There is nothing easy about running four events in four weeks but NHRA’s version of the summer swing through Chicago, Topeka, Bristol, and Norwalk figures to do a good job of separating the championship contenders from the rest of the field. The Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals is stop two of four, and those best positioned to triumph in Kansas include Steve Torrence, who is shooting for his fifth-straight Top Fuel win, and Ron Capps, who hopes to bounce back after a tough Chicago outing. In the E3 Spark Plugs Pro Mod series, Steve Jackson has a chance to add to his lead.
Normally, we’d want to back off on any driver who is riding a four-race win streak because those things just don’t happen very often, but it wasn’t long ago that we saw this guy win six-straight to close out 2018. The Capco boys have done it before and they can certainly do it again. They just don’t make enough mistakes to get bumped from the top spot.
More and more, he’s beginning to look like the guy who has won three Mello Yello championships. Quick in qualifying, quick on race day, and his lights are among the best in the class. He beat Torrence in the final here in 2017 and no one would be surprised to see those two lined up against each other this Sunday afternoon.
It wouldn’t be out of line to suggest that this is the most consistent driver in the history of the Top Fuel class. That makes his red-light start in Chicago even more baffling. He certainly isn’t going to dwell on it and neither are we. Heartland Motorsport Park has long been a favorite track for the Kalitta family with Doug and Scott combining for eight victories in 12 final rounds.
Even though he doesn’t race often, he never seems to show any signs of rust. The Capco team doesn’t need any help to defend their 2018 Mello Yello championship but then again, it wouldn’t hurt if Papa Torrence cleaned out a few of the contenders along the way.
Losing a tire in Chicago meant the DSR crew had their work cut out for them this week to repair a chassis and get the car to Topeka in time for this week’s race but early reports from Brownsburg have them right on schedule. This race represents a perfect opportunity to gain ground on the point leaders, and that applies to her Factory Stock effort as well.
Advance Auto Parts
Not sure anyone figured this team was going to qualify No. 15 and make an early exit in Chicago but it happened and now it’s time to move on. Everyone has a bad race now and then and it’s usually best to get them out of the way early in the season. There is almost zero chance that the Advance team doesn’t bounce back with a better effort this week. Expect a top four starting spot and a few win lights on Sunday, at the very least.
Apparently, misery does love company which might be the only way to explain how Millican, along with Doug Kalitta, Jack Beckman, Bo Butner, Jeg Coughlin, and Erica Enders all red-lighted in Chicago. Thankfully, a chance for redemption is just a week away and no one should be more grateful for that than this guy. He was very likely to win his round one match if not for the unsightly foul.
The DHL team has struggled a bit since their successful title defense in Gainesville, but things are definitely looking up especially after a very competitive 3.75 in Chicago to upend the higher-qualified Austin Prock. That should be a tell-tale sign that these guys are not far off. To be certain, there are better days ahead.
NAPA Brakes Dodge
Apparently, they’ll revert back to their traditional blue and yellow colors after their two-race win streak came to an end in Chicago. They’ll still have Rahn Tobler making the important decisions and that’s enough to get them the top spot, albeit by an extremely narrow margin over Hight. Capps has four wins in six finals here so it’s easily one of his best tracks.
Auto Club Chevy
The last time we saw the Auto Club Camaro, it was well on its way to another win before the tires broke loose in the Chicago final. Races like that usually don’t sit well with crew chief Jimmy Prock (or Hight for that matter) so you’re likely to see them go for the knockout punch on what figures to be a quick Topeka track. Another low qualifier is highly likely, and you’ll probably see them a few times on Sunday as well.
Tommy Johnson Jr.
Final round fireworks aside, their performance in Chicago was exactly what the Make-A-Wish team needed and not to mention it was long overdue. A pair of 3.94 runs in the first two rounds, under the warmest conditions of the day, have to be a huge confidence-booster going forward. You have not seen the last of this crew.
If you take the whole deep staging thing out of the equation, this car made some monster runs last Sunday at Route 66 Raceway, including a 3.95 in a losing effort in the semi’s. This is the crew that won here last year with Courtney’s car and as for John, he’s got Topeka down pat with nine wins in 15 final rounds. Win No. 150 appears to be getting closer and closer.
The best thing about four races in four weeks is that drivers don’t have to wait long to wash down the aftertaste of a tough loss. Given that, the DHL rig should be first in line when the gates open at Heartland Motorsports Park. The good news is they’ve still got a very fast hot rod that also happens to run well in the heat.
Infinite Hero Dodge
A winner here in 2012 and 2015, he’s coming off a very encouraging semifinal performance in Chicago. As a general rule, all four of the DSR Dodge Funny Cars seem to be emerging from an early-season funk, and now that Capps, T.J., and Hagan have race wins, the Infinite Hero figures to be next in line.
From top to bottom, the DSR Funny Cars are all close in terms of performance so it’s not hard to imagine that the Mopar team might turn in a performance that extends the team’s win streak to four events. They do have a solid history in good old Topeka with a win in 2016 and a runner-up finish (to Capps) in 2017.
Global Electronic Technologies Toyota
They say you’re not really a Funny Car driver until you’ve had one blow up in your face, so we guess (maybe) congratulations are in order after Chicago’s trial by fire. The good news is that the Global Toyota got down the track on three of four runs in qualifying with a best of 3.89.
Hard to pick anyone else even though the final round in Richmond last month didn’t go so well. He won this race two year ago and is off to a fantastic start this season. Anyone else who has their sights set on the E3 Pro Mod championship might consider getting this guy out of the way early, and that’s easier said than done.
More than likely he’s spent the last month stewing over the early loss to Jackson in Richmond. In a 12 race season, you only get so many opportunities to take down a points leader so this would be a perfect opportunity to get a little payback. He’s currently 40-points out of the lead which isn’t much, but it would be wise not to let the gap get much larger than that.
Artivinco Racing Corvette
Richmond champion not only outran all four of his opponents on race day but looked good doing it with four very competitive reaction times. It’s would be difficult, but not impossible, for him to chase down the points leaders but a second win would go along way towards making that a reality.
AAP/Janis Superchargers Camaro
Round one red-light in Richmond was disastrous, but not a fatal mistake as far as his title defense goes. What’s the old saying about getting right back on the horse? That would certainly apply in this instance. Expect a much more inspired performance this week.
Not a given, but if we had to guess he’s bringing the nitrous car to this race and why the heck not? He won here last year and ran another nitrous car (Chad Green) in the final round. Then again, he might also be in the turbo car and would it really be a surprise if he won the race in that one?
Consistency remains a slight problem, but when it comes to Pro Mod racing that’s something everyone has to deal with. The bottom line is that he’s got a car that can easily qualify in the No. 1 spot, will likely set top speed of the meet, and can certainly put together four great runs in elimination which makes him particularly dangerous.
Coming off a very impressive performance in Virginia that included the No. 1 qualifying spot and a booming 257-mph speed. Conditions in Topeka figure to be quite a bit different than Richmond, but that should not prevent the Bahrain1 team from putting forth another competitive effort.
It’s been all or nothing for these guys this season but when they’re one, they’re capable of running the table. No matter how much adversity they have to face, you’ve got one of the class best drivers in Castellana and best tuners in Frank Manzo so they’re not going down without a fight.