Tricky Tipster: Steve Torrence, Robert Hight, Bo Butner, and Hector Arana Jr. primed to make mountain magic
Jimi Hendrix once boasted, “I stand up next to a mountain and I chop it down with the edge of my hand,” but even the world's greatest guitar player probably never faced a mountain that compares to Bandimere Speedway. The track, which was carved into the side of Rocky Mountains near Denver, is more than a mile above sea level and poses a huge challenge for crew chiefs and drivers alike.
To be sure, the annual three-race NHRA Western Swing is grueling, and the first leg in Denver is perhaps the most punishing event on the tour; so ,it stands to reason that the current leaders, the racers who’ve been able to best navigate the first half of the season, would have the best chance for victory in Top Fuel, Funny Car, and Pro Stock. Pro Stock Motorcycle's Hector Arana Jr. generally has great results in Denver, so he's the dark horse pick this week.
Sadly, he didn’t win the ESPY award in the Best Driver category -- but that’s about the only thing that’s gone astray for the Capco team in the first half of the season. Torrence has the best Top Fuel dragster in the country right now and he’s a past Denver winner, so racing at Bandimere Speedway isn’t an overwhelming challenge. He’s the favorite. Period.
A bit difficult to get a read on this driver since he skipped the Epping race and doesn't have much of a history in Denver. That being said, this is a team that’s got two wins already this season and they seem to be getting better at each race. A Torrence vs. Salinas final round would not doubt be a hit with the Bandimere fans and would also not be the least bit surprising.
The good news is that he’s been to six final rounds in Denver during his career, but the reality is that he’s only won here just once. Regardless, the Kalitta crew knows how to navigate the mountain and they’re very likely to return to another final this time around. They haven’t won many races this year, but their consistency is encouraging.
The three-time champ’s batting average in Denver is pretty solid with five finals and three wins in the last ten years. He’s riding a wave of three-straight quarterfinal finishes which is not exactly what this team is looking for. Expect a better result this time around. Oh, and he’s also the only active Top Fuel driver to have swept the Western Swing.
Another team that did not race in Epping but that should have little to no impact on their performance here. She has been in the last two Denver finals and is the defending event champion. That means a lot more at this track than most others on the Mello Yello tour.
Coming off a solid race in New Hampshire where he qualified No. 1 and reached the semifinals. Reasonable to think there might be questions about crew chief Mike Kloeber’s ability to tune in thin air, but he’s so far passed every test this year with flying colors. No reason to think the Straightline Strategy group won’t shine here.
Advance Auto Parts
A runner-up here in 2014, it will be interesting to see what the David Grubnic-led Advance crew comes up with to tackle Denver’s unique air and track conditions. After a tough loss in Epping, it would be a huge confidence booster to begin the Western Swing on a high note.
It would be rude for Tipster to exclude this team after they reached the final round at the Epping race so here they are. In all honesty, it’s not a surprise to see the Magic Dry team race in a final round. They have the best parts available and a crew that knows a thing or two about success. Besides, if this guy wins his first race here we might have to postpone Sonoma.
Auto Club Chevy
Going three races without a win does not make for a slump but for sure the Auto Club team has cooled a bit since their hot start. Denver has been good to the Auto Club team with four wins since 2005 so this would be as good a place as any to get back in the win column. It will be shocking if win No. 50 doesn’t come during the swing.
A year ago, he won for the 149th time in his career, and the countdown to 150 officially began. Not many would have predicted that we’d still be counting down a year later but that’s the competitive nature of the Funny Car class where even a 16-time champ doesn’t win with the frequency he used to. The sport’s greatest Funny Car driver has eight Wallys from Denver which should be more than enough to make him one of the favorites.
Bob Tasca III
Over the last three or four races he’s made a solid case for Tipster’s top billing, and if the next event was anywhere other than Denver, he’d have it. The thin air in Bandimere is a tough test for any team, especially the single car units. It’s easy to predict more wins this year for the Ford team, in fact it’s almost a given, but winning here might be a tall order.
He almost didn’t make the cut for Epping and then went out and showed ole’ Tipster who’s boss with his second win of the season. The two-time world champ has been anything but consistent this year but when crew chief Dickie Venables hits the set-up just right, they’re as good as anyone in the class. For some reason, we think they’re primed for a big Western Swing.
Since his round one loss at the Charlotte Four-Wide race, the NAPA camp has been rock solid with a 14-5 record in elimination rounds and a pair of wins. He’s also climbed from ninth to fourth in the Mello Yello standings. Oh, and he was also in the final here last year, and in Denver, that probably carries more weight than any other track on the tour.
Infinite Hero Dodge
When it comes to success in Denver, few teams can match the consistency of the Infinite Hero squad, who have three wins and a runner-up here since 2007. Epping was a forgettable race, but prior to that, these guys were doing just fine with two runner-up finishes and two semifinals in the last four races.
Global Electronic Technologies Toyota
With five races left in the regular season, we’ve not entered the home stretch and that means he needs to build on the momentum of his recent runner-up finish in Epping. The Global team is still ranked No. 10 in the standings, but they do have a bit of breathing room. Then again, they’re going to need to have a successful Western Swing in order to have a shot at the title.
A coin-toss here between the DHL car, Tommy Johnson Jr., Tim Wilkerson, and even Cruz Pedregon this week. One could easily make a case for any of them, but we elected to go with the reigning champ if for no other reason than nostalgia. Remember, he won his first race here in Top Fuel when he upset Tony Schumacher in 2006. Oh yeah, then he went to Sonoma the next week and did it again.
Butner Auto Camaro
Hard to go wrong picking a guy who only has three losses so far this year. He may not have much of a history in Denver, but he’s finding a way to get the job done everywhere so it’s hard not to think of him as the favorite. Obviously, racing his Factory Stock car has been anything but a distraction this year.
We know. We know. He hasn’t won a race this season but when it comes to racking up win slips and points, he’s been getting the job done all year long. Butner pretty much has the top spot in the Countdown wrapped up but No. 2 is wide open and its this guy’s responsibility to defend it. Gotta figure he’d also like to make up for that final round loss to McGaha in Norwalk last month.
Summit Racing Equipment Camaro
Go figure. There are just two active Pro Stock drivers who have won races in Denver and with four wins, he’s by far the most successful. It’s been a while since the Summit guys have won a race and in Pro Stock, there really is no such thing as being overdue. Still, one has to figure he’s got an excellent shot here to earn career win No. 92.
American Ethanol Camaro
Let’s build our case here. How about a win in Chicago, followed by a low qualifier award in Norwalk. Oh, and he’s also a Denver native with a ton of experience racing at Bandimere Speedway. That should be more than enough to make him one of the favorites. Also worth noting that he’s qualified in the top half of the field at every Pro Stock race so far this season.
While a win would be most welcomed, one would have to guess the Elite flagship would settle for an event with a bit less drama than the last one. Her Pro Mod fire in Norwalk was indeed scary, and it may have prevented a better showing with the Pro Stock car. Now free of distractions, the two-time champ should be able to concentrate on what she does best, which happens to be getting the clutch out on time.
Harlow Sammons Camaro
In the interest of fair reporting, his win in Norwalk did not come without a bit of good fortune. Then again, very few wins don’t feature an element of good luck. He seems to do some of his best work during the Western Swing so let’s give the Harlow Sammons team the benefit of the doubt. Currenty ranked No. 9, they could also use the points.
Jeg Coughlin Jr.
Following his semifinal finish in Norwalk, the five-time Pro Stock champ went to a huge bracket race in Michigan, won a bunch of rounds, and left with a nice chunk of a half-million dollar top prize. That sort of success can do nothing but improve confidence, even for the most experienced drivers. He’s also to only active driver other than Anderson to win at Bandimere Speedway, which certainly counts for something.
Summit Racing Equipment Camaro
Superman has his kryptonite and the Summit team has Alex Laughlin. So far this season, four of Line’s seven losses have come at the hands of Laughlin, who also has a win against teammate Anderson. There is no animosity to speak of between the two drivers but qualifying on opposite sides of the ladder might prove to be and effective strategy for now.
Hector Arana Jr.
Lucas Oil EBR
A bit of a hunch here but the Arana family figured out a few things about racing at altitude and Hector Jr., has enjoyed a fair amount of success here with a win and a pair of runner-up finishes since 2013. Last year, he also set top speed of the event at over 188-mph. This could be the year we see 190 at altitude.
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson
The Vance & Hines team will debut their new FXDR model here so there may be a bit of an adjustment. Then again, maybe not. With a 21-2 record, Hines has a real chance to make history this season, including a shot at a sixth championship. He’s also got a fantastic record in Denver that includes three victories.
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson
Already a runner-up three times this year and a couple of semifinals thrown in for good measure. Basically, the only thing he hasn’t done is win a race, but it’s hard to imagine that streak goes on for much longer. Much like Hines, he’s got an affinity for this place with four wins in five final round appearances.
With a win and two semifinals in his last three races the reigning champ is just beginning to hit his stride. Denver is a tough place to race, but he appears to have it somewhat figured out with back-to-back wins in 2007-08. He’s also been a monster in qualifying this year including a pole position and a pair of No. 2 efforts including the most recent event in Norwalk.
White Alligator Suzuki
He took a couple of races off in order to take care of business on his Louisiana alligator farm. By the time he arrives in Denver, he should be rested and ready to continue his pursuit of a spot in the Countdown to the Championship. A Suzuki hasn’t won this race since 2011, but the White Alligator bike was in the final last year.
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson
This will be an interesting test for the three-time champion. He was just getting the hang of the Harley Street Rod and now they’ve got the new FXDR bodywork. After a recent test, the team believes the new bikes will help Sampey regain championship forum, but that might take a race or two. She previously won back-to-back races here in 2000-01.
Big St. Charles/Skillman Auto Suzuki
After her amazing performance in Chicago, Norwalk was a bit of a disappointment but a return to Denver might be just what the doctor ordered. Not only is this the track where she made her professional debut in 1996, but it’s also one of her best with a win and a runner-up finish.
Not looking to start a family feud but she’s already lost four times in seven races to her hubby, Matt. Since they’re going to be trapped in a truck driving thousands of miles during the Western Swing, might we humbly suggest they do everything in their power to qualify on opposite sides of the ladder from this point forwards?