Ever wonder why the Sonoma Valley is home to many of the world’s finest wines? It could be the sun, the soil, or the climate, but Tricky Tipster likes to think it’s the nitromethane fumes that emanate from Sonoma Raceway during the annual NHRA Sonoma Nationals. Whatever the reason, there’s lots to like about NHRA’s annual stop in Northern California, especially if you’re a fan of Steve Torrence, Bob Tasca III, Bo Butner, or Andrew Hines, who have been labeled as favorites this weekend.
If Tricky Tipster were a real sports book (and not just for, ahem, “entertainment” purposes) you’d have to wonder what his true odds would be. After nine-straight finals and eight wins, we’ve gotten past the point where an even-money wager gets the job done. You’ll have to lay odds to get the Capco team so we’re installing him as a (-150) favorite. For the uninitiated, that means a $10 wager would return just $15, a profit of just $5 bucks. Oh, the price of greatness.
The Scrappers team didn’t race in Epping and probably wish they hadn’t run in Denver after a tough outing that included a rare first-round loss. Tipster will overlook both of those races and provide a favorable ranking for Sonoma, since that’s home for Team Scrappers and they’ve looked great in their two wins this season.
Sonoma is a long way from his home State of New Jersey but the three-time champ clearly likes the fresh Pacific air since he’s won here four times in five final rounds, all in the last decade. The Matco Tools team has had an up-and-down season so far, but it’s reasonable to think they’ve turned the corner. A win here would be a great tune-up for a strong Countdown run.
Here’s the deal; he’s 114 points out of the top ten with four events left. Can he make it? Almost certainly, especially if he chooses to run all four races. Even if he doesn’t, Capco No. 2 is just as strong as the team flagship and that makes this a very dangerous car.
Last week in Denver, she was able to keep the heat on points leader Torrence, especially during qualifying. It’s a whole different ball game once the teams return to sea level, but the Dodge/Pennzoil car can pump out impressive numbers regardless of location. For what it’s worth, she’s qualified No. 2 at the last three events.
After a complete rebuild in the crew and crew chief department, these guys would get a pass if they had struggled through the first half of the season but that’s hardly been the case. Three finals and three semifinals in 14 events is nothing to be ashamed of. The only thing that’s missing is a win and that should be right around the corner.
Advance Auto Parts/Carquest
A semifinal in Denver is what NASCAR drivers would refer to as “a good points day”. Trouble, is, no one on the Advance Auto team sees things that way. After winning nine Top Fuel races and the 2017 championship, they’re out to win Wallys. Expect a big push here over the last ten events of the season.
Between 1998 and 2005, he was virtually automatic in Sonoma with five victories including thee-straight in 1998-00. Coming off back-to-back early losses in Epping and Denver, the Mac team could use a spark and this would be a great place to find one.
Bob Tasca III
Win on Sunday, sell on Monday? Okay, Mr. Ford dealer. You’ve sold us. The margin may be slim, but this is the best car in the class right now, even though they lost in the Denver final. The addition of Mike Neff and John Schaffer has helped put the Tasca team over the top and it’s hard to imagine they won’t bank a couple more wins this season.
Auto Club Chevy
At the risk of being redundant, consistency wins championships and this is, for the most part, the most consistent car out here with four wins, two runner-up finishes, and three semifinals this season. He lost a close battle to Tasca in the semifinals last week and there isn’t anyone who should be surprised if they go head-to-head again this weekend, possibly in the final.
Tommy Johnson Jr.
Hear that laughter in the background? That’s the Make-A-Wish crew, deriding Tipster for not including them in Denver. We’ll own it and move on to Sonoma, where he’s had some success with a runner-up in 2015. T.J. says this is the most confidence he’s ever had in a car or crew, so maybe it’s not so far-fetched to think he could bag the second leg of a Western Swing sweep.
There’s a lot of reasons to like the NAPA car this week. For one, they’ve been to eight finals here and have four wins. This is also a home race of sorts for California-born Capps. Crew chief Rahn Tobler also happens to be NHRA’s resident sommelier (which means he really likes grapes). Finally, he’d love to win one for his old DHR buddy Bob Kuhar, who we lost recently.
The Funny Car class has been contested 31 times in Sonoma and this guy has been in the final of 14 of them and has eight wins so it’s safe to say he likes racing here. We’re still anxiously awaiting the landmark 150th win and there is a good reason why it should happen at any venue on the tour. So, why not here?
Infinite Hero Dodge
Milestone alert! Beckman is sitting on 699 career rounds in a nitro car with a very respectable 420-279 record in eliminations so as long as he qualifies, he’ll join a group of fellow champions that includes Force, Hight, Capps, and Cruz Pedregon to name a few. That’s a solid milestone one the way to an eventually home in the Int’l Drag Racing Hall of Fame.
After winning in Epping, we thought the Dodge flagship would move a mountain once it arrived in Denver. but things didn’t go according to plan. When it comes to tough outings, everyone should get a mulligan in Denver so that is no cause for alarm. The same goes for his record against teammate Beckman, which is now 1-3 in the last seven races.
Global Electronic Technologies Toyota
As the fight to make the top ten continues, his round one win over Tim Wilkerson in Denver was large. Very large. The Global team is now ninth in the standings, but this is no time to ease off the accelerator. One or two more solid outings would be a great way to take the stress out of a protracted Countdown battle.
Butner Auto Camaro
The points leader got a rude welcome in Denver, where he qualified No. 13 and lost in the first round for the first time this season. In reality, that was little more than a flesh wound since he’s still got a monstrous lead in the standings. This is a whole new week and when it comes to conditions, Sonoma is nothing like Denver. With two final rounds here in 2016-17, we like his chances for a very quick rebound.
American Ethanol Camaro
Why is the American Ethanol team rated this high? Well, he was a runner-up here a year ago and went to the semifinals last weekend at his home event in Denver. Besides, Tipster just has a good feeling about this one so lets roll with it for a week and see what happens.
Jeg Coughlin Jr.
For the same reasons we have Kramer ranked near the top, we’ll apply the same logic to the JEGS car especially since he is the defending Sonoma winner, and also went to the semifinals last week. When it comes to holeshots, the five-time champ is usually on the giving end, so he’s likely going to want quick revenge for last week’s miscue.
Summit Racing Equipment Camaro
As the old saying goes, you can’t sweep the Western Swing unless you win the first race and he accomplished that feat for the second-straight year. He’s also the only Pro Stock driver to sweep all three Western Swing races, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. He’s got five wins in Sonoma, and a sixth title would be very much welcomed.
Total Seal Camaro
Asked about his .093 light last week in Denver, he snapped, “If I can’t do better than that, I don’t belong out here.” So, what happened next? He slapped a holeshot on holeshot king Jeg Coughlin and wen to his fourth-career final round. The Total Seal team is pretty darned competitive right now, and they haven’t peaked yet. In a class as unpredictable as Pro Stock is, don’t rule out a championship run.
Somewhere between Denver and Sonoma, it would behoove the Elite team to find a four-leaf clover, a rabbit’s foot, shiny penny, or whatever else brings them good fortune because they’ve had little of it this season. A driver who qualifies in the top half more often than not and leaves on almost everyone should not be winless this far into the season.
Here’s another driver who is happy to put Denver in his rearview mirror after a disappointing qualifying effort and a round one loss. At sea-level, he’s been money this year with 14-round wins and a pair of runner-up finishes. He made his debut in Sonoma in four years ago so it would be fitting to get his first win of the season here.
Harlow Sammons Camaro
Four years ago, he qualified No. 1 and won his first Wally, silencing all those who thought he’d made a mistake by starting his own engine program. Now, with eight wins in the bank, he’s having the last laugh. Denver was a struggle, to say the least, but what happens there often has little bearing on what happens in Sonoma.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson
The record for most wins in a season by a Pro Stock Motorcycle racer is 10 by his older brother, Matt and if he maintains his current pace, with six wins in eight events, it’s toast. Surprisingly, he’s only won this race once, and that came way back in 2005. Still, with the year he’s having, it would be hard to make anyone else the favorite.
His 7.13 shot in Denver on Saturday night was nothing to complain about. In fact, it was just two-hundredths away from the track record. He also left on Hines by three-hundredths in the semifinals on Sunday but came up short. He’s got two shots to win here including the Mickey Thompson Pro Bike Battle and it’s a safe bet he wins at least one of them.
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson
Shocking that he’s still winless this year but he’s getting closer and the new FXDR body work has already proven itself as a winner. Before LE Tonglet won the last three Sonoma races, he was the king of wine country with back-to-back wins in 2014-15.
Hector Arana Jr.
Lucas Oil EBR
We’ve said this before and it bears repeating. His consistency has been amazing this year with six semifinals and a win in eight events. He’s probably going to have to turn it up a notch in the Countdown but its’ hard to argue that he’s not having one of the best seasons of his career.
White Alligator Suzuki
His former teammate, LE Tonglet, won the last three Sonoma races and before that, the White Alligator bike was in back-to-back final rounds. Sonoma tends to be one of the quicker tracks on the tour, and it’s historically been good to the Suzuki brand, which bodes well for his chances.
She outqualified both of the Harley-Davidson’s in Denver and that doesn’t happen often. In fact, she enjoyed the best qualifying performance of her career on the Mountain so now the challenge is to repeat that feat at sea level, and to light a few win lights on Sunday.
Lucas Oil EBR
The 2009 NHRA champ was dramatically improved last week in Denver where he qualified No. 5 and had one of the best bikes in each qualifying session. Like everyone else, he needs to bring that performance to Sonoma. So far, he’d had a tough year but there is still hope for a victory and a spot in the top ten.
Quality Tire EBR
Here’s the deal: he’s just nine points out of a spot in the Countdown with two races left including the U.S. Nationals, which features points-and-a-half. He’s going to have to win a few rounds in order to make it and the best place to start would be here, which is the closest event to his home in Oregon.