Let’s face it, the 2020 season has been like nothing anyone has ever seen but through all the turmoil, NHRA drag racing has survived and now it’s time to celebrate the biggest, most important, and most prestigious event of the season, the Denso Spark Plugs NHRA U.S. Nationals. Everyone wants to win Indy at least once, and those who do want to win it again. So, who gets a chance to etch their name in the history books this year? Tricky Tipster, whose roots in NHRA drag racing are every bit as old as the U.S. Nationals, has labeled Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock), Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle), and Chad Green (Pro Mod).
Indy is an emotional place and it’s often been the site of some of NHRA’s most touching moments. With his longtime friend and crewmember Dom Lagana still hospitalized following a highway accident, a victory here would be extra special. Not that the Capco team doesn’t try hard to win every event, but expect them to put forth every effort to “Do it for Dom.”
Whether it’s extending his points lead, which currently sits at 83, or successfully defending last year’s impressive first Indy victory, there are a lot of motivating factors in play this week for the Mac Tools team. They are also off to a great start with a 13-4 record since Pomona. Now it’s time for a big finish in their push for a long-overdue first championship.
Amalie Motor Oil
The Amalie team gets a big bump from Tipster this week largely due to their performance at the last two Indy events where they qualified No. 1 and earned semifinal and runner-up finishes. He’s also won Indy before, which may or may not affect future results, but it sure looks good on one’s resumé.
As noted earlier, both Capco dragsters are on a mission this week as they continue to deal with the injuries to their ace crewmember and spiritual leader Dom Lagana. A father-son final round at Indy would be good medicine for a team that could really use some positive news.
By the time Sunday’s final eliminations begin, he might already be a Top Fuel winner pending the completion of the rain-delayed Indy 2 final so should we dare suggest an Indy double? Why the heck not? If this car is good enough to win one race, and it certainly is, then it should be good enough to win two. It won’t be easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is.
In five races this season, they’ve delivered three semifinal and two quarterfinals finishes. Very respectable, but not exactly what they’re looking for. This is a car that can and should be delivering wins and final rounds. They are also third in the points standings so they’re still very much in the running for a Mello Yello championship. A win here would accomplish a lot of objectives.
Tipster is convinced that if this were a normal season (if there is such a thing) and we’d already completed 17 events, the Matco crew would have already banked a win or two. As it stands, they’ve been to the semifinals twice in five races but perhaps the most telling stat is qualifying position, which has improved dramatically at the last two races.
Much like T.J. Zizzo, he could very well emerge from this weekend’s race as a first-time Top Fuel winner and that opens the possibility, however remote, of a historic Indy double. We’re definitely getting ahead of ourselves here, but this is a solid car with a driver who’s been impressive in just eight starts. If he were to double, it wouldn’t make the list of strangest occurrences in 2020.
First, he’s got the rain-delayed Indy 2 final to deal with, and then he can concentrate on winning a second U.S. Nationals title. A double-up is certainly possible, but it won’t be easily achieved given the level of competition in the Funny Car class. Still, there’s a good chance he goes home with at least one trophy.
Tipster has been saying that the NAPA team was not nearly as bad as their results showed at the first two Indy events this summer, which were both round one losses. At Indy 3, they proved him right by winning the whole darned thing. As gratifying as it was for Capps to finally get a win at Indy, he still longs for a U.S. Nationals title and once again is in a prime position to get it.
Infinite Hero Dodge
The last outing at Indy undoubtedly left a bad taste in the mouths of the Infinite Hero team with a round one loss to teammate Matt Hagan. They’ll get a shot at redemption on Saturday when they run the rain-delayed Indy 2 final but the big prize is a Denso U.S. Nationals title. Beckman won here in 2015 and has been a runner-up on three other occasions so his track record at “The Big Go” is pretty decent.
Bob Tasca III
Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford
This car has been very good all season, and it continues to get better with each passing race. Semi’s at the last two Indy summer events has provided a nice set-up for what should be a legit shot at the title. Also, it’s worth noting that he was in the 2011 U.S. Nationals Funny Car final and lost to, current crew chief Mike Neff.
There’s one thing about Indy that most racers know; no matter how bad your season has been, a U.S. Nationals win will cure just about everything. The DHL team was dramatically improved at the last Indy event where they reached the final round, and Todd won back-to-back Indy Funny Car titles in 2017-18 so these guys absolutely know their way to the winner’s circle.
Tommy Johnson Jr.
MD Anderson Cancer Center Dodge
This might be the most consistent car that T.J. has ever had especially in qualifying where he’s been no worse than fourth at any point and has two green (low qualifier) hats. He’s also been good on race day with an 11-4 record including a victory in Phoenix. This is one of the few races he’s never won, either as a pro or sportsman racer so it would be a nice item to check off the list.
Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford
How many of you remember 2003 when he won the Funny Car final over Johnny Gray? Hard to believe that was nearly 20 years ago but he’s every bit as good now as he was then so there’s plenty of reasons to think he could be in line for a second victory. He’s been fairly solid at the first three Indy events including a best of No. 3 in qualifying and a semifinal at Indy 1.
Global Electronic Technologies Dodge
He’s gotten knocked around for a couple of recent run-ins with timing blocks, but the reality is that this is a very competitive team that continues to improve. Quite honestly, they had a great shot to make the final at the most recent Indy event until losing a tough race against J.R. Todd.
Jeg Coughlin Jr.
He’s been at this game a long time but might this season, he might have the most competitive ride of his career. Through four races, he’s qualified first, first, second, and third and has two wins and a runner-up and of course, the points lead. This is almost certainly going to be his last chance to win a U.S. Nationals Pro Stock title which would be his fourth. That would be a fitting way to close out a Hall of Fame career.
“Red-lights suck”. We’re not sure who first uttered that quote, but it’s been used countless times throughout the history of drag racing and it’s entirely possible that the three-time champ said it following her foul start at the most recent Indy event. The Elite flagship will be out for blood this week and they have a much better than average shot to win their second Indy title. Oh, and we’re guessing she’s still not over last year’s final round loss to Alex Laughlin
Summit Racing Camaro
He’s had such a great career in Pro Stock that we forget it still lacks a U.S. Nationals victory. Line often dismisses statistics, historical milestones, and things of that nature, but he’d be lying if he said he wouldn’t want to hang up his helmet without at least one victory from “The Big Go.” This year, he’s got a car more than capable of getting the job done.
Summit Racing Camaro
When you have 94-career wins it generally means you are successful everywhere and that’s certainly true for this guy but he tends to do some of his best work at Indy where he’s got six wins in nine final rounds. That makes him one of Indy’s all-time greats and it would be foolish to think he’s done winning. His next win ties him with Warren Johnson and it would be fitting for that to happen at NHRA’s marquee event.
We wouldn’t go so far as to call last year’s Indy Pro Stock win a fluke, but it was certainly the result of a fortunate chain of events. That’s just fine. A win at Indy is a win at Indy and it’s in the history books forever. Know what else is in the history books forever? A second Indy win and there’s no reason to think he can’t do it. He’s certainly got enough race car for that to happen.
Troy Coughlin Jr.
If you didn’t think he could make it to a Pro Stock final in his first year in the class, then you haven’t been paying attention. The third-generation of the Coughlin clan has already shown a remarkable versatility and adapted to a Pro Stock car much quicker than most. He will win races in this class, guaranteed and it wouldn’t even be considered an upset if he started winning this weekend.
Butner Auto Camaro
Last time at Indy, he had a great outing in Rickie Smith’s Pro Mod Camaro, but things didn’t go so well with the Pro Stock car. He’ll still be pulling double-duty this weekend, although he’s in Super Comp, not Pro Mod. He’s talented and experienced enough to get the job done in either entry.
Harlow Sammons Camaro
Not sure where it comes from, but Tipster has a good feeling about this race for the Harlow Sammons team. Not only does Chris have a decent shot at a second Indy victory, but there is also a strong likelihood that son, Mason, gets to qualify for the first time in his rookie season in the class.
Stop us if you’ve heard this before. Performance-wise, this is the best bike in the class and with three qualifying runs, he’s a strong bet to qualify No. 1 in what figures to be a stacked field. Success on Sunday has been a bit tougher to come by lately but he’s certainly overdue for some good luck.
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson
Shocking statistic of the day; his last victory came at the Brainerd event in 2018. No one ever thought he’d go 24 months between victories but here we are. Obviously, the altered 2020 schedule has greatly reduced his chances for a victory but still, this is a four-time world champ and 47-time national event winner we’re talking about. Sooner or later, something has to give and why shouldn’t it give at Indy, a race he’s already won twice.
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson
Speaking to two-time Indy winners, here’s another guy who could easily add a third title to his resume this weekend. So far, the first two events of the season have not gone according to plan, although he did play a big role as the crew chief in Angelle Sampey’s most recent victory. Regardless, there’s more than enough talent here to get the job done.
White Alligator Suzuki
Last year, he won his second U.S. Nationals title with a final-round win over Andrew Hines. Granted that was a year ago, but since then, the Pro Stock Motorcycle class has held just eight races. The point is, the White Alligator Suzuki was good then and it’s good now and we should expect a much-improved effort going forward.
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson
Winning the most recent event at Indy was a huge milestone in a career that has already been full of them but perhaps the biggest thing it accomplished was providing a confidence booster to someone who could really use it. She now believes she can win on a Harley and it will be interesting to see how that plays out the rest of the season.
Hector Arana Jr.
Lucas Oil EBR
In a recent Skype interview with Brian Lohnes on NHRA.com, the Lucas Oil EBR rider expressed optimism that his team had solved some of their early-season woes. This would be the perfect time to see some results. At the last event, he had a shot to make a deep run into eliminations before a red-light ended his day. There is much more potential here.
He’s looked very strong at the first two Indy events including the most recent one, where he reached the semifinals. Lately, the Pro Stock Motorcycle class has been kind to riders seeking their first wins so this bodes well for finally ended a long winless drought. You’d also like to think that when he finally does win his first race, it’s a big one like Indy.
Flyin Ryan EBR
After winning his first race in July, he came back to earth a few weeks later but make no mistake, this is a team built for the long haul and there will be more final rounds and more wins to come. The Oehler family had a plan and they are sticking to it and so far, it appears they’ve made all the right moves.
Rickie Smith Racing Camaro
He barely snuck into the last Tricky Tipster at some very enticing 15-1 odds and then went the distance. Honestly, we should have known better since you’ve got a driver who is money on the starting line driving a car prepared by Rickie Smith. Obviously, the era of the nitrous Pro Mod is far from over and there’s no reason to think you can’t see a second-straight victory here.
Scruggs Racing Camaro
Even though he dropped his first-round race against Clint Satterfield at the last event, we’re going to leave him near the top this time because his qualifying results are so good and in Pro Mod, that’s half the battle. He has the ability to consistently win rounds in this class so there is no reason to panic. Expect the supercharged Camaro to be in the thick of the points battle until the bitter end.
Thorne Racing Camaro
It goes without saying that this has been a crazy year but raise your hand if you had Kris Thorne leading the Pro Mod points heading into Indy. All kidding aside, this is his first year on the NHRA tour and it’s off to a great start with back-to-back semifinals at the first two Indy races. As one of the leading turbo cars, he also runs very impressive speeds.
Bond Coat Camaro
He’s got a rare opportunity to leave Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis with two Wallys because he’s also got to run the final round of the rain-delayed Indy II event. Given his recent performances, it would be hard to imagine he won’t win at least one of them. As a reminder, he qualified very well at the last race but didn’t make it down the track in round one. That was a very minor speed bump is that has otherwise been a promising start to the season.
The most successful driver in the history of the Pro Mod class was forced to sit out the first two races due to back surgery and now he plans to inflict some pain on the rest of the field. Remember, he’s going to be driving the same nitrous Camaro that went to the final at the last event with Bo Butner driving.
To suggest that his championship defense hasn’t gotten off to a great start would be a massive understatement but there is still time for a nice rebound. Worth noting that he qualified third in his last NHRA appearance a month ago so the power is definitely there. He’ll right the ship, and most likely sooner rather than later.
Went to the semifinals at the last race and did so from the No. 13 qualifying spot, which is tough to do in any class. That’s also a positive sign that the former champ has turned the corner after a difficult start to the 2020 season. A top-half qualifying spot here would also provide a nice boost.
Obviously, the new ProCharger engine combination is far from perfect but there is a lot of potential there. In qualifying, he’s been amazing with back-to-back poles against the best teams in the Pro Mod class. Now, the race-day set-up needs a bit of attention. There’s a lot of smart people working on this team. They’re going to figure it out.