If you ask a Texan, they’ll gladly tell you that everything is bigger and better in Texas and that logic almost certainly applies to this week’s AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals. The site of many of drag racing’s most historic moments, the historic Texas Motorplex rarely disappoints and with just three events remaining before the abbreviated 2020 season comes to a close, this year’s event takes on an added level of importance when it comes to crowning the Camping World NHRA World Champions in each of the four professional eliminators. This week, Tricky Tipster, NHRA’s in-house oddsmaker for more than four decades, give the nod to native Texans Steve Torrence and Erica Enders in Top Fuel and Pro Stock, and also labels Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle), and Steve Jackson (Pro Mod) as favorites.
FUNNY CAR | PRO STOCK | PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE | PRO MOD
After back-to-back runner-up finishes in 2015-16, he finally won his home event in 2018 and considers it one of the most rewarding wins of his career. Now he’s locked in an incredibly close multi-way points battle so another victory here might be even more meaningful than the first.
Is there any driver in all of the NHRA pro classes who is more immune to pressure than this guy? If he gets the least bit nervous, you’d never know it. His win in St. Louis was clutch and it might just have been a season-saver. He’s still got a long way to go in order to get that overdue first championship, but there is little doubt the Mac Tools car will be in the fight till the bitter end.
The defending event champion is currently 136-points out of first place with three races left in the season. Can he still make a run at the title? It’s mathematically possible, but a lot of things would have to fall into place. Then again, this is 2020 so take nothing for granted. Almost any possible championship scenario would have to include a win, or at least a final round showing at this event. At this stage of the season, a semifinal isn’t going to be enough.
One of the biggest questions this week is how will the Dodge team rebound after their devastating crash in St. Louis? Our guess is quite well since they’ve got all the resources necessary to field a new race car and a driver who seems to handle adversity better than most. With 80-points to make up, they are very much in the title fight but cannot afford to fall any further behind the lead pack.
We’re going to give the eight-time champ a nice bump this week for a number of reasons. First, he was very competitive in St. Louis and posted a respectable semifinal finish. Secondly, he’s got six wins in seven final rounds at the Texas Motorplex so he clearly enjoys racing here. Finally, he’s not exactly a full-fledged Texan but he does live in Austin so this is somewhat of a home event.
He didn’t make it out of the quarterfinals in St. Louis but that doesn’t tell the whole story. He ran back-to-back 3.73s on race day. One was good enough to win and the other wasn’t. Regardless, it’s a sign that things are finally turning around for the Matco team and he’s won here twice in Top Fuel so he’s no stranger to success on the all-concrete Motorplex surface.
In the last ten years he’s been to the final round of this race three times albeit without a victory. The DHL car has been hit or miss this year but honestly, they seem overdue for some good luck and there’s also a good chance they could finish in the top five with a strong finish to the season.
We seem to harp on this every week, but his lights are good enough to contend in Pro Stock. He had a .032 light in St. Louis which was the second-best of the day in Top Fuel. That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is that consistency has been a bit lacking since his breakthrough win in Indianapolis earlier this season. Regardless, he should have a hammerlock on the Rookie of the Year award.
Okay, so he lost in the final in St. Louis but managed to escape the Gateway City with a slim lead of 16 points in the Funny Car standings. Now, the challenge is to maintain that lead while the competition, primarily his own teammates, is nipping at his heels. He is the defending event winner and has three Dallas wins since 2010 so its fair to expect that he’ll at least win a few rounds to keep it close. In other words, he’s a slight favorite.
Tommy Johnson Jr.
MD Anderson Cancer Center Dodge
We’ve given the MD Anderson team a big boost this week because of their season-saving performance in St. Louis. Any win is a great win, but this one was extra special because they are now just 34-points out of first place in the brutal Funny Car standings which means they are legit straight-up championship contenders.
Infinite Hero Dodge
The Infinite Hero team didn’t do anything wrong at the last race; they simply came out on the shot end of a great 3.89 to 3.90 side-by-side race against teammate Tommy Johnson in the semifinals. Sometimes those races go the way you want them to and sometimes they don’t. That being said, it will probably take more than a semifinal to keep the points battle close this time around.
We know that he’s won at every current track on the NHRA circuit, but did you know his lone win in Dallas came at the short-lived spring race in 1998. Since then, the NAPA team has been to the final round three other times but left as a runner-up in each of them. Trailing the leaders by 147 points, it will take nothing less than a miracle to win the title but we’ve seen stranger things happen.
Bob Tasca III
Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford
You can’t tell simply by looking at the Camping World points standings, but there is not much of a drop-off (if any) between the four DSR cars and the rest of the field and this car is a prime example of that. He took one on the chin in St. Louis with an early loss, but that’s not indicative of true potential.
Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford
The 2008 Dallas champion has been oh-so-close on several occasions this year and it’s just a matter of time before the Levi, Ray & Shoup team strikes paydirt. Remember it was just two races ago that he had arguably the best car in the field and made it to the final round in Gainesville.
It seems like a lifetime ago that this team went to back-to-back final rounds in Indy. Then again, everything in 2020 seems like a lifetime ago. All kidding aside, we keep waiting for these guys to bust out of it and string together four great runs on Sunday. The potential for a big win is certainly there.
Right on cue, she went to her first semifinal since the Pomona season opener last week in St. Louis, and perhaps more importantly, she was the No. 2 qualifier, even though qualifying was cut short. At the risk of being redundant, this team, led by multi-time Dallas winner Del Worsham, is continually trending upwards.
You might think the three-time world champ would enjoy a sizable advantage when racing in her home state of Texas yet she’s only won this race once during her second championship run in 2015, and she has an additional runner-up finish in 2012. Regardless, she gets the nod here because she hasn’t qualified worse than No. 6 at any race this season and has just four losses thus far.
Summit Racing Camaro
He knows this is his last season in Pro Stock and he’s driving like someone who wants to leave on a high note. With a win, a runner-up, and four semifinals so far, he’s right in the thick of the points battle and the championship is there for the taking. He also happens to be 3-1 in final rounds at the Texas Motorplex. He also had the quickest car in St. Louis with a 6.522, one of the best runs we’ve seen in a while.
Jeg Coughlin Jr.
Quite frankly, the last two events have been a disaster for the five-time Pro Stock champ but no matter who wins the weather-delayed final rounds from St. Louis, he’s still very much in the hunt for a title. For all the amazing things he’s done in his career, no one should be surprised if he wins a race or two to finish the season and retires as a six-time champion.
Harlow Sammons Camaro
It was hard to gather much info from the last race in St. Louis because Pro Stock cars got zero qualifying runs and eliminations were halted before the quarterfinal round was completed yet, we did see just how competitive the Harlow Sammons Camaro can be with a strong 6.538 in round one and there is reason to believe there’s more left. He’s been hit or miss this season, but Tipster likes what he’s seen lately.
Summit Racing Camaro
He’s been sitting on 94 wins for a while now and we’re sure he’d like to finally move closer to Warren Johnson’s class record of 97. Thankfully, he’s got a great record at the Motorplex with five wins in six final rounds including last year’s event. He also had a very quick car in St. Louis with a 6.527 on race day.
Total Seal Camaro
He’s already made it to the semifinals of the St. Louis race, which will be completed during qualifying, so he’s got two solid chances to leave Dallas with a Wally. His qualifying performances have also been trending in the right direction, which tends to make things a bit easier come race day. If you’re looking for a solid dark horse bet, this is it.
Janac Bros. Camaro
If you believe that seat time is the key to success then you’re going to love this pick since he’s going to have four shots to win this weekend including two in Pro Stock and two in Factory Stock following the St. Louis delay. This opportunity couldn’t come at a better time since his results in both classes have been outstanding lately. There is a very good chance that this is NHRA’s next first-time pro winner and a double would not be out of the question.
Havoline/Eagle Marine Camaro
Last week, he drove his supercharged Corvette in a drag radial race and this week he’s pulling double-duty behind the wheel of Steve Matusek’s Pro Mod car but he’ll happily tell you that Pro Stock is still his bread and butter class. Also worth noting this is his home event and he’s yet to win it, although he did drive to a runner-up finish in 2016.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
He’s already got the points lead and has advanced to the semifinals of the weather-delayed St. Louis race so where is an honest-to-goodness shot for a double-up here which would likely go a long way towards securing a fourth world title. It all sounds simple, but he’s still got to win six rounds to make it happen.
Like his teammate, Matt Smith, he’s also reached the semifinals from St. Louis and his bike is as good as it’s ever been. For the first time in his career, he’s legitimately in the hunt for the Camping World NHRA World Championship and a win here, in either event, would go a long way towards making that a reality.
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson
It’s no secret that the Vance & Hines Harley-Davidsons have been off a tick lately in the performance department but somehow, they’re still winning rounds. The reigning champ and 2014 Dallas winner is also in the semifinals from St. Louis so there’s a chance here to make up some ground on the points leaders. This would be a perfect time to score a long-overdue first win of the season.
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson
Speaking of long overdue, it’s been forever since his last win but there is hope this week, especially since he’s historically been money in Dallas with three wins in six final rounds in the last 11 years. This is one of his better tracks and while it’s probably too late to make a run at the championship, he can certainly make life difficult for anyone who is in the title hunt.
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson
Surprisingly, this is one of the few tracks on the tour where the three-time champion does not have a victory although the Pro Stock Motorcycle class has not raced here as much as some other venues. On the plus side, she’s been to a pair of final rounds here in 1999 and 2000 so there have been bright spots. She also had a tough break in St. Louis when her handlebars broke in round one so she’s no doubt eager to move on to the next race.
Slick 50 Suzuki
It might not have been the most dominate performance of his career but he’s made it to the semifinals from the St. Louis race so he’s another rider with two shots to pull off a victory here. As we’ve seen this year, this bike can be among the quickest and fastest in the field although it doesn’t do it consistently. Regardless, this is someone you’d prefer not to run against on Sunday.
The conditions in St. Louis were challenging to say the least but this was one of the quickest and most consistent bikes in the field with runs of 6.84 and 6.83 on Sunday. On her best days, she’s capable of running comparable numbers to husband, Matt, and teammate Scotty Pollacheck and it’s also worth noting that she’s been a top half qualifier at every race so far this season.
White Alligator Suzuki
The White Alligator team missed the St. Louis race, but they’ll almost certainly return here because they’ve pretty much owned the Motorplex with five-straight final round appearances and a pair of wins in 2015 and last year. The 2020 season has been rough on this team but if there was ever an event where you’d expect them to snap out of it, this is it.
Second in points with just a handful of races left in the season, he’s got the rest of the field right where he wants them. With two shots to make something happen, including the weather-delayed eliminations from St. Louis, you’ve got to like his chances of cashing in at least once and possibly twice.
On the surface, his title defense might not look all that impressive with a 7-4 record in elimination rounds but the fact remains that he’s leading the E3 Spark Plugs Pro Mod standings and its only going to take a strong finish to successfully defend his 2019 title. It’s also fairly easy to argue that this team is better now than they were at the start of the season.
He missed the first two races of this abbreviated season due to back surgery yet he cracked the top ten after winning in Gainesville so one could only imagine where he’d be if he’d run all the races. At this point, another win and a top five finish would be a great finish for Pro Mod’s most accomplished racer.
Rickie Smith Racing Camaro
To recap what we wrote before St. Louis, he was reportedly on the fence about continuing the season but just 43-points out of first place he’s got a real shot at the title and his race car is as good as any in the class. He also doesn’t seem to mind the pressure of being in a points battle.
Based solely on performance, one might argue that this is the best car in the class, but he’s ranked mid-pack because the last couple of outings have netted a pair of not-so-fun holeshot losses. On the plus side, he’s a former class champion who certainly knows how to win races so it likely won’t take long to right the ship.
Bond Coat Camaro
He’s going to be a busy guy here since he’s making his second start in the nitro Funny Car class but the last time he tried it this summer in Indy, things worked out pretty well with his first Pro Mod victory. Some might argue that the nitrous cars will be at a disadvantage during the Fall months when the weather cools off, but that doesn’t seem likely here.
If nothing else, you’ve got to admire the resilience and competitive spirit of NHRA Pro Mod racers. After his devastating accident in Indy, he was back on track in Gainesville and very competitive with the former Jose Gonzales Camaro. This is the best turbo car out here right now and it’s more that capable of winning some races.
On one hand, he’s in seventh place in the E3 Pro Mod standings coming into this event, but he’s just 56-points out of first place so a championship is well within reach. He’s also been a beast in qualifying lately with a No. 3 starting spot in Indy and the pole position in Gainesville so we know the performance is there.