Last year, NHRA National Dragster's Tricky Tipster had it easy, especially when it came to handicapping the Top Fuel class. Pick Steve Torrence, and there was a better than average chance of getting it right. The Funny Car and Pro Stock classes were far less predictable and figure to be again this year. Without much testing data, but courageous as ever, Tipster has chosen Torrence, Robert Hight, and Jeg Coughlin Jr. as the favorites for the season-opening Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals presented by Protect TheHarvest.com.
The entire 2018 season was magic for the Capco team but not they much carry the burden of defending their first championship. There is little doubt that they are up for the fight and as far as Tipster is concerned, they’ll be No. 1 until someone convinces him otherwise. They even set the pace in testing which means it might be another long season for the rest of the field.
A new chassis and the addition of assistant crew chief Neal Strausbaugh are just two of the changes this team has undergone during the off-season in an attempt to improve on a 2018 campaign that included two wins in five final rounds and a very respectable fourth place finish in the standings. There are still a few question marks here, but overall they should be very solid.
The Scrappers team was good last year, and now they figure to be a whole bunch better with the addition of crew chief Brian Husen and the continued guidance of consultant Alan Johnson. Hard to imagine this group won’t bank a win or two early in the season, and no one should be surprised to see them contend for the championship all season.
After winning his first Top Fuel event in 2018 The patriarch of the Capco clan has vowed to expand his schedule beyond the 11 events he ran last season, and that’s not good news for the rest of the field. This car is every bit as good as the one driven by his son, Steve, and we all know how successful they’ve been in the last two years.
Advance Auto Parts
So what’s new Brittany? Pretty much everything including a new sponsor, Advance Auto Parts, and a new crew led by David Grubnic. This was a bold move for the Force team, especially after winning the title in 2017. There might be a bit of an adjustment period, but it ultimately these moves should pay big dividends. Then again, their pre-season testing in Phoenix went fairly well.
He’s the defending event champion and generally does well in Pomona. There are a number of teams that are happy to get a fresh start this season and after an eighth-place finish, this is certainly one of them. Five final rounds was an encouraging sign, but the Mac Tools crew is capable of much more.
His overall career is Hall of Fame worthy but 2018 was far from his best season. Much like Kalitta (and a few others) he’s more than happy to turn the page on a new season. He’d also do well to avoid teammate Tony Schumacher, against whom he had a 1-5 record last season.
Amalie Motor Oil
It’s worth noting that this is one of only two teams on this list (along with Leah Pritchett) who did not make a pre-season testing run but that doesn’t mean they won’t be prepared for Pomona. The Amalie car qualified No. 7 here last year with a 3.727, just a few thousandths off their career-best elapsed time. Good chance they’ll better that this time around.
Auto Club Chevy
The 2018 championship battle ended on a sour note but that doesn’t change the fact that this is a top tier team that should easily contend for the Mello Yello title again this season. Last year’s runner-up also has four career wins in Pomona but hasn’t cashed here since 2011. The whole Funny Car class is basically a toss-up so his edge is very slim.
It will be hard for the 2018 Mello Yello Funny Car champ and his DHL team to ever top what happened the last time they raced in Pomona but they are more than capable of a repeat. In fact, if it wasn’t for Steve Torrence’s perfect six-win record during last year’s Countdown, we’d still be talking about the DHL team’s 24-3 round win record since Indy.
Mopar Express Lane Dodge
He belongs up here for no other reason than he’s won the last two season-openers in Pomona. Winning a third will be a tall order, but certainly not impossible. For what it’s worth, he also ran 336-mph here last year but that likely won’t be repeated.
Tommy Johnson Jr.
It wasn’t always obvious, but one could easily make the argument that this was the best car in the class at the end of the 2018 season. Consider this; since Indy, the Make-A-Wish crew moved from seventh to third in the standings and never qualified lower than fourth in any field. They need to continue that momentum to start the new season.
There weren’t many changes to the NAPA team over the brief off-season and after bagging three wins in six final rounds last year, there certainly wasn’t much need for anything major. The 2017 Mello Yello champ has three wins at the Pomona season opener, the most recent coming in 2016. He was also a semifinalist last year and he’s celebrating his 25th anniversary as a racer this season.
Bob Tasca III
Motorcraft Quick Lane Ford
He came oh-so-close to winning a few times last year and with the addition of veteran tuner Mike Green, and a slick new Mustang body its hard to argue that they haven’t improved. Missed the 2018 Countdown largely due to six-straight early losses to start the year. That will not happen this time, guaranteed.
Infinite Hero Dodge
Consider that he’s been to the semifinals in five of his last seven appearances at Auto Club Pomona Raceway, which also happens to be his home track. So, we’ll pencil him in for another final four, although there is certainly the potential for something better than that.
There has been a lot of movement among crew members at JFR this off-season and the end result is the 16-time champ will now have the benefit of an experienced team that includes his son-in-law, Danny Hood, and Brian Corradi, the same duo that tuned Courtney Force to 11 low qualifiers and four wins last year.
Jeg Coughlin Jr.
Tanner Gray will not defend his 2018 title so the balance of power in Pro Stock is going to change this year. Who better to emerge as the new leader than the five-time champion. Coughlin made a serious run at the title last season and NHRA’s all-time leader in holeshot wins proved he’s still got what it takes.
Butner Auto Camaro
He was out of Pro Stock and then had a change of heart. Sure, the 18-race schedule played a major role in his decision, but the 2017 champ wouldn’t have come back if he didn’t think he’d have a shot at another title. Not hard to think he’ll contend in both Pro Stock and the SAM Tech Factory Stock Showdown.
Not to bring up a sore subject but it’s difficult to explain how someone who rarely gets left on could go 1-7 in final rounds last season. The only sensible explanation is just a rash of bad luck. Should the tide turn in her favor, and it most likely will, expect a solid run at would could be a third Mello Yello championship.
Summit Racing Equipment Camaro
Nine times last season this car was the top qualifier in a very competitive field so it’s also a bit of a mystery why he only claimed one victory and that didn’t come until Denver. His next round win will be No. 800 for his career and he’s likely to get it, and perhaps three more, during the season-opener. The addition of Dave Connolly should also provide a boost to the entire KB squad.
Harlow Sammons Camaro
As a single-car team operating in the wilds of Odessa, Texas, it’s hard to gauge how much progress has been made this winter but it’s probably a fair assumption that he’s better now than he was at the end of last season which featured a disappointing string of nine-straight losses. It’s hard not to be impressed by what the Harlow Sammons team does as a single car operation.
Summit Racing Equipment Camaro
At some point this season he’s going to win his 600th round of NHRA Pro Stock competition and he’s sitting on 48-career wins so the magic 50 number is also looming on the horizon. Both of those goals are very attainable, as is a fifth overall NHRA championship. Like the rest of his KB teammates, he should also benefit from the addition of Dave Connolly.
American Ethanol Camaro
Drove like a man possessed early in the 2018 season and was richly rewarded with a win and two runner-up finishes in the first eight events of the season. The Countdown was a struggle with one round win in six events, but that is not an indicator of this year’s potential.
Total Seal Racing Camaro
The new 18-race schedule means that the former Sport Compact star has a legit shot to make the top ten for the first time. It won’t be easy because there are more than a dozen drivers shooting for the top ten, but he’s already proved that he can win races in this class.