Nine months after it began, the 2019 season is coming to a close in Pomona at the Auto Club NHRA Finals and Tricky Tipster has the inside scoop on the Mello Yello series pros who are on track to finish on a high note. The pre-race favorites include championship leaders Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and longshot Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
When he won the Auto Club NHRA Finals last year, it capped off an unprecedented Countdown sweep, but it had very little impact on the championship, which was decided earlier. This time, he might just need to win the race to defend his title. Last season, he was 24-0 during the Countdown and he enters Pomona on a 10-5 pace. The good news is that he backed up last year’s Finals victory with a runner-up at the 2019 Winternationals so Pomona has been good to him lately.
Advance Auto Parts/Carquest
If the Advance team can do what they did in Las Vegas, she will win her second Mello Yello championship because they had the best car in the field by a fairly wide margin. With a 16-point deficit to make up and 30 points per round win, the championship picture is fairly clear; if she wins the race, she will be the champion, unless Torrence can gain 15 points on her in qualifying, which is extremely unlikely.
Don’t count this team out of the championship because if anyone knows how quickly things can change in Pomona, it’s the Mac Tools crew. Their semifinal loss in Las Vegas was devastating, but there is a lot of reason for optimism going forward including the fact that he won the Wally the last time we raced in Pomona nine months ago.
Technically, he can still win the championship although 86-points is a lot of ground to make up, even with points-and-a-half on the table in Pomona. His runs in Las Vegas were certainly impressive with a 3.66 in qualifying and a string of low 3.7s on Sunday. He is a favorite to win the race, even if that falls short of the championship.
First the good news; she’s qualified either first or second in four of the five events held during the Countdown (and sixth at the other). Now for the frustrating part; she’s got just six round wins to show for it. The Dodge dragster can run with any other car in the field, but race-day consistency has been absent since Brainerd, where they won their lone event of the season. Coming in with a deficit of 135-points, it would take something miraculous to win the championship, but she also might have a say in who eventually leaves with the hardware.
Montana Brands/Rocky Mountain Twist
At this point, it’s probably safe to assume that he’s going to be honored on Monday night with the Auto Club Road to the Future award. There is also cause for celebration after the team renewed for 2020 with Montana Brands/Rocky Mountain Twist. Now, priority one should be ending the season with a second victory and after a 3.68 in the opening round in Las Vegas, there is no reason to think that can’t happen.
Amalie Motor Oil
To be brutally honest, this has been a disappointing season for the former Indy winner but his performance in Las Vegas should be cause for optimism. It would do a lot of good to see this team make it to a final round to end their season and there is no reason to think that can’t happen. Remember, the last time we were in Pomona he made it two the semifinals and barely lost to Doug Kalitta?
Another car that is and should be solidly in the 3.6s in Pomona which makes it a threat to win the race. Crew chief Alan Johnson has done some magical things in Pomona, so another win with the Scrappers crew would hardly be a surprise. Also, it's worth noting that he was in the semifinals at the Winternationals and barely lost to Steve Torrence.
Auto Club Chevy
A third championship is there for the taking, but it won’t come easy. A 46-point lead is nice, but it’s not safe, especially when the closest pursuer is former champ Jack Beckman. In all likelihood, it will take at least a semifinal to wrap up the title (and maybe even a win or a runner-up) which of course the Auto Club crew is more than capable of delivering. Look at it this way, he’s been to the semi’s in 13 of 23 races so far so he’s the favorite.
When he lost to Jim Campbell in the opening round in St. Louis, the two-time champ was ninth in the standings and all hope seemed to be lost. Now, after a semifinal in Charlotte and back-to-back wins in Dallas and Las Vegas, he’s very much in the thick of the points battle. Admittedly, it’s going to take a big effort to pass both Hight and Beckman, but stranger things have happened in Pomona.
Infinite Hero Dodge
At this point, there is really no need to do any fancy math. The Infinite Hero crew’s best bet is to do everything possible to win the race and just let the points fall where they may. Since Indy, they are 13-5 on race day, and they’ve been the low qualifier three times in the last six races which means they’ve earned their fair share of qualifying bonus points.
Bob Tasca III
Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford
A semifinal in Las Vegas was most likely not enough to give the Motorcraft team a legit shot at the championship but they still have a lot to feel good about as the season winds down. Securing two wins in four finals is about as good as it gets in Funny Car these days and it’s easy to argue that this team is better now than they were at the start of the season. A win here would not be the least bit surprising.
Okay, so a 17th championship seems pretty unlikely at this point but it’s hard to argue that this hasn’t been a successful season for John Force and the Peak team. He’s been to the winner’s circle 16 times in Pomona during his career (including Winternationals and Finals) which makes Auto Club Raceway Pomona one of his best tracks. Even though he’s a longshot, there might still be a JFR double celebration come Sunday evening.
Let’s face it, the Countdown has not been kind to the NAPA team, especially after they showed so much promise during the regular season with three wins in four final rounds. Should he win this race, and that’s is a distinct possibility, he’ll have 750 round wins for his career, another significant milestone in a career that has had plenty of them.
A year ago, the DHL team marched into Pomona, won the race, and left with the Mello Yello Funny Car title and even though they’ve won just once this year and aren’t in contention for a second championship, there is a good chance they slip away with another title. Admittedly, the results have been spotty lately, but they are better than their record shows.
Head Racing Ford
Okay, so it’s only one race but this team looked really good in Las Vegas, where they were solidly in the 3.8s and got to the final round for the first time this season. No matter how they run it Pomona, it does appear that they’ve fixed a few issues so we’re willing to give them the benefit of the doubt for one race. For the three or four drivers who are contending for the championship, this is a car you’d want to avoid in the early rounds on Sunday.
Even with the points-and-a-half format in Pomona, a third championship is well within reach because honestly, she doesn't need to do much more than win in the first round, which she has done at all but two events this season.
Jeg Coughlin Jr.
Losing back-to-back finals in Dallas and Las Vegas was just about enough to finish off his shot at a sixth championship. His only hope is for Enders to go out early, which rarely happens so why not just focus on making it to the final for the third-straight race and ending the season with a Wally. That’s pretty much the mentality of the JEGS team and there is no reason to think it won’t become a reality.
Summit Racing Equipment Camaro
He’s got 94 Wallys sitting in his trophy case and 12 of them are from Auto Club Raceway Pomona which means he knows how to get the job done in So Cal. All told, this hasn’t been a bad year with three wins in five final rounds but there is always room for another win. Right now, the Summit car is as good as any in the class. He’s also a good bet to qualify No. 1 for what that’s worth.
Total Seal Camaro
After a heartbreaking loss in the first round in Las Vegas, there is probably no one who is as eager to get back in the saddle than this guy. Regardless of how the season finishes, he’s proven that he’s a legit championship contender in the Pro Stock class by more than doubling his career round wins this season.
Butner Auto Camaro
Anyone remember the end of the 2017 season, when he dramatically clinched the Mello Yello championship? How about more recent history like the 2019 Winternationals, where he started the season with another victory. Most racers don’t put much stock in the whole “favorite track” thing but when you’ve won three of the last four events at a particular venue, there is something to be said about it.
Summit Racing Equipment Camaro
His record here isn’t too shabby with five wins in ten final rounds so once again, we’re going to suggest that he likes Auto Club Raceway Pomona. Oddly, his qualifying has slipped to the middle of the pack at the last two races so that’s a slight cause for concern. If he can qualify in the top four, which certainly happens more often than not, that should set up a long stay during Sunday’s final eliminations.
American Ethanol Camaro
Before Las Vegas, where a red-light all but ended his shot at the title, he was cruising along with ten wins during the Countdown. A top-five finish is still well within reason and there is always a chance that he can play spoiler for one of the cars still in contention for the Championship.
Hard to tell exactly what happened here but the wheels ran off following an impressive Indy win. That being said, he looked much better in Las Vegas with a quarterfinal showing. Even though he’s nursing an arm injury, that hasn’t seemed to hamper his driving and four final-round appearances this season can’t be overlooked.
The reigning champ enters the season finale as the No. 4 ranked rider in the class and as he noted in Las Vegas, he can get to second based on qualifying points. He had the best bike in Las Vegas and will no doubt be competitive this week, but tracking down Andrew Hines in the race for the championship will be a real chore, if not next to impossible. Got to wonder if he’ll try and manipulate the ladder and catch the Harley rider early in eliminations?
White Alligator Suzuki
This is a really fast bike that could easily run the table here. Also, worth noting that he’s raced in 12 events this season and has three wins and a runner-up which makes for a pretty solid win percentage. Doubtful he’d try and qualify down the ladder to catch Hines early, but that might be an interesting strategy for a Hail Mary attempt to win the championship.
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson
At 115-points he’s got the biggest lead of any of the four pro categories but it’s hard to argue that he’s got the best bike at this point. The Vance & Hines team has historically done well in Pomona so that helps. He is an overwhelming favorite to win the championship but rightfully ranked third in the battle to win the race, at least as far as Tipster is concerned.
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson
Drag racing can be an odd sport at times, especially when one considers that a four-time champion and a 47-time national event winner could go winless for the first time in a decade. Also, it’s difficult to imagine that he can go to five final rounds and not win a single one of them but here we are. Something has to give sooner or later, right?
Big St. Charles/Skillman Auto Suzuki
There is quite a battle brewing with the No. 2 through No. 5 riders separated by just nine points in the standings. She comes into Pomona as the No. 5 ranked rider in the class, but second place is well within reach and that should be the ultimate goal. No matter how it plays out, this has been a memorable season for one of the class’ most popular riders.
Johnson Racing Suzuki
What he’s done in the second half of the season is nothing short of miraculous but all that’s missing is a victory. The bike is certainly good enough to get the job done. He just needs to find a bit of consistency (and perhaps a bit of good luck) to go the distance on race day. Worth pointing out that he was a runner-up to late great John Myers at this event in 1995.
Hector Arana Jr.
Lucas Oil EBR
He’s lost 14 rounds this season and ten of those losses have come at the hands of the Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson team. Eventually, you’d have to think the score will begin to even out. Remember, this is a bike that won a race earlier this season and has been to the semifinals seven times in 15 events so it’s a pretty darn good one.
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson
One chance remaining to reach the final round in her first season aboard a Harley-Davidson. To be fair, a lot of progress has been made but the field is stacked right now so final rounds are hard to come by for everyone. Also, it’s worth noting that she has three wins in five final rounds in Pomona, including a couple that featured the pressure of a tight points battle.