Add this to things you never thought you’d read but after two-thirds of the annual NHRA Western Swing, we’re headed to Auto Club Pomona Raceway for the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals presented by Protect the Harvest. Odd as that may seem, it’s where we are midway through 2021, and after nearly 18 long months it’s going to be good to get back to racing in Pomona.
For everyone but Steve Torrence, the odds of a Western Swing Sweep ended last week in Sonoma. Torrence still has a chance to pull off the rare feat; in fact, he’s a large favorite to do so. Torrence has won almost everything this season, including four of the last five races so there’s no reason to think the Capco team won’t keep rolling. Along with Torrence, Tipster has labeled Robert Hight, Greg Anderson, and Matt Smith as the favorites this week.
Can he do it? Can he sweep the Western Swing? Of course, he can and almost certainly will. The Capco Contractors dragster has got 28-3 this year and already has six wins so it’s hard to imagine they won’t just keep rolling through Pomona. Although, it’s interesting to note that Torrence hasn’t raced in Pomona since the end of the 2019 season so it’s been a while.
He didn’t have the quickest car in Sonoma but managed to put together a very respectable semifinal finish to maintain his hold on second place in the Camping World standings. He’s won here before, but it’s been a while as in back-to-back victories in 2009-10. If Torrence stumbles, this might be the team in the best position to take advantage of it.
Given the year he’s had so far, we’re not totally sure he should be ranked this high but it’s very hard to overlook the fact that he’s won the last three races held in Pomona, and overall, he’s a six-time winner at Auto Club Pomona Raceway. He also made a very impressive run in the opening round in Sonoma with a 3.73, a good sign that the Mac Tools team is headed in the right direction.
Monster Energy/Flavor Pak
If we were handicapping based on the quickest run of the weekend, the Monster team would be a near lock with solid qualifying results at almost every event. On Sunday’s it gets a bit trickier which is why she’s fourth. The wins will definitely come, perhaps as soon as this weekend, but stringing four runs together on race day has been a challenge lately.
Is it a bit premature to say that the Mopar team is back in business? Maybe. Maybe not but they sure looked good in Sonoma with a string of low 3.7s and a runner-up finish. Looking at the numbers, it wouldn’t have taken much for them to end Torrence’s shot at the Sweep. It’s not hard to see that this crew is about to put an end to their early-season frustrations.
The Scrappers team really wanted to have a strong showing in front of their home fans in Sonoma, but it didn’t quite work out. There’s still a chance to win a race in California and quite honestly, no one should be surprised if they actually pull it off. True, this car can be a bit hit or miss but when it’s one, it’s as good as any other car in the sport.
He’s a four-time winner here in Top Fuel and a native of Southern California. More importantly, last week his holeshot win over Clay Millican in round one provided a solid reminder of the main reason why he’s driving one of Connie Kalitta’s cars. It’s been a tough summer so far, but there is still a lot of time to turn this season around and this would be as good a place as any to get the ball rolling.
Coming off a great showing in Denver, we expected big things from the Parts Plus team and they delivered in qualifying with a very impressive 3.725 that was good for the No. 4 spot. Their luck wasn’t so good on race day but that’s just how it goes sometimes. Few people are able to do more with less than crew chief Mike Kloeber, which means they’re likely to be competitive even at the end of a tough three-race stretch.
Auto Club Chevy
Maybe it’s the Auto Club connection or maybe the fact that he’s been to ten final rounds here with five victories, but his name seems synonymous with Pomona. Last week, he ended Matt Hagan’s shot at a Western Swing sweep in the Sonoma final. There is a better-than-average chance that he’ll pull off a mini-sweep with two wins in three races.
No chance for a sweep now but it wouldn’t be too bad to come home from a long trip with two wins and a runner-up and that’s certainly possible based on the recent performance by the Mopar Dodge team. A month ago, he was No. 6 in the Camping World standings and he’s now moved up to second and not too far out of the lead. He can get there at his current pace.
RoKit/Bandero Premium Tequila Toyota
The last three races have been a runner-up and two semifinals and there are many nitro teams out here who wouldn’t gladly accept that result. For all their recent success, the Bandero team expects more and they’re likely to get more in the coming weeks. Only a little good luck separates them from their first win of the season.
Bob Tasca III
Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford
Didn’t really expect him to take an early loss in Sonoma but those things happen sometimes. Now, his points lead is down to just over a round with the end of the regular season in sight. Lately, his qualifying pace has been off a touch but honestly nothing to be too concerned about. It’s easy to figure this car for a semifinal or better finish from week to week.
Speaking of teams that are overdue for a win, how about the NAPA crew? They came close last week in Sonoma with a great effort that included the No. 1 qualifying position and a string of 3.9s. That will likely get the job done this week if they can repeat it. Historically, Pomona has been a good track for Capps with three wins in eight final rounds.
Peak/Blue Def Chevy
Twenty-six times he’s been to the final round at a Pomona event and in 16 of those finals he’d delivered the goods which is just a small part of why he’s the G.O.A.T. in the Funny Car class. And, not all of that success is ancient history. He was a runner-up here the last time we raced at the 2020 season kick-off. With two wins in the bank already this season it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising to see a third win here.
The winner of the 2018 Finals in Pomona could use a little good luck since he hasn’t been to the semifinals since Charlotte. Has slipped from first to sixth in the standings since the start of the season so the DHL crew could really use a “get healthy” weekend in order to reverse that trend.
Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford
Not really sure how last week’s big boomer in Sonoma might affect the LRS team in the third leg of an already tough three-race swing but they’ve been competitive so far and figure to be in the mix again this week. They’ve got a very respectable 11-9 record in elimination rounds this season and appear capable of much more.
Amazing stat of the 2021 season (so far)? He’s been the low qualifier at seven of eight events and was No. 2 at the other. That proves definitively who has the best car in the class even if his race day results have been a bit inconsistent. The other amazing stat is that he’s got 12 wins here and just 2 runner-up finishes so if you want him out of the way you’d better do it early.
It’s really rare for the four-time champ to lose on a holeshot but it happens, even to the best of them, and honestly, it’s not a major cause for concern going forward. The Elite team had a great car in Sonoma and it’s hard to imagine they won’t be very competitive this weekend. In fact, they’re likely co-favorites for the win.
Janac Bros. Camaro
He’s done so well in the last couple of seasons that it's easy to lose sight of the fact that he’s still a kid with a whole 29 Pro Stock races under his belt. He’s won three of those 29 races including two of the last three so he’s definitely finding his groove at the right time. Now the big question; can he make a run at Anderson for the top spot?
Total Seal Camaro
The fourth-ranked car in the class gets our No. 4 spot this week and that seems about right. He’s also been the fourth quickest qualifier at the last two races which also makes sense. Would expect to see him among the semifinalists this week with a distinct possibility that he could also make it to the final round.
RAD Torque Systems Camaro
Remember last week we said he’d cooled off a bit since Charlotte win? Well, that’s no longer the case because he drove to the final last week in Sonoma and moved up two spots in the points. For someone who’d never driven a Pro Stock car six months ago to the No. 5 ranked driver in the class, this is an amazing success story.
Troy Coughlin Jr.
We don’t think it’s an exaggeration to suggest that last week’s holeshot win against Erica Enders was the biggest round win of his professional career to date. For sure, there will be more impressive wins to come and he’s going to get a Pro Stock win before long. Could it happen this weekend? A lot to ask but sure it could.
Lucas Oil/NitroFish Camaro
The Lucas Oil Camaro was one of the quickest cars in Sonoma. In fact, it’s been good just about all year and despite a small hiccup in the quarterfinals, the driver has been pretty good as well. He’s still learning the finer points of Pro Stock racing and it all seems to be coming together nicely.
Harlow Sammons Camaro
He grabbed a .007-second lead against Anderson in the quarterfinals last week but needed a few thousandths more. That’s just how competitive the Pro Stock class is with most races decided by thousandths of a second. So far, this kid doesn’t seem to get rattled much, which is one of the best traits a Pro Stock racer can have.
So he didn’t get the win last week in Sonoma so his chances to sweep the swing are dead but isn’t a 205 mph national record a nice consolation prize? Regardless of what happened in Sonoma, he’s still the favorite this week and by a fairly decent margin. If you want to nit-pick, he could be a bit more consistent, but it’s hard to argue with his overall performance.
Vance & Hines Buell
With a strong track record at Pomona and a runner-up finish last week in Sonoma he’s got every reason to feel optimistic heading into this week’s event. If nothing else, this race doesn’t figure to be nearly as stressful as his last Pomona experience, where he lost in round one and needed a miracle to clinch the title at the 2019 Finals.
Not sure exactly what happened last week on race day but this bike was very solid in qualifying, as it has been just about all season. He’s currently holding firm to the No. 2 spot in the Camping World standings and the No. 3 spot in Tipster’s predictions so that makes him one of the favorites to get a win.
Vance & Hines Buell
No easy way to say this but Sonoma was a bad race. It’s extremely rare that any Vance & Hines bike qualifies in the bottom half of the field and loses in round one, especially this Vance & Hines bike. For now, we’ll just assume this was a one-off occurrence and that things will be much better in Pomona. Remember, he’s still not locked into the Top 10 after missing two races.
Okay, now she’s earned another big career honor by qualifying No. 1 but with that performance comes expectations and those expectations should include some final-round appearances. All the ingredients are here for long-term success. It’s just a matter of putting all the pieces together at the right time.
Big St. Charles Suzuki
What she did last week in Sonoma was nothing short of amazing and it wasn’t just the fact that she won. Honestly, she turned in one of the best riding performances of the season and provided a much-needed boost to the WAR team. There is a lot of parity in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class right now and she’s a big reason for it.
White Alligator Suzuki
The results are not yet conclusive, but it does appear that the White Alligator Suzuki program turned an important corner in Sonoma with a pair of very quick motorcycles under their awning. It will be very interesting to see if they can maintain their performance this week but if that turns out to be the case then the rest of the class will have their hands full.
Reed Motorsports Suzuki
This was a tough call because we had to leave Scotty Pollacheck, Cory Reed, Ryan Oehler, and Angelle Sampey off of this week’s Tipster. Those are the sort of decisions that normally come back to bite Tipster but we’re going to go with Gladstone because he does have a great bike and is one of the class’ top riders. Let’s see how this goes.