Tricky Tipster: Everyone wants to win Indy, but how many can actually do it?
It's often been said that no career in drag racing is complete if it doesn’t include a win at Indy, and even those drivers who are fortunate enough to win the sports marquee event once are likely to want to do it again and again. Winning at Indy isn’t easy, which is a big part of what makes it so important. Of course, there is also the not-to-small matter of eight decades of history and a chance to join a list of champions that includes just about every significant name in the sport.
As he’s done every year for more than a half-century, NHRA’s Tricky Tipster has carefully analyzed the professional fields and his predictions for Indy glory include Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock), Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle), and Jose Gonzalez (Pro Mod).
FUNNY CAR | PRO STOCK |PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE | PRO MOD
He won “the Big Go” in 2017 and also scored a win last season during one of the pre-U.S. Nationals Indy races so he’s got a decent history here. Honestly, the Capco team has won just about everything there is to win this season so it simply wouldn’t make sense to have anyone else ranked at the top.
Call this more of a hunch than anything but the Matco Tools car has run well this summer and even though they’ve got just one win on the season, they are clearly capable of winning more. For what it’s worth, Brown claimed his only Indy Top Fuel victory in 2011. Hard to believe it’s been ten years so he’s likely due for another one.
Monster Energy/Flavor Pak
Nearly as impressive as Torrence’s record on race day this year has been the Monster Energy team’s record in qualifying where they’ve paced the field for five straight events. There is every reason to think they will top the field again this weekend and there is also reason to think they can win the whole thing. It’s one of the few things missing from her resumé.
Let’s go with the hot hand here because they’ve not only been to the final of the last two races in Topeka and Brainerd, but they’ve looked awfully good in both finals even though the win light didn’t come on. Two months ago an Indy win might have seemed very unlikely, but today it’s a far more realistic possibility.
We’re not quite sure which Mopar team is going to show up this weekend. There is the one that went to back-to-back final rounds in Sonoma and Pomona to move up six spots in the Camping World standings. There is also the one who has lost back-to-back in the first round in Topeka and Brainerd. We prefer to think the former will be at Indy, and that means she can win the whole thing.
Figure he’s going to be refreshed and ready to go after taking a few races off this summer. Remember, he also won the first race held here last year so technically he’s already got an Indy win but there is clearly room on the mantle for a second U.S. Nationals Wally.
The good news is that he’s qualified fifth or better at every race since Houston, but race day results have been a tad bit inconsistent. He does have a runner-up in Epping and a pair of semifinals in Denver and Pomona. The Scrappers car ran 3.70 and 3.71 two weeks ago in Brainerd so the performance is definitely there. We just need to see it on Sunday.
After making it to the final round in Gainesville to start the season he was ranked No. 2 in the standing but has since slipped to No. 6. There are a lot of points available at Indy so he’s got a good chance to move up another spot or two. That would also provide a huge confidence boost headed into the Countdown playoffs.
Blue Def Chevy
The guy who wins just about everywhere has five Indy wins which might seem like a lot, but he’s also been racing here since the 1970s. That being said, there is reason to think he can win here for a sixth time largely because he’s got the best car he’s had in years. Also, if he makes it to the semifinals, that will mark 2,000 rounds of NHRA competition, all of them in a nitro Funny Car.
His win in Brainerd was indeed impressive but it also illustrates just how difficult it is to handicap the Funny Car class right now. Consider that the top five drivers in the class are separated by just 25 points and realize that the Countdown re-set will likely separate the top of the field more than it compacts it. Regardless, the Mopar team is easily among the top contenders this week.
Bob Tasca III
Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford
Other than winning the event, we’re not sure he could have done much more at Brainerd to improve his stock as we head towards the playoffs. He was a beast in qualifying and made several consistent runs in excess of 330-mph. Based on that and his early-season performance, would anyone really be surprised if he went on an epic tear during the Countdown? We didn’t think so.
Last year, he got the monkey off his back by winning at Indy, sort of. While his win at the mid-summer event certainly counts as a victory at Lucas Oil Raceway Indianapolis, it’s not the U.S. Nationals. He still wants to win this race in the worst way and it’s entirely possible that he does.
The two-time world champ has now had 12 races to get acclimated to his new crew and so far, the entire group gets a passing grade thanks to a win in Norwalk and a runner-up last week in Brainerd. There is also reason to think the best is yet to come. He’s got three Indy wins but they came in 1992, 1994, and 1995 so it’s been just a little while.
Auto Club Chevy
When we got to Brainerd two weeks ago, we thought the Auto Club car would fly because of the cool air and favorable track conditions but they never ran quicker than 3.90 and suffered a rare round one loss. That’s a bit baffling but it’s also old news at this point. We’re headed to Indy where the Auto Club team has won three times in six final-round appearances. They’ll be better this weekend. Count on it.
RoKit/Bandero Premium Tequila Toyota
Winning the 2014 Indy final over John Force was most likely the highlight of her career so far but with the way the RoKit/Bandero Toyota has performed for most of the season, we’re convinced that she could easily add a second Indy title this season. The last couple of races have been tough but expect to see a rebound here.
He recently moved out of Indiana but returns home for the Big Go. There is a lot of history here with back-to-back wins in 2017 and 2018 and a pair of final-round appearances during the three events held here last season. It’s been a rough season for the entire Kalitta Motorsports team, but this car has provided a few bright spots.
She’s experienced the best and the worst of Indy all in the last two seasons with a heartbreaking loss in the 2019 final followed by a triumphant victory last year. The drama aside, this proves that the Elite team can get it done under pressure so it’s entirely reasonable to expect to see the red Melling Camaro in the final for the third-straight year.
No one argues that this is the quickest car in the class right now because he’s been the low qualifier in eight of ten events (and was second at the other two). It’s win lights that count and he’s turned on 28 of them so far but has just two wins in five finals. Bottom line, he’s got to find a way to close the deal. There is no pressure to earn points here, just a desire to win Indy for the seventh time.
Janac Bros. Camaro
He’s going to be the busiest individual in Indy since he’s racing in Pro Stock and Factory Stock and he’s also the Division 4 representative in Top Dragster at the JEGS Allstars. Seems very possible that he wins one of them, or possibly two or even all three. He’s definitely that good.
RAD Torque Systems Camaro
It’s not like anyone thought his win in Charlotte was a fluke but just in case they did, he went out and won again at the most recent Pro Stock race in Topeka. What are the odds he’s going to win again this season? We’d say they’re pretty strong and if he hasn’t already locked up the Rookie of the Year award, that seems like almost a given at this point.
Total Seal Camaro
He qualifies in the top half of the field at just about every race and usually wins a round or two but sometimes it takes a little extra to get over the hump and move on to the semifinals or final round. He is more than capable of doing just that, just not as consistently as he’d like. It’s also worth noting that he was a runner-up here last year which tends to provide a bit of extra motivation to finish the job this time around.
Lucas Oil/Nitro Fish Camaro
If Dallas Glenn doesn’t have a perfect light in the Topeka final, then this is your more recent winner. When they say Pro Stock is a game of inches, that is exactly what they mean. Eventually, the close races are going to begin to fall his way and that time might be sooner rather than later.
Troy Coughlin Jr.
He enjoyed another first recently when he put the yellow and black JEGS car on the pole for the Topeka race so all that’s really left is for him to win his first national event as a pro. Given the long history of success that the Coughlin family has enjoyed at Indy, it would seem fitting for him to get his first win here.
Harlow Sammons Camaro
Most people still want to talk about his burndown with Bruno Massel a few weeks ago in Topeka but let's look at the bigger picture. He’s a 19-year-old kid who has been racing in Pro Stock for one year and he’s already stacked up a dozen round wins and made it to a final round. There is a decent chance he becomes NHRA’s next first-time pro winner.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
The reigning champion is the clear-cut favorite here although we find it a tiny bit odd that he’s only won this race one time and that came back in 2006. Otherwise, he’s done almost everything right this season including four wins and an amazing 23-4 record in elimination rounds. This bike rarely gets outrun to the finish line.
Vance & Hines Buell
A two-time Indy winner is looking to secure his spot in the Countdown and in order to do that, he’s going to need to light a win light or two on race day. Coming off a runner-up in Denver and a semifinal finish in Pomona, it looks like he’s poised to do just that.
He’s won at Indy before and he comes in with what is easily the most competitive bike he’s ever had. So far this year, he won in Charlotte, was a runner-up in Norwalk, and carded a career-best 6.72. He’s also ranked No. 2 in the Camping World standings, although it's not likely that he’ll catch Smith.
Vance & Hines Buell
Between missing the first two races of the season and a tough round one loss in Pomona, he’s ranked No. 10 coming to Indy and if he doesn’t make something happen, there is a possibility that he’ll miss the playoffs completely. Obviously, that’s not likely to happen. In fact, it wouldn’t be a big surprise if he won the event and move up a few spots in the process.
Reed Motorsports Suzuki
Here’s another guy who needs to score some points this weekend to remain in the Countdown to the Championship. He’s got the bike and the riding talent to do it so we’re not expecting any surprises. We’d be inclined to pencil him in for at least a semifinal finish, possibly even more.
Defending Indy winner has had an up and down season so far with a second win in Atlanta, but also a few speedbumps along the way. His most recent race in Pomona was very rewarding with a No. 4 qualifying position followed by a semifinal on Sunday. We’re thinking he’s going to do at least that much here.
Big St. Charles Suzuki
Her win a month ago in Sonoma was a thing of beauty with four great runs on Sunday. She’s also got 10 career wins although none of them have come at Indy. Also, if she can win three rounds, that will give her 200 for her career, which isn’t bad at all.
In Sonoma, she ran 6.73 at over 203 mph which means she’s got the power to win races, plain and simple. So far this season, that hasn’t happened, but she did have a nice semifinal finish in Denver and as the No. 6 ranked rider in the class, there is almost zero chance that she doesn’t race for the Camping World title.
For someone who doesn’t crave the spotlight, he’s gained a lot of attention this year by winning three of the first six NHRA Pro Mod events and building a solid lead in the standings. He’s also got an amazing 16-3 record on Sunday. One thing he does not have is a U.S. Nationals Wally and that might happen this weekend.
He might not have the quickest car in the class right now but he is never out of it. “Stevie Fast” also likes to show off at big events and there is none bigger than this one. He’s already got two U.S. Nationals wins to his credit (2018, 2020) and we have every reason to think he’ll get a third.
J&A Service Camaro
At the most recent NHRA Pro Mod event in Brainerd, he qualified No. 4 and went to the final round before losing a tough battle against Gonzalez. The good news is that he’s moved into second place in the championship standings and he’s still very much a player in the race for the title.
We’d probably have him ranked a bit higher except for a slight run-in with the guard wall in Brainerd. He’ll certainly be ready to go by this weekend, but we’re not certain just how big a setback this is for the Bahrain1 team. When these guys are firing on all cylinders, they are as good as anyone else in the class.
It’s hard to predict where the AAP team will be just because they haven’t raced much this season. When they are on top of their game they are as strong as anyone else in the class. It might be a little too late to make a run at the championship but not too late to win races.
“Trickie Rickie” took a little time off this summer and that might not be good news for the competition. There is seemingly a never-ending debate about the rules package in Pro Mod but this much is a given; Rickie rarely shows up with a race car that isn’t competitive and he’s certainly not coming to Indy without a chance to win.
He also skipped the Brainerd round but that shouldn’t affect his performance at Indy. Earlier this season, he had arguably the best car in the class and we have no reason to believe he won’t be among the quickest cars here.
J&A Service Camaro
The Indy Pro Mod field is full of talented drivers and quick cars so it’s difficult to pick just eight. That being said, it’s hard to go against someone who has 25 national event wins (mostly in Top Alcohol Dragster) including the 2013 U.S. Nationals. He also turned in a solid performance in his most recent outing in Denver.