This weekend, the NHRA tour returns to Las Vegas, the land where dreams are made (and crushed) on a daily basis. By the end of the Dodge NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil, the championship picture in all four Mello Yello classes should be much clearer or perhaps the standings could be even more jumbled than they are now. Safe bets rarely pay off in Vegas, but someone has to be the chalk, and this week, it’s the current leaders in each class.
His opening-round loss to Shawn Reed in Dallas was one of the season’s biggest “OMG” moments, but it was far from a championship killer. Remember, he’s still the reigning champion, still the Mello Yello championship leader, and he’s won here three times since 2016 including the spring event. Two early losses in the Countdown is not at all what we expected, but things could be much worse.
Advance Auto Parts
The 2017 world champ had the quickest car in Dallas and made it to the semifinals which was crucial as far as the points are concerned. If she’s to win another championship, there is much work to be done and it involves multiple win lights on Sunday. Currently 46-points back, it would be huge for her to pick up a round on leader Torrence.
His early exit in Dallas could have spelled the beginning of the end as far as the championship is concerned but it didn’t. The Mac team was thrown a lifeline after Steve Torrence also when out early. For more than two decades this has been one of the most successful and consistent teams in all of NHRA pro racing. They need a big effort here and the smart money says they get one.
With two races left and 104 points to make up is she in it or not? Given the bonus points available in Pomona, there is plenty of room for a comeback, but it almost certainly involves two wins or at the very least, two final rounds in the last two events. First things first, outlasting Steve Torrence and Brittany Force this weekend is an absolute must.
At the beginning of the season, we were pretty sure that winning a championship was the furthest thing from his mind. But after a big win in Dallas, that’s all changed. For a team that has already won four races this year, including two in the Countdown, a 71-point deficit isn’t too much to overcome. Clearly, they’d love to see both Capco dragsters finish the season in first and second place.
Montana Brands/Rocky Mountain Twist
The progress he’s made this year has been impressive and after running solidly in the 3.6s two weeks ago in Dallas the Montana Brands car is going to be a consistent threat going forward. He’s climbed back up to sixth place in the standings, which is where he started the season after a quarterfinal finish in Pomona. If I was a championship contender (or even if I wasn’t) this is one of the last guys I’d want to face on Sunday.
The last time NHRA raced in Las Vegas the Scrappers team got their first-ever win at the Four-Wide race and they’ve been to three more final rounds since then and tacked on another victory in Bristol. No one here is counting points; they simply want to close out the year with another win or two and with Alan Johnson at the helm, that is very possible.
This has been an extremely frustrating season for the three-time champ but if nothing else, he’s an eternal optimist. There are still two races left which means two chances to get a much-needed win. To be honest, they are closer than one might think. For one, they haven’t lost in the first round since the Charlotte Four-Wide race, but getting to the semifinals has been an issue. He’s a four-time winner in Vegas, that also helps.
Auto Club Chevy
How devastating was his red-light in Dallas? It’s too early to tell, but if he wins a few rounds here and extends his current 70-point lead in the standings, it will count as barely a flesh wound. As far as a third championship goes, the Auto Club team clearly is in charge of their own destiny. A win here and they can just about coast to the championship when we get to Pomona in two weeks.
Infinite Hero Dodge
One thing about the Infinite Hero team; they don’t give up easily. After qualifying an uncharacteristically low 12th in Dallas, they salvaged a quarterfinal showing to stay in the race. Heading into Vegas, where he is a four-time finalist, it’s imperative that he picks up at least one round on Hight in order to stay in the hunt and it’s entirely possible that he might have to win the race in order to do that.
Who is the real Mr. Vegas? Wayne Newton? Frank Sinatra? Sammy Davis Jr.? When it comes to the NHRA Funny Car class, it’s this guy, who hasn’t lost a round here since the end of the 2017 season. Some people think past results are overrated when it comes to predicting future winners and on some level, Tricky Tipster agrees. In this case, the evidence is too strong to discount the chances of the DHL team. They are among the favorites. Period.
He’s got six career wins at this track but that’s not really the important thing because he’s got six (or more) wins almost everywhere we race. The big thing is that he’s just 74-points out of first place and in hot pursuit of what could be his 17th Mello Yello series championship. The Peak Camaro was arguably the best Funny Car in Dallas and there were a lot of good ones there.
The last two races have been pretty good for the two-time champion with a semifinal in St. Louis followed by a win in Dallas. Once again, it’s probably too little, too late as far as his title hopes go, but then again, he’s not mathematically out of the running. Oh, and for what it's worth, he was a runner-up at this race a year ago.
Bob Tasca III
Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford
He’s won six rounds in the last three races which makes one wonder where he’d be in the points standings if not for an ugly round one loss against John Smith in Reading. It’s entirely possible the Motorcraft team could be contending for the championship. They are for sure contending for race wins and it would not be the least bit surprising to see them end the season on a high note with a win or two.
This is what NFL handicappers would call a “trap game” because everyone just saw the NAPA team take a frustrating round one loss in Dallas, a loss that very likely ended their title hopes. The betting public probably thinks the five-time Las Vegas winner is not among the favorites to win a sixth title this weekend. They’d be wrong about that. This team can win anywhere and anytime.
Tommy Johnson Jr.
It’s been a tough stretch for a team that won two races and appeared in four final rounds before the start of the Countdown but honestly, is there any better place for one’s luck to turn around than Las Vegas? We think not. Much like teammate Ron Capps, no one should be surprised if the Make-A-Wish crew emerges from hiding and puts together a nice four-round win streak on Sunday.
There was a time when the Elite team was just about unstoppable in Las Vegas, in 2015, the last time she won the Mello Yello Pro Stock title. A lot of things would need to happen in order for fans to see a repeat of either event, but at this point, you’ve got to like her chances. This is an A-level car wheeled by an A-plus level driver. A win here would be huge as far as the season title is concerned.
Jeg Coughlin Jr.
Perhaps Shirley Muldowney was on to something winning three championships behind the wheel of a mostly pink car. The familiar yellow and black of JEGS has been replaced by pink for breast cancer awareness month and after a runner-up finish in Dallas, the five-time champ Pro Stock has a real chance to add a sixth, which would tie WJ for second place.
Total Seal Camaro
This guy loves Las Vegas and if he happens to win here, he’s going to love it even more. He’s been so good this year and so consistent that it’s easy to forget that this is the first time he’s ever pursued the championship. That lack of experience can be either a good thing or a bad thing but so far, it’s worked well for the Total Seal team. They are likely in this fight until the very end.
American Ethanol Camaro
In the last two races he’s got a win and a semifinal that could easily have turned into a second victory so yes, the American Ethanol team is trending in the right direction. He’s also been a bit overlooked in the battle for the championship but facing a 72-point deficit, he’s very much in the fight. There is a very real chance that five or six drivers go into Pomona with a shot at first place and he’s going to be one of them.
Summit Racing Equipment Camaro
He must be doing something right because after back-to-back round one losses in Charlotte and Dallas, his title hopes should be dead and buried. As it stands, he’s just 68-points out of the lead which makes him very much alive. To win this race, no matter who is in the final would be a huge momentum swing in a season that has already had a lot of them.
Summit Racing Equipment Camaro
In the last tipster, we predicted that he could clear out a few of the championship contenders. We didn’t think his first victim would be his own teammate. At least he finished the job and scored his 94th career win in the process. And kudos to the KB team for taking a situation they could easily have manipulated and turning it into a straight-up competitive drag race. The aftermath is that he’s 99-points back, but still in the fight.
Butner Auto Camaro
We should be talking about how he’s won the last two Las Vegas races. Instead, we’re all wondering what this year’s Halloween theme is. Surprisingly, there is a method to the madness. The Butner Auto team is at their best when they are loose and fun-loving and that’s almost sure to be the case this weekend, even if they look like cartoon characters.
Janac Bros. Camaro
Watching this kid pile up wins in Super Stock and Top Dragster, one had to wonder when and if he’d get another chance to wheel a Pro Stock car. That chance came a couple of races ago and he’s made the most of it. It’s not very likely that a non-Countdown driver is going to get a win in any class, especially Pro Stock, but this kid might be the exception.
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson
At 81-points, he’s got the biggest lead of any NHRA pro which should equate to the least amount of pressure. Sometimes, it doesn’t work that way but the fact is that if he can keep his cool and maintain his current lead, or possibly even extend it, that will make it extremely difficult for anyone to prevent him from winning a sixth championship.
White Alligator Suzuki
He got away with a couple of sub-par lights in Dallas but was sharp when it counted the most and came away with his third win of the season. Unless Hines stumbles badly, it’s going to be tough to win the championship but it’s not hard to imagine the White Alligator bike finishing the season with one or two more victories.
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson
At the risk of beating a dead horse: here we go again. Two races left to get a much-needed victory. Almost had it in Dallas but Savoie had other ideas. For most riders, five final rounds would make for a great season but when you’ve won 47 times, runner-up finishes tend to sting a bit more than usual.
Big St. Charles Suzuki
No matter how this turns out she’s had the best year of her career and there is a good chance that the good times are not over yet. Making up 81-points against a five-time champion like Hines is going to be a tall order but all she can do is win here and then see what happens in Pomona. She might be the most even-tempered pro on the NHRA tour and at this time of the season, that’s a huge asset.
His performance in qualifying in Dallas was extremely impressive but once again, he couldn’t close the deal on Sunday. That has to be extremely frustrating, but the fact remains that this can be (and often is) the best bike in the class. In fact, would anyone be surprised if he came in and ran the table here? That certainly wouldn’t faze Tipster who has seen him do just that a time or two.
Hector Arana Jr.
Lucas Oil EBR
Remember when he won this race last year? How about the Four-Wide race here earlier this season? He won that as well. The bottom line is that the Lucas Oil Products bike seems to run very well in the Nevada desert and after a rough second half of the season, there probably aren’t many racers looking forward to a return to “The Strip” as much as this guy is.
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson
In Dallas, she made it to the semifinals for the first time this season and left on teammate Eddie Krawiec in the process. That is an encouraging sign going forward. It’s late enough in the season that we should no longer be discussing her transition to the Harley team. It’s time to actually deliver results and recently, she’s done just that. Also, worth noting that she won the very first Las Vegas race in the spring of 2000.
Johnson Racing Suzuki
Since he came back in Reading, he’s qualified no worse than fourth which is impressive since the whole class seems to have taken a leap forward in terms of performance. Now, the challenge is to keep turning on the win light on Sunday which as happened eight times in the last four races.
So, since he’s got the championship in the bag he’s going to enjoy a nice relaxing weekend in Las Vegas? Umm, no. That certainly isn’t his style. Nothing would put a cap on a championship season more than winning the last race of the year and that’s going to be his primary focus. Don’t expect any distractions.
For all the headlines he makes off the track, one thing is still undeniable; he is an amazingly talented crew chief and racer. Incidentally, this will be his 100th race in the NHRA E3 Spark Plugs Pro Mod series, and he’s appeared in the final of 24 of the previous 99. That’s a pretty darned good batting average.
He wasn’t able to win the championship but a win to close out the season would make for a nice consolation prize. He was rock-solid at the last race where he qualified No. 1 and went to the semifinals before losing by a razor-thin margin. Also important that he wins a few rounds to protect second place.
AAP/Western Beef Camaro
Indy winner has been solid lately with a quarterfinal and a semifinal in his last two outings. He’s also qualified No. 5 or better since his tough DNQ in Topeka a few months ago. He was also in the final round here a year ago, which counts for something since the conditions in Las Vegas tend to differ from most other tracks on the tour.
AAP/Janis Superchargers Camaro
All told, his title defense has been solid with a win at the first Charlotte race and four semifinals in 11 races. Like Smith, he’s going to be competing in his 100th NHRA Pro Mod race this weekend and he’s already been in 11 finals with six-career victories. That is also the makings of a very solid career.
J&A Services Cadillac
Went to the final round at the last event in Charlotte and looked good doing it with a string of 5.7-second runs. He was also a rock star on the starting line with four lights .022 or quicker on race day. That’s a pretty good recipe for long-term success.
He didn’t run the most recent event in Charlotte and lost in the first round in the three races before that but he’s the defending event winner here and that should count for something. The Brazil-native was awesome earlier this year with a win in Richmond followed by a pair of runner-up finishes in Topeka and Bristol.
Surprisingly, he hasn’t been to a final yet but that’s something that could easily change. This is a very solid car that qualifies well and generally gets down the track consistently. In fact, it isn’t much of an exaggeration to suggest he’s the best driver that has yet to win an NHRA Pro Mod race.