The on-track action at the Dodge//SRT NHRA Mile-High Nationals presented by Pennzoil has been furious during two days of qualifying, but the real story of the event (so far) is the overflow crowds that packed Bandimere Speedway on Friday and Saturday. Now, the Denver fans get to see champions crowned as the event races to a conclusion Sunday afternoon.
A wise man once said that you can’t sweep the Western Swing unless you win the first event, and that sentiment will be front-and-center in the minds of any of the NHRA Camping World Series Pros entered in Denver.
Brittany Force is already one step closer to her first win of the season after wheeling her Monster Energy dragster to a jaw-dropping 3.717 on Saturday night. As the top qualifier in the 13-car field, she’ll get a free pass in round one.
Clay Millican has returned to the seat of the Parts Plus dragster after missing the Norwalk race, and he faces a tough battle right off the bat with a round-one meeting against Shawn Langdon’s DHL entry. Millican is just outside the Top 10, so he’ll need to put together some round-wins to make the Countdown to the Championship.
When Alex Laughlin takes on Buddy Hull in round one, someone is guaranteed to get their first Top Fuel round-victory. The favorite is Laughlin, the Pro Stock and Pro Mod veteran who just got his Top Fuel license last week. Laughlin made a pair of three-second runs in Scott Palmer’s Havoline dragster, including a 3.900, which is obviously a career best.
Defending event winner Steve Torrence is also in good shape because he races Rob Passey in round one and will have a bye into the semifinals should he turn on the win light. Torrence is the runaway points leader in Top Fuel, but he’d love nothing more than to join the short list of drivers to sweep the swing.
Top Fuel first-round matchups:
Brittany Force vs. Bye
Clay Millican vs. Shawn Langdon
Doug Kalitta vs. Leah Pruett
Alex Laughlin vs. Joey Haas
Steve Torrence vs. Rob Passey
Mike Salinas vs. Buddy Hull
Greg Carrillo vs. Antron Brown
Matt Hagan has an excellent shot to make it to the semifinals or better after qualifying his DSR Dodge in the top spot. Hagan will be paired with nitro rookie Chris King in round one, and the winner will get a bye run into the semifinals due to the short 14-car field.
It wasn’t part of the pre-race plan, but John Force will have to race his teammate, Robert Hight, in the opening round of Funny Car eliminations. The good news is that one of the JFR entries is headed to the quarterfinals, but in reality, this is a match better reserved for the late rounds because it features two of the best cars in the class.
From the “You’ve got to be kidding me” department, Ron Capps and Terry Haddock will race in the opening round for the third straight race, and the battle is not nearly as one-sided as one might think. Haddock upset the NAPA driver in Epping on his way to a semifinal finish. Capps was solidly in the threes in qualifying this week, and Haddock’s best run was 4.211. That being said, there is a long history of upsets on Sunday at Bandimere Speedway.
Funny Car first-round matchups:
Matt Hagan vs. Chris King
Ron Capps vs. Terry Haddock
John Force vs. Robert Hight
Alexis DeJoria vs. Jack Wyatt
J.R. Todd vs. Bob Tasca III
Tim Wilkerson vs. Jim Campbell
Paul Lee vs. Cruz Pedregon
Matt Smith has had arguably the best bike in the class for the past two years, and he showed it again with a 7.113 to lead the 15-bike field. As a reward, Smith will get a bye run in the opening round. Smith is also able to revel in the success of his wife, Angie, who turned in one of the best qualifying performances of her career with a 7.134 for the No. 2 spot.
Steve Johnson will look to make it to the final round for the third straight race, and he’s got a great shot to do just that after qualifying third-quickest in the field.
Vance & Hines teammates Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec find themselves in uncharted territory after missing the first two races of the season. Krawiec is ranked No. 10 and Hines is 11th heading into the Denver race. Both riders, who have a long history of success in Denver, should make the Countdown to the Championship with ease.
Pro Stock Motorcycle first-round matchups:
Matt Smith vs. bye
Scotty Pollacheck vs. Cory Reed
Andrew Hines vs. Jimmy Underdahl
Angelle Sampey vs. Ryan Oehler
Angie Smith vs. David Barron
Joey Gladstone vs. Karen Stoffer
Steve Johnson vs. Jianna Salinas
Eddie Krawiec vs. Jerry Savoie
You can catch the action on Sunday on FOX and NHRA.tv.
You can follow NHRA on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to get a closer look at the action.
Sunday, June 18, FS1 will televise qualifying coverage from 3 to 4 p.m. (ET)
Sunday, June 18, FS1 will televise final eliminations from 4 to 7 p.m. (ET)