Racing in the thin desert air of Las Vegas presents its own set of unique challenges to NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series Pros, but when combined with the unpredictable nature of the four-wide format, the Denso Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals becomes one of the most difficult events of the year for handicappers. Another thing to factor in is the still-young 2021 season. With just one event in the books, we’ve seen just a random sampling from NHRA’s Pro racers. To that end, here are Tricky Tipster’s best bets for this weekend.
The reigning champ won’t be able to top the recent birth of his daughter, Haven, but he’d certainly like to mark the occasion with another Wally. When it comes to Las Vegas, the Capco team does quite well with four final rounds and two wins in the last five races here, including the first four-wide race held here in 2018.
We’re going to give the Matco Tools team a boost this week because, well, they deserve it. First off, they won the most recent Las Vegas race held last November, and they kicked off the new season with a very solid semifinal finish in Gainesville. There is every reason to think they’re going to stick around the top of the leaderboard for much of this season.
The Mac Tools team has won twice in Las Vegas, but those wins came in 2004 and 2015, so it’s fair to ask, “What have you done for me lately?” The season opener in Gainesville was a mixed bag with a strong qualifying effort followed by tire smoke in the quarterfinals. None of that is cause for alarm. This is still an elite team that could easily go the distance.
Here’s another driver whose stock has risen considerably in the last few weeks. Gainesville was nearly a home run with a runner-up finish to rookie Josh Hart. In fact, if he doesn’t smoke the tires in the final, the Kalitta team gets to celebrate their long-awaited Top Fuel/Funny Car double. He’s also perhaps the most versatile driver in the class, which comes in handy given some of the craziness that happens in four-wide racing.
Much like Shawn Langdon, the Capco captain also likes to dabble in Super Comp racing, which provides good practice for four-wide events. He also happens to have a very fast race car, which means he’s got an excellent shot to post his first win of the season. In fact, it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising to see both of the Capco dragsters in the final quad on Sunday afternoon.
Monster Energy/Flavor Pak
It’s fairly well documented that the Monster Energy team sat out the bulk of the 2020 season, but they didn’t look at all out of place in their return last month in Gainesville in spite of a round-one loss. Also worth noting that she was a runner-up to Mike Salinas the last time we held a four-wide race in Las Vegas and also won the fall event held here at the end of the 2019 season.
Solid start to the 2021 season with a quarterfinal finish in Gainesville but even that doesn’t show the true potential of the Mopar team. They were solid last year and should be even better this time around. Four-wide or not, any of the eight cars listed here are capable of winning this race, and this is certainly one of them.
This is going to be interesting. The reigning NHRA Rookie of the Year gets a lot of notoriety for his reaction times, but he has zero experience in four-wide racing, so something has got to give. It seems likely to assume he’ll adapt rather quickly, but that’s not always the case when 44,000 hp is on the starting line.
This should be a slam dunk for a number of reasons, including his recent win at the Gatornationals and his past success in four-wide races, including the last two held in Las Vegas during the 2018 and 2019 seasons. All told, the DHL team has won three of the last five events held in Las Vegas, so they’re probably looking forward to this week’s race as much, if not more, than anyone else on the entry list.
The reigning NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series champ has won the last two Las Vegas races and three of the last four, so that alone gives him the upper hand and Tipster’s top billing. Before his slight holeshot loss in the first round of the season opener in Gainesville, he’d been to semifinals or better at the last six races, so there’s a lot of reason to expect a quick rebound here.
It might not be fair to say he had the best car in Gainesville, but he was the low qualifier with a 3.89, and that should count for something. He’s also got five wins in Las Vegas in eight final-round appearances, so that should also count for something. Oh, and that whole adjustment period with two new crew chiefs? That didn’t take long.
Auto Club Chevy
If we were strictly handicapping qualifying, he’d be the odds-on favorite because it’s almost a certainty that at some point, crew chief Jimmy Prock will throw the kitchen sink at it. For the record, his last trip to the Las Vegas four-wide race was not a success, but he did earn a runner-up at the most recent quad event held in Charlotte in 2019.
Bob Tasca III
Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford
Tipster thought he was going to finish the job in Gainesville, but he instead lost a close battle against Robert Hight in the semifinals. Regardless, that was an encouraging way to start the 2021 season, and it should serve to build some momentum for the rest of the season. There are about 10 cars that could win this race, and this is certainly one of them.
Blue Def Chevy
Anyone remember the very first NHRA four-wide race in Charlotte where this guy said he didn’t understand the staging process, and then went out and won the race? That sort of sneak attack won’t happen this time, but the six-time Las Vegas winner figures to be in the mix for career win No. 152. Based on his performance in Gainesville, he hasn’t skipped a beat in the last year.
Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford
He won a race here in 2008 and generally adapts well to the desert races in Las Vegas and Phoenix. Also, it’s worth noting he had a great car to start the season in Gainesville but just happened to get ambushed in the second round by J.R. Todd. Frustrating as that might be, we saw enough to know he’ll contend at most races this season.
No matter what he does from this point forward, when it comes to Las Vegas, he’ll always be known for his spectacular wheelstand at the fall race in 2016. Regardless, he’d also like to be known as the 2021 Vegas Four-Wide Nationals champion, and there is no reason to think that can’t happen, especially with the crewmember moves that were made this winter.
If there were mulligans in drag racing, the four-time champ would take one for the Gatornationals, where she suffered her first round-one loss in more than a year. As it stands, there are no do-overs, so the best you can do is head to the next race and not look back. Fortunately, for the Elite team, they do extremely well in Las Vegas, including their championship-clinching victory last November.
KB Racing Camaro
His Gainesville win was a long time coming, but we can’t call it a shock. Rather, it’s just a sign of the times where parity rules in the Pro Stock class. There’s a good chance that no one will ever match his record of 15 wins in a season, but it’s also not unreasonable to think he can start the season with back-to-back wins, especially when one considers some of the crazy stuff you see at a four-wide race.
Troy Coughlin Jr.
Surprisingly, his uncle, Jeg Jr., never won a four-wide race in his career, but we’ve got to think Troy Jr. won’t have that problem. Indeed, he’s just entering his second year in the class and still searching for his first win, but the talent level is undeniable. He’s going to win this year, and it will almost certainly be sooner rather than later.
Lucas Oil Camaro
“Kid Kaos” was impressive in his rookie season, especially when he went to the final of the fall Las Vegas race, and he picked up right where he left off with a solid run in Gainesville. The Pro Stock class is almost certain to add a couple of new winners this season, and he’s among the favorites to be one of them.
Get Biofuel Camaro
He didn’t have the quickest or fastest car in Gainesville, and his best light on Sunday was an .038, but sometimes you just have to dig deep and find a way to turn on win lights, and he did exactly that on his way to the semifinals. It might take a bit more than that to get the job done here, but the Get Biofuel team is capable.
Harlow Sammons Camaro
Quite honestly, we could put either of the McGaha team cars in this spot, but we give the nod to Mason, who is coming off a strong showing at the Gatornationals. The youngest of the young guns, he’s also got the least amount of experience, but it’s hard to tell by watching him. At 19, he’s very polished.
Total Seal Camaro
To be fair, he probably should be rated higher by a notch or two simply because he ran low elapsed time of the first round in Gainesville, but again, we’re talking about Pro Stock here, where everything is measured in thousandths. He also gets some extra credit for a runner-up finish the last time we raced four abreast at the Las Vegas strip.
Laughlin Motorsports Camaro
This is where Tipster earns their paycheck because in order to include him, we had to leave off Chris McGaha, Kenny Delco, Dallas Glenn, Aaron Stanfield, and all three of the Cuadra entries, just to name a few. There are only so many spaces in Tricky Tipster’s parking lot, and they fill up quickly. That being said, he’s earned his spot here, and with a solid showing, he’s likely to keep it for a bit.
Some decisions are hard, and some are easy. This is one of the easy ones. The world champ has had the best bike in the class for more than a year, and he showed it in Gainesville with a dominant performance. There are still a few consistency issues that pop up from time to time, but when this bike connects all the dots, it’s almost unstoppable.
Mission Foods Suzuki
The new Vance & Hines four-valve Suzuki made an impressive debut in Gainesville, and it’s clearly quick enough to win races. Now, it’s just a matter of the three-time champion getting a feel for a four-cylinder bike after a decade spent on a V-Twin. She should be able to mount a challenge to the Smith team.
He could easily have made up the second half of an all-MSR final round in Gainesville if not for a bit of bad luck. This was the third-best bike in the country last year, and there’s little reason to think he won’t be able to duplicate (or even exceed) that this time around.
If The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway wasn’t already her favorite track, it is now after her impressive win at the 2020 season-ending Dodge NHRA Finals. This time, things will be different with a four-wide format, so there’s going to be an adjustment but no reason to think she can’t make the final quad.
White Alligator Suzuki
The White Alligator bike is one of several with the new four-valve cylinder head, so their prospects for race wins should be improved over last season. They got an incomplete grade from the Gainesville race due to breakage, but that just means they’re overdue for a better outing this time around.
Flyin’ Ryan EBR
It’s hard to handicap this team because they set the world on fire at one race, and then appear to struggle at the next. They did get off to a flying start in Gainesville with a final-round showing, so there’s reason to believe they’d found some consistency. And then there is the whole four-wide deal. Honestly, this deal could go either way.
Reed Motorsports Suzuki
This is a guy with a lot on his mind following a testing accident that injured his teammate, Joey Gladstone. Sometimes, it’s best just to look at the positives, and there are still plenty of those in the Reed Motorsports camp, including the performance of their new Suzuki entries. They were quick enough to win in Gainesville, and they should be equally as competitive here.
The Denso Four-Wide Nationals will mark his 449th race in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class, and there isn’t anyone else who is even close when it comes to participation. And, based on his results in Gainesville, which included a semifinal, he’s still very competitive. Would a win here be much of a surprise? We don’t think so.