No career in drag racing is complete until it includes at least one win at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals and even those who have won Indy before, long to win it again, and again because it is the world’s most prestigious drag race. This year, National Dragster’s own Tricky Tipster, who has nearly as much history as the Indy race, has tabbed Steve Torrence, Robert Hight, Erica Enders, Matt Smith, and Steve Jackson as the professional-class favorites.
So, he’s gone win less at the last two races, that is hardly a cause for alarm in the Capco camp. Since he long ago locked up the top spot in the Countdown, there will be no counting points for this crew; their only motivation for even attending Indy is to win it. Torrence won Indy two years ago, and he’s been to three other final rounds, which sets up nicely for a big finish to the regular season.
She was going to make a big move in the standings after winning in Brainerd but she’s getting a huge bump because of the way she won Brainerd. It was the sort of dominant performance that makes Tipster think she’s a real-deal contender for not just an Indy win, but also a Mello Yello title. Oh, and she also cleaned house here last year in Factory Stock.
If he’s going to make the Countdown, there is work to be done. Basically, he needs to win two more rounds than either Scott Palmer or Terry McMillen. Either that, or earn a whole bunch of qualifying points. Either way, the Capco captain should be more than up to the task. Remember, he had the quickest car in Brainerd.
Wouldn’t it be a perfect setting to see the Mac Tools driver get his first Indy win on the 25th anniversary of uncle, Connie’s historic Indy triumph over Eddie Hill? We certainly think so, and the Kalitta flagship is coming off a very impressive semifinal performance in Minnesota so the timing could not be better.
Advance Auto Parts/Carquest
A bit of free advice: Don’t ever doubt David Grubnic. The Advance crew chief won the pole in Brainerd with a thundering 3.72 on Saturday and backed it up with runs of 3.72 and 3.73 on race day. It wasn’t enough to win the event, but it clearly showed the team’s potential heading into the biggest event of the season.
We’ve touched on this before but Mike Kloeber clearly doesn’t get enough credit for the job he’s done with the Parts Plus dragster this year. Their 3.69 in round one in Brainerd was breathtaking, and it shows just a hint of their potential. Now, the challenge is to string together four solid runs on race day.
Montana Brands/Rocky Mountain Twist
Much like Erica Enders in Pro Stock, this is not the driver you want to miss the Tree against in Top Fuel. The class reaction time leader put up a holeshot win against his teammate in Brainerd, and that gave him a bit of breathing room in his battle to secure a Countdown spot in his rookie season.
Really hard to handicap this team lately. They can easily win races and set low E.T. and do all that great stuff, but they haven’t been able to do it consistently. That being said, a semifinal in Brainerd figures to be a nice momentum builder.
Auto Club Chevy
Six final rounds and three wins at Lucas Oil Raceway Indianapolis proves the Auto Club team knows how to get it done on the sport’s biggest stage. The top spot in the Countdown is just about a given so there is no need to focus on anything other than an Indy victory. Of course, it’s never a bad thing for the Chevy team to win the Chevrolet Performance event, either.
If he never made another run in an nitro car he’s already a first-ballot Hall of Famer but honestly, there’s almost no chance he calls it a career without winning Indy at least once. Coming off a very impressive performance in Brainerd, this might finally be the year that he gets it done. Second or third place in the Countdown standings is also well within reach.
Tommy Johnson Jr.
Just how good is the Make-A-Wish team this year? How about semifinals or better in eight of the last 11 races including wins in Chicago and Denver. That sort of consistency is how championships are won. Before that, their sole focus will be on delivering an Indy title for team benefactor Doug Chandler.
Won here in 2016 and then went to the final last year where he lost a tough battle against J.R. Todd. Without a doubt, he’d love to have that one back and this would be the perfect time to do it. His last five starts have included two finals and two semifinals so the Mopar Charger team seems to be peaking at the right time.
Bob Tasca III
This team is arguably the most improved nitro team in the sport this year but three-straight quarterfinal losses (all against DSR cars) shows there is still much work to be done. Crew chief Mike Neff won the Indy Funny Car title as a driver in 2011, beating Tasca in the final, and the came back a year later and won it again.
Global Electronic Technologies Toyota
Since Epping, this team has been really, really good with a number of strong finishes. They’ve also made big strides in qualifying by starting sixth or better in five of the last seven races. At mid-season, the Global car was in danger of missing the Countdown. Now, they’re locked in and will race for the championship.
The good news is that he’s got four Indy wins but in the interest of fair reporting the last one came in 2002. Regardless, the 16-time champ is in the midst of another strong season and there isn’t any reason to think he doesn’t have enough gas left in the tank to make one more run at Indy glory.
Infinite Hero Dodge
After three runner-up finishes and five semifinals this year, it’s safe to say the Infinite Hero crew is long overdue for a victory so why not get it here. Lately, their qualifying results have improved which takes on an added importance in a race with five qualifying sessions.
Let’s roll the dice a little here. Yes, the Melling/Elite team hasn’t won a race this season and they come into Indy as the seventh-ranked team in Pro Stock. But….they’ve got a world class driver who qualified No. 3 and No. 2 at the last two races and is coming off a tough (and close) final round loss in Brainerd. If there was ever a time to bust up a slump, this is it.
Summit Racing Equipment Camaro
When you’ve got 93 career wins, it means you can get it done just about anywhere but Indy has been a special place for the Summit flagship with six wins in eight final rounds since 2001. For whatever reason, he stunk up the joint in Brainerd two weeks ago, and the best way to put that behind him is to win a few rounds at Indy.
Butner Auto Camaro
If you really put a lot of value in seat time, this is your man. He’s not only had a great year in Pro Stock, but he’s a championship contender in Factory Stock and more recently, he’s been tearing it up in Super Gas. Its not out of the question that he finishes top ten in all three categories but for now, he’d gladly take a U.S. Nationals victory.
Total Seal Camaro
He’s won 39 professional rounds in his career and 17 of them have come this season. Amazing what a commitment to a full season schedule will do for one’s results. Would not be the least bit surprising to see this guy collecting a Wally on the big stage come Monday afternoon.
Summit Racing Equipment Camaro
Whatever he was missing earlier this season was found in Brainerd. It’s only one race, but he made a statement by qualifying No. 1, running the table in all four qualifying sessions, and then winning the race on Sunday. His driving was great and the car was even better. Bring that same package to Indy, and it’s going to be a long week for everyone else.
Good news and not-so good news. He remains winless this season which is almost impossible to believe since he’s third in the points standings and is well within striking distance of the No. 2 seed. Heck, he could mathematically take over the top spot heading into the Countdown if the planets aligned properly.
Jeg Coughlin Jr.
The entire Coughlin family has had great success at Indy, including Jeg, who’s got three Pro Stock wins in his career. Honestly, he’s much better than his record has shown this year so if there is ever a time to find another gear, this is it.
American Ethanol Camaro
Much like Matt Hartford, here is another guy who has benifitted greatly from the 18-race Pro Stock schedule this season. Right now, there are probably a dozen Pro Stock drivers who could win any given event, and he’s certainly one of them. He’s also the only driver in the class who has qualified in the top half of the field at every event this season. That’s no small feat.
Statistically, Hines should probably be the top pick but the reigning champ seems to have a slight performance edge, even though it might not always translate to round wins. Got to figure that everyone brings their absolute best stuff to Indy, and as we’ve seen in the past, his best stuff is as good as anyone’s. Very slim edge.
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson
Don’t think that anyone, in any professional class, has ever come into Indy with just two losses on their record. Every time you start to think “this can’t last” he wins another race. The pressure is going to ratchet up a notch or two during Indy and the Countdown but after five championships and 55 wins, you’ve got to think he can handle it.
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson
They say the secret to winning Indy is to treat it like any other race and not the historic spectacle that we all know it is. No one is better at disregarding the pressure than this guy, who has been to the final here in three of the last five years and has banked two wins. Five of his nine losses this year have come against Hines so figuring a way around his teammate would be a great place to start.
White Alligator Suzuki
Much like Krawiec, he’s been very successful here with a win and three final rounds since 2011. As a side note, he’s missed three races this year and is still ranked in the top ten so it’s probably going to need to win a round or two in order to secure a spot in the Countdown. That should not be much of a problem.
Hector Arana Jr.
Lucas Oil EBR
In 2011, he got the thrill of a lifetime when he joined the exclusive club of Indy winners. After back-to-back runner-up finishes in 2016-17, there’s no doubt he’d love to bag another Indy Wally. The bike and rider are both fully capable of doing just that.
Reportedly, the Smith team has done a lot of testing since the last Pro Stock Motorcycle race in Sonoma so you’d expect them to roll into Indy with guns blazing. Quite honestly, there’s no reason why this bike shouldn’t be as quick as the one ridden by hubby, Matt.
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson
Progress on a Harley has been slow, but steady this year and the new FXDR body should help cure a lot of the early-season issues. At some point, the three-time champ is going to have a breakout race where everything comes together. Might as well be here, right?
Hector Arana Sr.
Lucas Oil EBR
His most recent race in Sonoma was one of his best this season. He also won Indy during his championship season in 2009 and went back to the final round two years later which counts for a lot when we’re talking about the most prestigious drag race in the world. He’s been there, done that.
He’s led the points standings since Houston, the second race of the season and can put the championship almost out of reach with a big effort this time around. Oh, and did we mention that’s he’s also the defending U.S. Nationals Pro Mod champ. That’s okay, if we didn’t mention it, he certainly will and rightfully so. A repeat victory is rather likely.
In a perfect world, he’d reach the final (as he did last year) and Steve Jackson would not be there waiting for him. The Q80 team needs round wins to stay in the championship battle, and it would help if their biggest rival stumbled. Regardless, this is still one of the quickest cars in the class so it’s hard to expect anything less than a late-round finish.
Almost certain he’s back in the turbo car this weekend but it really shouldn’t matter. He’s still Rickie Smith and somehow, he always finds a way to be competitive. In fact, it would not be at all unlike Rickie to win his first race in a turbo car at Indy. The man likes to do things in a big way.
Reportedly debuting a new car this weekend and there isn’t any reason to suspect it will be any less competitive than his old one. The Topeka crash was certainly a tough break but it should be just about time for the AAP team to return to their early-season forum which included a win in Gainesville and a runner-up in Houston.
Scruggs Farm Camaro
A bit of a hunch here but this car was mean during pre-Indy testing and assuming it was legal NHRA weight, it should be a handful during the U.S. Nationals. Pro Mod at Indy has a history of crowning first-time winners (Eric Dillard, Rick Snavely, etc.) so it might be fitting for the Scruggs team to bag their first Wally here.
Janis Superchargers/AAP Camaro
Reigning class champ has been extremely strong in qualifying at the last couple of events, but that hasn’t translated to race-day success. Still, it is an indicator of potential which means they could go the distance on Monday. He won here in 2013 and it’s never a bad thing to have prior winning experience when it comes to Indy.
Another team that tested at Lucas Oil Raceway last week and looked good doing it. It’s been a tough year for a team that was expecting to contend for a title but a U.S. Nationals victory makes a heck of a consolation prize.
Payless Water Heaters Camaro
Let’s throw a dart here and go with the California team that recently bagged a $100,000 victory in Denver. Racing at Indy is far different than the high altitude of Bandimere but oftentimes winning is contagious so you’d like to think he’s coming to the sport’s marquee event with more than a fighting chance.