Ahh the joys of four-wide racing, where you can lose to the same driver twice and still win the race -- or holeshot three other drivers at once to produce a stunning victory. Opinions on four-wide racing vary, but no one can call it boring. Steve Torrence, Robert Hight, and Matt Smith have mastered the concept of side-by-side-by-side-by-side racing, who are the favorites to win this week’s event. They’re joined by Pro Mod racer Stevie “Fast” Jackson, who has a score to settle with zMax Dragway after his final round crash last year.
He’s won three of the last four races in Charlotte including back-to-back four-wide events which should be more than enough to rate an edge. He’s also winless this season which can only mean that the Capco team is now officially overdue for a victory.
Advance Auto Parts
Her performance in Houston was brilliant and should have sent chills down the spine of anyone else in the Top Fuel class. Crew chief David Grubnic is settling into his new role and that means the 2017 champ should expect to have a big year. Oh, and she also won the four-wide race here in 2016 and made it to the final in Charlotte last fall.
The very nature of four-wide racing tends to rattle some drivers so it’s a bonus to have someone behind the wheel who rarely sweats and seldom makes bad decisions. There’s no one out here who fits that description better than the Mac Tools driver, who also has appeared in three of the last five finals at zMax Dragway.
Crushed the field in Las Vegas and then suffered a tough round one loss in Houston. Will the real Mike Salinas please stand up? If nothing else, the plight of the Scrappers team illustrates just how competitive this class is. They’re gonna win more than they lose this year, though.
All those who thought crew chief Mike Kloeber would struggle in his return to the NHRA Mello Yello circuit please take a seat. Your opinion is now null and void. Tipster himself may have even been a bit skeptical, but these guys are for real. They’ve got a runner-up and two semi’s in the first five events and their qualifying performances have consistently improved since the start of the season.
It isn’t much of an exaggeration to suggest that his runner-up in Houston was the best showing by the Matco car in almost a year. Not only were they quick, but they were also consistent which might provide a nice set-up for this week’s four-wide adventure. Brown is also 5-1 in final rounds at Bruton’s Bellagio of Drag Strips and has two four-wide victories.
Once again, we’re gonna harp on the depth of the Top Fuel field when we have this car in the No. 7 spot. It only illustrates the fact that the difference between No. 1 and No. 8 is often negligible. Truth is, anyone who makes Tipster’s coveted list is capable of turning on four win lights (or three as the case may be).
Amalie Motor Oil
He gave us all a good cry in this week’s edition of My Journey with Amanda Busick. Check it out on NHRA.com if you haven’t already. On the track, he’ll be more than anxious to make amends for a tough loss in Houston. This car can run with anyone in the class. Have to imagine they’ll pick up the pace soon.
Auto Club Chevy
He lost a heartbreaker to J.R. Todd in the semifinals in Phoenix and smoked the tires in round one in Las Vegas. Other than that, not much has gone wrong for Robert Hight and the Auto Club crew this season. He’s 14-2 in elimination rounds and has stacked three Wallys in the first five races. If that’s not enough, he’s 5-0 in finals in Charlotte so if you’re going to get him, you’d better do it early.
Destroyed the field at the Vegas four-wide for the second year in a row but oddly, he’s winless here in Charlotte. All that could change this weekend with three little win lights. These guys seem to do a good job adjusting to almost any conditions so it’s possible they nail the set-up on Friday and then adjust accordingly for Sunday’s eliminations.
Mopar Express Lane Dodge
Got to figure he still gets a bit emotional anytime he visits zMax Dragway, the site of his historic three-second run. He’s also been to five finals here and has three wins so there’s a bit more history to celebrate. Going to the final in Houston has to be a nice confidence-booster as well.
You’ve got to figure he’s not joking around when he says, “This old man ain’t done yet.” Even at 70, the 16-time champ is capable of out-running everyone else in the class, as he did in Houston. If he can stay away from teammate Hight, it’s entirely possible that win No. 150 will come this weekend.
He’s got a special paint scheme this week to promote NAPA brakes but don’t expect him to sneak up on anyone. With a strong No. 2 qualifying effort and a semifinal finish on Sunday, it seems more than obvious that these guys have turned the corner. He also won the fall event here last October and took home his lone four-wide trophy in 2017. He understands as much as anyone that winning this race is a badge of honor for a driver.
Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford
The list of drivers who have won a Funny Car race is still relatively short and this guy is on it following his triumph in 2016. Since Pomona, he’s qualified no worse than No. 3 at any event and while that’s not necessarily an indicator of race-day potential, it’s always a benefit to lock in lane choice for the first round.
Infinite Hero Dodge
He’s already won a major battle this week when his prized ’68 El Camino turned a tire under its own power for the first time in eons. That also helped make up for a difficult round one loss in Houston. Know what else would make the Infinite Hero team forget about Houston? How about a Charlotte victory? They already have three of them.
Tommy Johnson Jr.
Qualify No. 11 and you’re almost guaranteed to draw a hitter on race day which is precisely what happened to the Make-A-Wish crew in Houston. That event notwithstanding, their 2019 season is actually off to a good start. A win here would be far more than just wishful thinking.
When you tell the rest of the class that you work harder than they do, you’d better be able to back it up. So far, he has. The reigning champ qualified No. 1 in Las Vegas and could have easily won the whole race. Now, he’s racing in his backyard where he has three wins including the Countdown event last October.
Hector Arana Jr.
Lucas Oil EBR
After he won in Las Vegas, he told the media that he had a motorcycle that could run with anyone else in the class and we’ve got no reason to doubt him. He was solid in Gainesville and gets extra credit for that 2013 Charlotte Four-Wide victory as well. As a general rule, things are looking up in the Lucas Oil camp these days.
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson
Let’s see, the Pro Stock Motorcycle class has been featured 18 times in Charlotte between the spring and fall events and he’s been in the final 10 times with six wins, so it goes without saying that he likes racing here. Remember, he also crushed the field in Gainesville for a confidence-inspiring win to open the season.
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson
When it comes to success in Charlotte, he’s got a record that will rival anyone, including teammate Hines. He’s 3-7 in finals here but all three of those wins have come at the fall (two-wide) race. He rarely gets rattled on the starting line which is an almost-mandatory trait to bring to a four-wide race.
White Alligator Suzuki
A year ago, he came in here and showed the rest of the class how four-wide racing is done. He might not have the best bike in the class but that’s not as important in these events. Consistency tends to be rewarded and as a rule, the White Alligator team has an abundance of that.
Reed Motorsports EBR
It’s pretty easy to make a case for this guy as one of the most talented riders in the class but he’s got to have a horse that can go the distance. That part of the equation is beginning to come together, slowly but surely. He qualified No. 11 and No. 13 at the first two races, which is far from ideal. If he can sneak into the top half, it would go a long way towards chalking up a couple of round wins.
Big St. Charles/Skillman Auto Suzuki
Coming off an impressive showing in Las Vegas where she qualified the second WAR Suzuki in the No. 5 spot. Remember, this is basically the same bike that LE Tonglet rode last season. No reason to expect she won’t battle for a top ten spot all season long.
Flyin’ Ryan EBR
Qualified in the top half of the field at the first two races and nearly ran 200-mph in Gainesville. Now, it’s time to stack up some round wins and that’s likely to begin any time now. In fact, don’t be surprised if this is NHRA’s next first-time pro winner. There is that much potential here.
Okay, so we warned you he’d be out for blood in Houston and he delivered with a string of 5.6’s. The last time he raced at the zMax four-wide race it didn’t end so well so that chip on his shoulder is most likely still there. He can also put some distance on the field as far as points are concerned with another big race here.
A win and a runner-up to start the season and he’s still not leading the points standings. That’s Pro Mod racing for you. It’s going to take 5.6s to win most races this year and this is one of the cars that’s capable of doing just that. Technically, this is also a home race as well.
He conquered the field a year ago to become the first Dominican Republic native to earn an NHRA Wally. Since then, he’s become one of the class’ most consistent drivers and his Q80 Corvette is freaky fast. He’s going to need a big weekend to prevent Jackson and Tutterow from running away with the points chase.
AAP/Janis Superchargers Camaro
The reigning champ qualified in the bottom half of the field again in Houston but was able to produce a solid semifinal finish on race day. If he can bang out a big number during the Friday evening run, that could help make for a long Sunday afternoon.
Continued his strong of solid qualifying performances with another top-half showing in Houston. The fun ended early on race day but this remains a solid, strong, consistent car that can get the job done. He’s also local to the Charlotte area for what it’s worth.
He’s stated publicly that he’s done with nitrous cars so that means he’s going to have to figure out the new turbo set-up. No one doubts he’ll get there -- it’s just a matter of when. It already might be too late to salvage this season, but then again, this is Rickie Smith. He's made a career out of proving doubters wrong.
Bond Coat Camaro
Before anyone delivers a eulogy for nitrous cars in NHRA Pro Mod, take note. This guy was the No. 2 qualifier the last time out. We’re not sure how sustainable that is, but the potential is there.
This is pretty simple; you run 260-mph, you get an invite from Tipster. Round wins are still a work in progress, but the pace of the Elite turbo cars has definitely picked up. Got to figure she’s on the verge of figuring out the Tree as well.