Last month, NHRA hosted a pair of Mello Yello Drag Racing Series events at historic Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis and even though the final rounds of the second event were delayed by rain, it would be reasonable enough to assume that Tricky Tipster, NHRA’s longtime resident oddsmaker, has collected enough data to accurately handicap any pro class. That theory will be put to the test this weekend as the tour returns to Indy for the Dodge NHRA Indy Nationals presented by Pennzoil. This week, our picks to click include Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock), Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle), and Jason Scruggs (Pro Mod).
The Mac Tools team has been in first place every day this season and they already have a very impressive 11-3 record in elimination rounds. Their last outing was not spectacular with a quarterfinal finish but that was not much more than a minor hiccup in what is shaping up to be a very solid season. Also, it’s worth noting that he’s already got a sizable lead in the point standings so a win here would be a huge boost to his title hopes.
Only two losses this year have come against his father, Billy, and the last one was a darned good side-by-side drag race. Also well worth noting that he’s got 37 Top Fuel wins and 21 of them have come since the beginning of his championship run in 2018 so the Capco team definitely dishes out far more punishment than it takes in.
Probably safe to assume this isn’t a part-time car anymore which should be bad news for the rest of the field. His performance at Indy 1 was masterful and he wasn’t half-bad at Indy two despite a holeshot loss to Leah Pruett. Easy to peg both Capco cars for solid qualifying efforts and a deep run into Sunday’s final eliminations.
Not to overstate the obvious, but this is a Dodge-backed race so the Dodge flagship should be prepared to put its best foot forward and so far, this team has done that with some very impressive qualifying performances in 2020. The only thing that’s missing is a final round appearance and that should easily be on the horizon, perhaps as soon as this weekend.
We’ve now passed the two-year anniversary of the Matco team’s last Top Fuel win in Seattle and that’s far, far too long ago. With the return of Brian Corradi, this team has been building for the future and it’s just a matter of time before they start to deliver results. We’re betting that happens sooner, rather than later.
Amalie Motor Oil
The Amalie team’s new race car has gotten a lot of attention and for good reason. It’s already proven to be a solid piece that works well in warm weather. Indy 1 was a big let-down with a round one loss, but the second Indy event produced a semifinal finish which is much more in line with what this crew is capable of.
Last time we raced here at Indy, we saw a glimpse of Top Fuel’s future when this kid made it to the final round. Of course, we’re going to have to wait a few weeks to see if he gets his first win, or will we? It's not out of the question that he wins this race and then returns at the Denso U.S. Nationals to run the Indy 2 final round against T.J. Zizzo. We know, it’s confusing but just accept the fact that there is a lot of potential here.
No way no how this team should be ranked this low but with two round wins on the season, things have not gone their way so far. That is liable to change at any moment, most likely this weekend. Interesting to note that the DHL car has qualified in the top half of the field at all four events including a best of third at the last Indy race. That’s a positive sign going forward.
This was a fairly easy pick since the Mopar team is riding a 7-0 record at Indy events with the final of the last race still to be determined. There will be no Western Swing this year so obviously no chance for a Western Swing sweep. However, its entirely possible for someone to sweep all three (or four) events at Indy and right now, he’s the only one who still has a shot at it.
Infinite Hero Dodge
The Infinite Hero team has 11 round wins so far this season and they’re still in the running for an Indy 2 win when they face Matt Hagan in the rain-delayed final round. Last year, it took nine races for them to collect 11-win lights. In this crazy COVID-19 season, that might not count for much, but it’s hard to argue this team isn’t better now than it was last season.
Bob Tasca III
Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford
His return from a bout with COVID-19 at the last Indy event was nothing short of spectacular with a 3.99 to qualify on the pole and a strong run in Sunday’s final eliminations. The only thing the Motorcraft crew did not do was finish the job, but that should only serve as extra motivation to get it done this weekend. This is easily one of the top four cars in the class right now.
Tommy Johnson Jr.
MD Anderson Cancer Center Dodge
Fairly consistent this season with a win, a runner-up, and a semifinal on the scorecard. That’s the sort of results that set up a run to the championship. He’s also been a beast in qualifying with nothing lower than fourth since the start of the season. That generally sets up a favorable race-day ladder.
Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford
There aren’t many cars in any class that doesn’t have at least one first-round loss this season, but this is one of them. The Levi, Ray & Shoup crew has been remarkably consistent so far. If you remember, he lost a very close 3.99 to 4.00 decision against Jack Beckman the last time we raced at Indy. That round could easily have gone the other way.
This one is puzzling, even for a veteran handicapper like Tricky Tipster. Championship winning car, crew, and driver and so far they’ve got just three round wins to show for it. If there is ever a time for a team to snap out of a funk, this is it. The potential here far exceeds the results and there is a “get healthy” weekend in their near future.
Speaking of teams that would like a change of fortune, this is another one that just needs a little bit of good luck in order to thrive. In the last two races at Indy, the NAPA crew has faced an unfavorable draw in round one against a really tough opponent (in both cases a DSR teammate). A little luck in qualifying would help set up a long run during final eliminations.
Rokit Phones, ABK Beer Toyota
First year back after two on the sidelines and the Rockit/ABK team is actually right on schedule. They’re already pretty good and steadily gaining momentum with a couple of impressive round wins. There isn’t much separating the entire Funny Car class right now so even a small improvement should net big results.
Jeg Coughlin Jr.
Granted, the Pro Stock class has run just three events this season but not much has gone wrong for the five-time class champ with a win, a runner-up, and three very strong qualifying efforts. There isn’t much separation between the top few cars in this class right now but the yellow and black Chevy rates a very slim edge over the field.
Summit Racing Camaro
Swept the last Indy race with a very strong qualifying effort and four impressive wins on race day. That performance was extra special since it extended his streak of Pro Stock wins to 17-straight years. In his final season as a Pro Stock driver, nothing would feel better than another Mello Yello championship.
It’s been a while but remember that the reigning world champ won in Phoenix and was very impressive doing so. She also backed that up with a semifinal at the first Indy race so there is some momentum here, even though we’ve only had three races since March. Kicking off the season with an 8-2 record is nothing to be ashamed of.
He’s once again going to pull double duty with another stint in Rickie Smith’s nitrous Pro Mod car. It’s tough to say if that experience could be helpful to his Pro Stock effort, but it likely won’t hurt. As they say, there is no substitute for seat time. It would be wise to avoid starting in the bottom half of the field, which is what happened last time we raced in Indy.
Harlow Sammons Camaro
So far, the 2020 season has been a mixed bag for the Harlow Sammons team. On the plus side, they’ve managed to win a round at all three events and their qualifying performances have been impressive. That being said, they need to find a way to get over the hump and make the final four. There is a really good chance that will happen this weekend.
Summit Racing Camaro
After a rough start, some definite signs of life at the last Indy race with a semifinal showing and a fourth-best qualifying performance. Crazy stat of the week: he’s got as many low qualifiers (104) as round one losses in his Hall of Fame career.
Much like Butner, he’s doing the Pro Mod/Pro Stock double this weekend and quite honestly, he’s got a shot to win in both of them. He’s got two very competitive race cars and his win earlier this season at the Orlando Doorslammer race should have done nothing but help build confidence. Oh, and he also won Indy last year just in case you forgot.
Delco Racing Camaro
Horsepower isn’t everything in Pro Stock, but you can’t win without it. So far this year, he’s had plenty of it with three great qualifying performances. Race day success is still a work in progress, but the potential is there. In Pro Stock’s 50th anniversary season, nothing would be more rewarding than to see engine builder Frank Iaconio back in the winner’s circle.
How about this; we just continue picking him in the top spot until he goes out and wins a race? Actually, that’s not a bad strategy at all since he arguably had the best bike at the “season-opener” last month at Indy. Let’s face it, he was most likely going to win that event if not for an engine change prior to the final and a missed shift.
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson
Last month at the Indy opener, the six-time champ had the pace to keep up with anyone in the class but he lost a close race to Matt Smith in the semifinals so there is no cause for alarm. He’s easily among the favorites. Oh, and his career record of 522-222 is simply amazing. Not many pros are plus 300 in their careers.
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson
Remember, this was the low qualifier at the most recent Indy event but a rare holeshot loss ended his chances. Most racers don’t take kindly to those sort of losses and can’t wait to get back out and make amends. The four-time champ certainly falls into that category and should have a chip on his shoulder this week.
White Alligator Suzuki
He switched bikes on Saturday night at the last Indy race so something was clearly amiss with the White Alligator team the last time the Pro Stock Motorcycles raced. Got to figure these guys solved the issue, whatever it was and they’ll be good to go this week. Some of his best performances have come at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis which bodes well for future races here.
Hector Arana Jr.
Lucas Oil EBR
The Lucas Oil team is currently fielding one bike with dad Hector Sr., spending more time as a crew chief and tuner. The early returns were solid with a semifinal finish at the first race of the season. Hector Jr. also did his part with a nifty holeshot win over Eddie Krawiec in the quarterfinals.
Flyin Ryan EBR
Pro Stock Motorcycle’s latest first-time winner will have a shot at back-to-back wins this weekend and it won’t exactly be an upset if he gets it. He’s made steady progress throughout his career (all 37 races) and there is still room for improvement. So far, this is the feel-good story of the year in the NHRA pro ranks.
Arguably, this was the best bike at the last Indy race or at least he made the quickest run of eliminations which counts for something. Quite honestly, he should have won a bunch of races by now and only needs a little good luck to join the shortlist of Wally winners in Pro Stock Motorcycle. It's going to happen; just a matter of when.
Slick 50 Suzuki
Late in 2019, this was the best Suzuki in the class and there’s no real reason to think it’s not still a very competitive bike even though his season debut was a bit of a disappointment. If nothing else, you’ve got to admire his never say die attitude.
Scruggs Racing Camaro
The Pro Mod season opener was a free-for-all with a lot of very competitive teams in the mix. Among the supercharged cars, this was the best which helps explain how he made the rain-delayed final round. He put together a string of 5.8s during eliminations and if he can do that again, more win lights will follow.
Bond Coat Camaro
The nitrous cars were very quick last month and this was the best of the best including a really strong 5.80 in his semifinal win over Kris Thorne. He’ll have a chance to win his first NHRA Pro Mod race during the rain-delayed Indy 2 final next month by why wait that long. He might just get it done this week.
The new ProCharger engine combo showed a world of potential in its official NHRA debut last month and alBalooshi was leading the charge by qualifying No. 1 in a tough field. A round one loss was a bit of a surprise but clearly there is a lot of untapped potential here.
What the heck happened here? Qualifying in the bottom half of the field and taking a rare round one loss was clearly not how “Stevie Fast” expected to begin his title defense but if there is anyone who can quickly shake off a bad outing, its this guy. And to be fair, his loss came in a very competitive 5.85 to 5.85 race against Brandon Snider so he didn’t exactly get gapped.
CAS Enterprises Camaro
Another driver who could easily have won the Indy opener. He was the third-quickest driver in qualifying and made it to the semifinals before breakage ended his chances for a second NHRA victory. This is another ProCharger car that has yet to show its full potential.
Debuted a brand-new car last month with limited test time so there were a few bugs to be sorted out. That being said, it’s fair to expect some improvement this time around.
Supercharged Corvette was practically a bracket car last time out with a string of mid-5.8-second runs which was enough for a quarterfinal finish. To be fair, the Pro Mod class is so competitive and the top cars in the class are so close, he’s mere percentage points behind the leaders. There isn’t much difference between No. 1 and No. 12.
Here, you’ve got a Rickie Smith-prepared car with a driver who is known to cut great lights in both Pro Stock and Pro Mod so that should be a very formidable combination. Even though their 2020 debut netted a round one loss, there is a world of potential here.