here, he’ll hit 700 which is quite an accomplishment. He’s also got 59 final rounds as a pro and 60 is a nice milestone number. Also worth noting that he was No. 8 in the standings after Atlanta and has climbed to No. 4. That should tell you a bit about how well the Infinite Hero team has performed lately.
The 150-win watch continues, and this might be the week that he finally gets it. He won here in 2015 and was also a runner-up at the inaugural NHRA event in 2013. As most know, he’s also got a loyal following in New England from his many years as a match race attraction.
Earned a nice bump this week simply because he qualified No. 1 in Norwalk. He’s definitely cooled off a bit since Richmond win, but also managed to get through the grueling Summer Swing without a single round one loss and there is a lot to be said for that. Also, not irrelevant to note that he’s got a pair of wins in Epping in the last five years.
Tommy Johnson Jr.
Speaking of drivers who’ve done well lately, here’s a guy that hasn’t lost in the first round since Houston and he’s coming off a solid semifinal finish in Norwalk. The Make-A-Wish team has been able to qualify in the top half of the field in recent weeks, but they’ve been eighth at the last two events. A jump to the top five would most likely deliver dividends.
On the bright side, his success in qualifying has been impressive since Gainesville, where he was No. 11. Three round wins in the last four events is not an ideal way to defend a championship, but the news could be much worse. Bottom line, he’s still very much in the championship picture and he’s probably the leading threat (along with Tasca) to break up the DSR/JFR monopoly on Funny Car wins in Epping.
We struggled mightily with this one. Does he really deserve to be ranked ahead of Langdon and Wilkerson? It was easy to make that argument after realizing he’s won the last two Funny Car titles here. With one round win in the last six events, there probably isn’t another racer who is more looking forward to this event more than the two-time champion.