Stop us if you’ve heard this before but you can’t sweep the Western Swing unless you win the first race. Yeah, we know it’s an old quote but it’s entirely true which means that heading into this weekend’s NHRA Sonoma Nationals, only Steve Torrence in Top Fuel, Matt Hagan in Funny Car, and Matt Smith in Pro Stock Motorcycle are eligible to join the elusive WSS club. Pro Stock did not compete in Denver so there can be no sweep, although going two-for two wouldn’t be bad.
So, what are the odds of a sweep in the lush vineyards of California wine country? In the case of Torrence and Smith, we’d say pretty good since they’ve dominated their respective classes and Hagan looked pretty good in his Denver win so we also wouldn’t rule him out. Not surprisingly, Tricky Tipster has all three listed as the favorites this weekend along with Erica Enders, who won the most recent Pro Stock event in Norwalk.
At this point, it would take a jackhammer to dislodge him from the top spot since he’s won almost everything this season and also won almost everything in the three previous seasons. Oddly, the Capco dragster doesn’t always dominate the scoreboards, but they always seem to do just enough to outlast the competition. They can be beaten, it’s just that no one has been able to do it lately.
Monster Energy/Flavor Pak
Her 3.71 on Saturday night in Denver is an early contender for the run of the year since the next quickest pass of the event was just 3.77. As impressive as it was, it didn’t lead to a victory but it was another positive sign that the Monster team is beginning to find their rhythm. At some point, most like soon, they’re going to string together four of those show-stopping runs on race day.
Denver was forgettable for the Matco team but we tend to give almost everyone a mulligan on the mountain since it’s just so hard to race up there. With a return to sea level, we should see the real Matco team emerge, the one that has been battling for victories all season long.
Sort of like Brittany Force’s team, the Scrappers bunch seems to be moving in the right direction and have their first win of the season well within reach. Of course, there is the added bonus of racing at their home track, where they figure to enjoy a lot of support. A win here would be extremely popular for a number of reasons.
The Mac Tools team has five wins in Sonoma so this would be as good a place as any to snap out of the early-season funk they’ve been in. It’s worth noting that their last final here came in 2005 so there’s not much of a history of recent success but shouldn’t this be a car with the ability to win anytime and anyplace? Yes, it is.
After missing the Norwalk race due to a medical issue, he got right back in the car in Denver and delivered one of his best results of the season. In fact, if not for a mechanical issue, there was a good chance that the Parts Plus car was going to the final round. They ran in the high 3.7s at altitude and should be quicker than that on a return to sea level.
This team skipped the Denver race which may or may not be a positive development. On one hand, they missed a heck of a race, but they also don’t have to change their combination to go from altitude to sea level. They qualified well and went to the quarterfinals in their most recent appearance in Norwalk and there’s no reason to think they can’t improve on that result this time around.
The oil leak that cost them an almost certain round win in Denver was a devastating blow to a team that could use some good news but there is light at the end of the tunnel. A lot of teams will benefit from a return to sea level in Sonoma, and this should be one of them. There is still time to right the ship and make a run at the championship but the next two or three races will be critical.
Last time out, we predicted a breakthrough performance for the Mopar Dodge team, and they delivered with a very strong win on the mountain. Now comes the tricky part, completing the second leg of a possible Western Swing Sweep. He was a runner-up here the last time we ran in wine country (2019) so there is cause to think he can actually pull it off.
Auto Club Chevy
The last time the Auto Club team lost a round in Sonoma? How about 2017? They won back-to-back in 2018-19 and of course, the race didn’t happen last year, so their record is intact. So, what are the odds of getting a third-straight win? Tipster says they’re pretty good since they almost always at or near the top of the qualifying chart.
Bob Tasca III
Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford
He’s still got the points lead but it’s not as solid as it once was following a round-two loss in Denver. As we’ve noted before, Denver results generally don’t count when predicting future results so we’re going to assume a quick rebound here. The Motorcraft Quicklane team has yet to appear in a final round at this event but it shouldn’t surprise anyone if that happened this week.
ROKiT/Bandero Premium Tequila Toyota
It’s time to give credit where it’s due. After a semifinal in Norwalk and a runner-up finish a week ago in Denver, it is obvious that this team is a win waiting to happen. They are not only winning rounds, but they’ve also been great in qualifying having had the second-quickest car at four events so far this season. Honestly, the only thing they haven’t done is win a race, but that’s probably going to happen shortly.
Coming off back-to-back semifinals the NAPA team heads to Sonoma wine country, which has historically been good to them. Capps has four wins here in eight final rounds the most recent of which came in 2018. It’s also worth pointing out that they haven’t been worse than No. 5 in qualifying at any event this season. Again, the importance of that can’t be understated.
Peak/Blue Def Chevy
His career is so impressive that it’s easy to get lost in the numbers sometimes but how can you overlook eight wins and 14 final rounds at Sonoma Raceway? We know, he’s got multiple wins at just about every race on the tour but this seems to be one of his best venues. He’s also continuing to put the heat on points leader Tasca. Right now, he’s just 50 points behind so it’s entirely possible he leaves California as the championship leader.
Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford
Four-time Sonoma finalist and two-time winner is coming off a solid race in Denver where he qualified No. 3 and went to the semifinals. That’s really not much of a surprise since he’s been a top-half qualifier at almost every race this season and already has 10 round wins in just eight events. One tiny break and he’s going to become the class’ seventh different winner this season.
The 2017 Sonoma winner could absolutely use a good result because it’s been a while. Since winning Gainesville, he’s been slightly above par with an 8-7 record but he’s also slipped from first to fourth in the Camping World Funny Car standings since the start of the season. It’s definitely not too late to make a run at the top spot, but it needs to happen quickly.
He comes into this race as the championship leader and also has a very impressive record in Sonoma with six victories and four runner-up finishes since 2002. He’s also led the points every day this season. If there is a single blemish, it’s back-to-back final round losses but at this point that’s just nit-picking what has otherwise been a great season.
This team would most likely be Tipster’s first choice here if not for Anderson’s impressive Sonoma record. It’s also worth noting that she’s never been to a final here which is odd given her success almost everywhere else. There would hardly be a better time to add Sonoma to the long list of places where she’s made at least one final.
Total Seal Camaro
Picking the third-ranked car behind Anderson and Enders is nearly impossible right now because they’re all so darned close but this team seems to have the ability to get it done more often than not. The Total Seal team has also followed their Houston win with back-to-back semifinals in Epping and Norwalk which helps explain how they’ve moved from ninth to fourth in the standings.
Janac Bros. Camaro
Speaking of those who are trending in the right direction, he’s made big moves since the start of the season largely due to his win in Epping. That being said, he’s coming off a tough round one loss in Norwalk, which will soon be forgotten should he turn on a win light or two in Sonoma wine country.
Harlow Sammons Camaro
He’s come so far in such a short time that it is easy to lose sight of the fact that Sonoma will be his 16th NHRA event in any class. In his first 15 starts, he’s got a very respectable 11-12 record in eliminations with four semifinals and a runner-up. The only thing left is his first win and that’s likely not far off.
Oddly enough, save for Anderson, not many of the Pro Stock drivers entered in this year’s event have had much success in Sonoma but this guy was in the final in 2018 and that should count for something. He also needs a good showing after back-to-back round one losses. And that came following a runner-up in Houston.
Lucas Oil/NitroFish Camaro
Which second (or third) Pro Stock driver is next to get their first victory? Is it Mason McGaha, Troy Coughlin Jr., the Cuadra brothers, or this kid, who has already appeared in one final round and three semifinals in less than a full season in the class. His last outing in Norwalk produced a semifinal finish so there is reason to think he can string something together here.
RAD Torque Systems Camaro
On one hand, he’s cooled off a bit since winning in Charlotte but on the other hand, Pro Stock is incredibly tough and even the best teams sometimes struggle to produce consistent results. Regardless, he’s still well into the Top 10 and if someone had told him six months ago that he’d be where he is now, it would have been hard to believe.
Is it too early to start talking about a Western Swing sweep? Not when this guy (or Steve Torrence) is in the mix. We’ve said it often; that this is the best bike/rider combination in the class right now and he proved it again in Denver. It won’t be easy and the competition is gaining ground but we’d say he’s nearly a lock to go 2-for-3 on the swing and a sweep is not out of the question.
Vance & Hines Buell
He’s got three wins here including the most recent race held in 2019. The Vance & Hines Buell entries have been good this season, but they’ve also been a bit temperamental. After Denver, Hines is still outside the Top 10 but it’s almost a sure bet that he’ll be part of the Countdown after this race.
What’s our take on this bike? Your guess is as good as ours. He might run the table and set a new elapsed time record or stumble and take an early loss. Based on his recent performances, we’re inclined to think it’s the former, or at the very least a respectable showing on race day. To be clear, this bike does indeed have the power to run upfront and it’s going to be interesting to watch.
Vance & Hines Buell
He’s a three-time Sonoma winner and two-time runner-up so he’s got a great relationship with the rolling vineyards of Northern California. When this bike is at its best, it can post some extremely impressive numbers and if conditions are right, he’s a prime candidate to set a new record for either elapsed time or speed (or both). Give him a nice tailwind and you might see 204 mph.
Reed Motorsports Suzuki
He had a bike that could have won some rounds in Denver but a red-light start ended his day prematurely. That’s simply life in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class so we’re not going to read too much into it. We’ve said often that he’s going to win some races soon and Tipster stands by that statement. Could it happen this weekend? Absolutely.
Vance & Hines/Mission Foods Suzuki
The 2004 Sonoma winner is back for another shot and we’re fairly bullish on her chances. At one point she was the Sonoma Raceway track record holder and her current Vance & Hines ride has shown the ability to post some big numbers although not always consistently. Getting around Smith might be tough right now, but she’s conquered bigger challenges.
After Denver, husband and crew chief Matt said, “There’s something not quite right with Angie’s bike and I haven’t found it yet.” We trust that he will and that she’ll continue to put up solid numbers. Honestly, she had a decent shot to win in Denver despite whatever mechanical problems they may have encountered. This is another bike that should be well over 200-mph here.
Flyin’ Ryan Buell
The good news is that he’s already got a win and a runner-up this season but the flip side is that he hasn’t been past the second round since the Las Vegas four-wide event a few months ago so what gives? It all starts with qualifying where he’s been on the bottom side of the ladder at the last three events. Start making better qualifying runs (which he’s capable of) and see how much easier the path is on Sunday.