Last weekend, the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series tour returned to action for the first time in nearly five months with the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals in Indianapolis. The event was by all accounts a success especially for pro winners Billy Torrence, Matt Hagan, Jason Line, and first-time Pro Stock Motorcycle winner Ryan Oehler. Now, the two nitro classes will return to Indy for the Lucas Oil NHRA Summernationals and they’re bringing with them the season debut of the E3 Spark Plugs Pro Mod series. Following last week’s race, Tricky Tipster has tabbed Doug Kalitta and Hagan as the favorites in Top Fuel and Funny Car, respectively, while defending series champ Stevie Jackson gets the nod in Pro Mod.
Three races and three final rounds, a 10-2 record in elimination rounds and already a 100-plus point lead in the Mello Yello standings, it’s safe to say that Air Doug is off to one of the best starts of his career. His two losses have both come against Capco teammates Steve and Billy Torrence and they figure to be his biggest rivals going forward but there is a lot to like about the Osborne/Mac Tools/Kalitta Motorsports flagship this weekend.
The world champ was skating through eliminations last weekend when he got ambushed by his father, Billy, in the semifinal round. The two Capco dragsters are at their best when they race each other, so that loss probably hurts a bit less than others although he can’t allow Kalitta to pull too far ahead in the standings. Good bet that he’s the class’ first repeat winner this season.
His performance last week in Indy was truly brilliant with four runs on Sunday between 3.76 and 3.80, which was quicker and more consistent than any other driver in the field. Racing two events on the same track one-week apart figure to be a big help to crew chiefs, but the Capco guys appear to have already covered all their bases.
Qualifying in the bottom half of the field last week made for a tough draw on Sunday, but the Mopar team did their part with a big win against teammate Tony Schumacher in round one. Expect a better qualifying effort this time around. She’ll also be plenty busy with her Drag Pak Challenger in the first race of the SAM Tech.edu Factory Stock Showdown.
Amalie Motor Oil
The debut of his new chassis was as good or better than expected with the quickest run of Friday’s test session and a solid qualifying effort. Sunday’s final eliminations did not go as planned but there is plenty of reason for optimism in the Amalie camp. Better days are definitely ahead.
Slowly but surely, things are looking up for the Matco Tools team. Last weekend’s semifinal finish had to be a major confidence booster, especially for a team that underwent a number of changes last winter. His 3.780 run in the heat of the day on Sunday was a thing of beauty.
They say there is no substitute for seat time but perhaps there is. This team never comes to the starting line unprepared and their results clearly show it. They almost always qualify well and last weekend in Indy, they made one of the best runs of the event in their first-round win against Cory McClanathan on a run that was far from routine. Winning a race, including this one, would not be considered an upset.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with this car and the driver is among the best in the class, but so far this year win lights have been hard to come by. That being said, we’re only three races into what has already been a bizarre season so there isn’t any reason to suspect the DHL team won’t catch fire and start putting up some decent numbers going forward. In other words, don’t expect them to be ranked No. 7 in the points for much longer.
Admit it, were you really surprised to see him light the win light in the final round last weekend? He had arguably the best car at the first two races but just couldn’t put it all together. Destroying an engine in the final clearly wasn’t part of the plan, but otherwise, the weekend came together nicely for the two-time world champ and his Mopar team. You’d have to think they’re on course for another big showing.
Tommy Johnson Jr.
MD Anderson Cancer Center Dodge
Winning back-to-back Funny Car races is really hard but Johnson and crew chief John Collins and the MD Anderson team nearly pulled it off, albeit four months apart. Qualifying No. 1 last week was big, and so was their ability to put pressure on teammate Jack Beckman for the lead in the point standings. For what it’s worth, he also set low E.T. of the event last Sunday.
Infinite Hero Dodge
The Infinite Hero team came up .009-second short against Hagan last weekend, so there is no shame in a quarterfinal finish. Sometimes, that’s just the luck of the draw especially when one considers the quality of competition and the new two-run qualifying format. Again, no reason to panic here. They’ve got as good a shot as anyone to score a second win this season.
After back-to-back round one losses to open the season, a semifinal last weekend probably felt like a victory. The DHL car was actually really good for most of the weekend, but tire smoke on Sunday proved to be their undoing. This is not a ninth-place car so don’t expect to see it linger there much longer.
Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford
Anyone else notice that the Levi, Ray & Shoup team is off to a solid start this season with four round wins and a semifinal finish at last weekend’s Indy event? And, that came after a sub-par qualifying effort. You’ve also got to figure that this is a guy who can benefit from having two events on the same track a week apart.
Restricted to just two qualifying runs, one had to figure it was just a matter of time before one of the big teams got bit and last weekend, it was the NAPA team. To be honest, it could have been worse. Instead of being No. 16, they could easily have been knocked from the field. For now, it's easy to predict that they’ll bounce back quickly with a top-half qualifying performance and a lengthy stay during Sunday’s eliminations.
Rokit Phones, ABK Beer Toyota
Had a very winnable race last weekend against J.R. Todd in round two but knocked the tires loose. It’s easy to forget this is an entirely new team that didn’t have a lot of opportunities to test so they’re going to get better as the year progresses. She’s also a former Indy champion, as is her crew chief, Del Worsham.
Bob Tasca III
Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford
Sidelined last weekend due to a bout with the COVID-19 virus, he’s been cleared to drive so one can almost imagine a Rocky scenario where the champ gets up off the canvas and proceeds to knock out his challenger in the 12th round. This car was very, very good last weekend with Jonnie Lindberg at the helm so the above scenario is far from a Hollywood fairytale.
He crashed a car in Orlando at the start of the season but has had plenty of time to get it fixed so there should be no issues moving forward with his title defense. The Pro Mod landscape has changed dramatically since the final race of the 2019 season last November but “Stevie Fast” is the champ until someone steps up and says otherwise.
He won this race last year and really looked good doing it. There’s no telling what he might have been able to accomplish later in the season if not for a crash in Topeka. Fully, recovered from that mishap, we’re expecting big things from “King Tut” and his crew this season.
AAP/Janis Superchargers Camaro
There is almost never a time when he doesn’t bring a competitive car to the track so we’re not expecting anything less than a solid effort from the former class champion. He also has the added benefit of making multiple runs in Qatar this winter so don’t expect anything resembling rust.
He’s hinted at retirement following the 2020 season and nothing would put the wraps on a great career like another NHRA championship. Obviously, these guys have everything necessary to get the job done including a world-class crew chief in Frank Manzo. They’ve also got something to prove after a tough 2019 season.
Artivinco Racing Camaro
One of several drivers who traded turbos for a ProCharger, it might be a bit pre-mature to label him as a favorite but if we’re ranking future potential, there is plenty of it here. With 23 cars on the entry list and just two sessions, it’s going to be a challenge just to qualify but we like his odds of doing that and more.
The Bahrain1 team has shown nothing but strength over the past few seasons and there is enough expertise here to adapt to any of the available engine combinations. Another turbo to ProCharger convert, the former series champ and Top Fuel driver figures to be around for a few rounds on race day.
He ran all 12 races last year and showed steady progress throughout the season, especially in qualifying where he often made a run at the top half of the field. In his last appearance at Lucas Oil Raceway Indianapolis, he qualified a career-best third and made it to the semifinal round. That would be an acceptable result this time around.
The former Pro Stock and Comp world champion is subbing for three-time world champ Rickie Smith, who is recovering from recent back surgery. His lack of experience in a Pro Mod car might be a bit of a concern, but he’s been a consistent winner in just about everything else he’s ever driven. At any rate, this should be fun to watch.