The beauty of each new season is that every driver in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing series is currently tied for first place in the standings. Naturally, that won’t last long. Once qualifying begins on February 7, at the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals presented by Protect the Harvest, the battle for titles will begin in Top Fuel, Funny Car, and Pro Stock. With that, here’s Tricky Tipster’s first attempt to handicap the Pomona pro fields.
Kalitta has finished second in the standings five times in his 22-year career and as frustrating as that may be, you’ll never hear him complain about it. Last year’s runner-up finish was undoubtably frustrating, yet the Mac Tools team simply hit the reset button and prepared for their return to Pomona, where they’ve swept both events last season. No one should be willing to bet against a third-straight Pomona title.
What can crew chief David Grubnic do now that he’s had a full season to adjust to life as part of the JFR team. We’re about to find out and based on his 2019 performance, the results should be spectacular. The last time Force carried the colors of Monster Energy, she won the Top Fuel title in 2017 and it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see a repeat brewing here.
Montana Brands/Rocky Mountain Twist
Year two begins with a lot of promise after the Montana Brands team won a race and the Rookie of the Year award last season. The lack of experience didn’t seem to be an issue since he was also the class’ reaction time leader for the season. More recently, the Montana Brand/RMT team also posted some impressive numbers during pre-season testing.
When it comes to crew chief/crewmember changes, this winter was relatively calm, but one change that’s sure to move the needle is the return of Brian Corradi to the Matco team, where he’ll be reunited with Brown and co-crew chief Mark Oswald. Collectively, they’ve won three championships together so it’s not unreasonable to think they’ll be able to recapture that magic again. One thing is almost certain; they won’t be shut out of the winner’s circle again this season.
The last time we ran in Pomona last November, this car was solidly in the 3.6s and went to the semifinals so why not pull off a win to start the season? Also, it’s worth noting that in 2017, she ran the table here by qualifying No. 1 and winning the race. A lot has changed since then, but the thought of the Mopar dragster kicking off the season with a victory isn’t too far-fetched.
The last time he raced in Top Fuel, he did a lot of damage and even though he seemed comfortable in a Funny Car, this is his bread and butter class. It might not happen right away, but he’ll be a player this season once he get re-acclimated to a dragster. Then again, maybe he’ll jump right in and start winning rounds.
The last time we were in Pomona in November, you might recall this car ran 3.69 and qualified third in a tough field. That should be an indicator of future potential and after a winless 2019 season, there is no one more anxious to get the new season started than this guy.
Amalie Motor Oil
A year ago in Pomona, he got to the semifinals and lost a heartbreaker to eventual winner Doug Kalitta (3.70 to 3.70). The Amalie team has always run well here and it's extremely unlikely that they'll go another season without making a few final rounds. They are officially overdue.
Auto Club Chevy
He’s not just the reigning and three-time world champion, he also had arguably the best car during last weekend’s test session at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Worth noting that he also loves racing in Pomona (6 wins) and last year, he opened the season by qualifying No. 1 and winning the Winternationals.
Here’s another guy who absolutely loves racing in Southern California. Since 2011, he’s got six wins in Pomona at both events. In 2018, he kicked off the season with a big Pomona win against Robert Hight. He was also in the championship hunt last season until the bitter end so there’s likely a bit of extra motivation to start 2020 off on a high note.
Infinite Hero Dodge
The Infinite hero team reportedly went to the Las Vegas test to try a host of new components and combinations and apparently they are very encouraged by the results. The Funny Car class continues to be brutally competitive, but this gang seems primed for another big season and a run at the season championship.
Sixteen of John Force’s record 151 wins have come in Pomona, and needles to say no one else is even close. The 16-time champ has also won the Winternationals seven times beginning in 1991. Bonus points if you knew that he defeated Glen Mikres in the final round. That was then, this is now. Does he have enough in the tank for one more shot at Pomona glory? Don’t be against it.
Two years ago this was the best Funny Car in the class and their title defense in 2019 wasn’t half bad. That being said, there are a few questions headed into the new season. First off, Kalitta Motorsports will field a single Funny Car this season. Will that affect the performance of the DHL flagship? We’re guessing not much, if at all. They’re still plenty competitive and figure to get their share this season.
The NAPA team would be ranked quite a bit higher if not for the scary trailer fire that forced them to miss the recent Las Vegas test session. Any team led by Rahn Tobler is going to be equipped to handle adversity but this is a lot to overcome so early in the season. That being said, a win here would make a statement that would be hard to ignore.
Tommy Johnson Jr.
MD Anderson Cancer Center Dodge
As far as the Funny Car class is concerned, not much has changed this season; this will be a very competitive class and there’s nine or ten cars that could or should win races including this one. Historically, T.J. has won three times in Pomona including the season opener in 2005. A year ago, he qualified No. 3 and went to the semifinals, and there’s no reason to think he can’t duplicate or better that result this time around.
Bob Tasca III
Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford
Much like Capps, this is a team that would likely be ranked higher if not for their mishap during pre-season testing in Phoenix. The Motorcraft crew will certainly rebound, but the question is when?
Pro Stock’s queen of clutch roared to life during last year’s Countdown and came away with her third world championship which means she’s going to enter the season as Tipster’s early favorite. Interestingly enough, she’s only one on time in Pomona and that was her winner-take-all race against Jason Line at the 2014 Finals. Hard to imagine she won’t ultimately add a Winternationals title.
Jeg Coughlin Jr.
The last time he raced in Pomona three months ago, he mopped the floor by qualifying No. 1 and winning the race. It wasn’t quite enough to claim a seventh championship, but it was nevertheless an impressive performance and one that he is no doubt capable of duplicating.
Summit Racing Equipment Camaro
He’s already made news this winter by announcing that this will be his final season as a Pro Stock driver and nothing would set the stage for a successful farewell tour better than a win to open the season. The interesting thing about the Pro Stock class is you never know who had the most productive off-season until every car gets a chance to run on the same track but we’re betting he’s coming to California with a fast car.
Butner Auto/Strutmasters Camaro
Defending Pomona winner was red-hot at the start of the season with four early wins before he tailed off. Last fall, he lost a close race to Coughlin in the semifinals for whatever that’s worth. Would anyone be surprised to see him get off to another hot start?
Summit Racing Equipment Camaro
As noted last fall, he’s a 12-time winner in Pomona which means he knows his way around historic Auto Club Raceway Pomona. As many have noted, Pro Stock has never been tougher with about 10-12 entries that are capable of winning but through his career, the four-time champion has shown a remarkable ability to adjust.
American Ethanol Camaro
The American Ethanol team had a great season in 2019 with a pair of wins and a very respectable sixth place finish yet they failed to win a round in two appearances at Auto Club Raceway Pomona. That’s just an odd occurrence because this team qualified well at both races so we’re expecting a much better result this time around.
Total Seal Camaro
The big news here during the off-season is a switch from Elite to KB power and while that’s a significant move, both programs have shown the ability to deliver real results for their engine-leasing customers so there shouldn’t be any reason to expect a drop off when compared to last year’s very impressive results.
The guy who spent most of the winter eating spicy hot foods and documenting the results on his You Tube channel is now ready to get back to the business of chasing a Pro Stock championship. He won Indy last year and made the top ten with air to spare but consistency has been a bit of a problem. That being said, he’s clearly one of the dozen racers that are capable of winning any given event.