There is something peaceful and tranquil about the Arizona desert unless of course, one takes into account the oasis that is Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park just outside of Phoenix. The words “peaceful” and “tranquil” are rarely used to describe the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and after a raucous season-opener in Pomona, NHRA’s traveling acceleration show will bring its own brand of thunder and lightning to Phoenix for stop No. 2 on the young season. Top Fuel world champ Steve Torrence and his father, Billy, are scheduled to make their season debuts here but are they the favorites? What about Jack Beckman and Jeg Coughlin Jr., who earned Pomona titles in Funny Car and Pro Stock, respectively? Tricky Tipster has all the answers right here.
FUNNY CAR | PRO STOCK
Based on his performance in Pomona, where he scored a third-straight victory, one could make the case that this is the best car in the Top Fuel class right now. That’s debatable, but he’s certainly done enough to earn Tipster’s top billing this week.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. That certainly applies to Torrence, who rolls into Phoenix with a big No. 1 on the side of his Capco Contractors dragster for the second-straight season. Torrence won 11 races in 2018 and tacked on 9 more victories last season which means he’s won 20 of the last 48 events he’s attended. If he hadn’t missed the Pomona opener he’d be a clear No. 1, but at this point we’re arguing semantics.
The Monster car was downright scary in Pomona with some huge performance numbers, especially in qualifying. The challenge here has always been to convert qualifying energy into Sunday win lights but that’s clearly happening. Much like Doug Kalitta, she’s never won at this track but has a trio of runner-up finishes in 2014, 2016-17. Oh, and if the weather is right, this could be a place to take a shot at a new elapsed time record.
There are a lot of positive developments going on here including her 3.65 on race day in Pomona and the fact that she won back-to-back Phoenix titles in 2016-17 and was a runner-up at this race a year ago. A history of success in Phoenix (which can be a tricky place to get a handle on) combined with her early season performance goes a long way as far as Tipster is concerned.
Percentage wise, his record in elimination rounds might be even more impressive than his son, Steve’s. Consider that he ran 16 events last season and failed to make it out of the first round just three times. The Capco captain also went to six final rounds and bagged four victories including one here. It’s unclear how many events he’s going to run this season, but it’s almost a given that he’s going to make the most of every opportunity.
Montana Brands/Rocky Mountain Twist
So now you’ve got the combination of a car that can run consistent 3.6s with a driver who has the ability to knock the Tree over seemingly at will. That should mean a significant improvement over last year’s 22-23 record in elimination rounds. We’ll never know what might have happened if he didn’t smoke the tires against Kalitta in the Pomona final, but a runner-up wasn’t a half-bad way to kick off the season.
The important digits to remember here are .052 and .040 which aren’t bingo numbers, but rather his reaction times in the first two rounds in Pomona. These days, nitro racing isn’t much different than Pro Stock; you’ve got to be able to get off the starting line on time in order to have any sort of sustained success and so far, he’s been able to get the job done.
Okay, so the reunion of Brown and former crew chief Brian Corradi in Pomona wasn’t quite as successful as they would have liked but there is still a ton of potential here and we’re not talking about late this season or next year. This is a car that should absolutely contend for wins at every stop on the tour including this one where they’ve already won three times since 2009.
Infinite Hero Dodge
He didn’t get to the top spot here simple because he won in by Pomona; he got here because he had arguably the best car in Pomona and drove the wheels off of it. In all fairness, the top 8-10 Funny Cars aren’t separated by much but at this moment, this is the best of the bunch, and he’s had a bit of success here with back-to-back wins in 2010-11.
Looked very solid in Pomona, where he qualified No. 1 and went to the semifinals. Now, we’re headed across the desert to Phoenix, where he’s been all but unstoppable with three wins in the last five years, including last season, where he stopped J.R. Todd in the final round. Some tracks just seem to fit some drivers better than others and this appears to be one for the Mopar team.
Auto Club Chevy
The reigning world champ really doesn’t have much to worry about despite a disappointing round two finish to start they season. The Auto Club team was quick in testing and they were quick in Pomona. And guess what? They’ll almost certainly be quick here. Hight is a four-time finalist here and scored his lone Phoenix victory in 2012.
Let’s face it, John Force wins just about everywhere but his success rate in Phoenix borders on the absurd with 8 wins in 14 final rounds including the inaugural event way back in 1985. True, his last win here was 2005, but after a solid start to the season in Pomona, there is every reason to think he could add to that total this weekend.
As many had expected, the NAPA team was able to make a quick recovery from their devastating trailer fire before Pomona and salvage a respectable quarterfinal finish from the season-opener. With and additional two weeks to get their house in order, there is little reason to expect any lingering after-effects going forward. Capps has three wins here in seven final rounds, which means he knows this place fairly well. Oh, and if he can win two rounds, he’ll have 750 for his career.
Rockit/ABK Beer Toyota
Rusty? Out of practice? Not this girl, who came out swinging after a two year lay-off with a very impressive semifinal finish in Pomona. This is a program that was put together in a very short amount of time during the all-too brief off-season so it stands to reason that once they’re fully up to speed, their results will get even better. Bonus points awarded for her prior Phoenix win in 2014.
Tommy Johnson Jr.
MD Anderson Cancer Center Dodge
For some teams, 3.8-second runs were hard to come by in Pomona but not for this crew. Their 3.87 run in the opening round on Sunday was particularly impressive. No reason to think they won’t carry that momentum on to Phoenix for stop No. 2. For the record, T.J. has a win and a runner-up here in the Funny Car class.
Just a hunch but it there’s any team that would like a do-over on the start of the 2020 season, it’s the DHL “Yella Fella’s”. Qualifying wasn’t half-bad, but a round one loss was clearly not how they’d imagine starting the season. The good news is that they’ll have 23 more opportunities to make good including this week. Todd was a runner-up here a year ago so they figure to have some decent data on Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park. Fair to expect a much better result this week.
Jeg Coughlin Jr.
He didn’t just win Pomona, he dominated with one of the best performances of his long career. Lately, Pro Stock has become known for its tremendous parity, so this was about as close as it gets to complete domination. It might be a while before anyone runs the table again and posts a perfect 130-point score. Then again, the yellow and black JEGS Camaro was so good, they might do it again this week.
Summit Racing Equipment Camaro
His final season as a driver in Pro Stock began on a high note with a runner-up finish in Pomona even though he did not have the quickest car in the field. By and large, Phoenix has been a relatively good stop for the Summit crew including Line’s two wins in 2012 and 2016. No reason to think he can’t add a third title before it’s all said and done.
The opening round of her third title defense didn’t go as planned but there were certainly some bright spots including an impressive 6.55 in qualifying. Consider that last year, the Melling team didn’t make their first final until Chicago and didn’t win a race until the start of the Countdown and its safe to say they’re not about to push the panic button. Keep doing what they’ve been doing and the win lights will follow.
Butner Auto/Strutmasters Camaro
He’s never appeared in a Pro Stock final round here, but that could easily change this weekend. Pomona was a huge disappointment with a pair of early losses in Pro Stock and his Top Sportsman debut, but there were bring spots, including a solid top half qualifying run that should provide plenty of optimism for stop No. 2.
Summit Racing Equipment Camaro
His impressive resume includes a pair of wins here in four final rounds. He’s also one of several Pro Stock drivers who didn’t get down the track in the first round in Pomona so this could easily be considered a much-needed do-over on the start of 2020. All of the KB cars were competitive two weeks ago even if their race day results didn’t necessarily show it.
American Ethanol Camaro
This might be more of a hunch than anything but we think the American Ethanol team is going to have a big year in Pro Stock. His driving has historically been solid and after Pomona, where he qualified No. 2 in a very competitive field, we know the power is there. He entered the year with four Pro Stock wins in seven final rounds and it wouldn’t be a huge shock to see those numbers double by the end of 2020.
JCM Racing Camaro
Well, look who cracked the top four in qualifying in Pomona and it wasn’t just a one-run deal. His car was quick through all four sessions. He was also able to parlay the increased horsepower into a pair of win lights on Sunday. It’s only one race, but we’re guessing he’s very happy to roll into Phoenix as the No. 4 ranked driver in the class.
Harlow Sammons Camaro
It’s really hard to keep Matt Hartford, Alex Laughlin, Fernando Cuadra, and Aaron Stanfield off the board this week but we have to give the nod to the Harlow Sammons team after a solid outing in Pomona. Beating Greg Anderson without lane choice was big, and he gave Jeg Coughlin all he could handle in the second round. Obviously, they had a productive off-season in West Texas.