Denver’s Bandimere Speedway isn’t the only NHRA national event facility that is surrounded by mountains and features a breathtaking view. Bristol Dragway also fits that bill and it’s the site of this week’s NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals.
The event marks the fifth event in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs, meaning the battles for Camping World NHRA pro titles are starting to come down to the wire. Not surprisingly, Tricky Tipster, NHRA’s resident wizard of odds, has gone with points leaders Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) as the favorites
While he lost the Dallas final a week ago the end result is that he extended his lead and now has a healthy, if not insurmountable 52 point lead as he pursues his third-straight Top Fuel title. No need for a big strategy change here. The Capco team just needs to keep doing what they’ve been doing all season.
A big jump this week, not just because they won in Dallas, but they also had one of the best cars on the property with a 3.68 best. When you combine that sort of performance with a driver who gets off the starting line on time, the results are bound to be impressive.
Monster Energy/Flavor Pak
Three-straight races with a holeshot loss are going to be tough to swallow for any time but there is a silver lining. This is the quickest car in the class and the damage could have been far worse. With three races left and 52 points to make up, the Monster team is still very much in control of their own destiny. They just have to find a way to get the job done.
In the last four races, he’s qualified no worse than No. 4 and he was very quick again last week in Dallas with a 3.68. The Scrappers team also managed to turn on a win light on Sunday and is holding steady in the No. 4 spot in the standings. Realistically, the championship is out of reach, but more race wins are not.
Wonder if the rest of the field realizes just how lucky they are that the R&L Carriers team didn’t make the Countdown to the Championship playoffs because if they had snuck in, they’d be fighting for the championship thanks to a win and back-to-back semifinals at the last three races. As it is, they’re going to make life difficult for anyone who is trying to win the title.
Came back to earth a little bit after Reading victory with three consecutive quarterfinal finishes which has the second Capco entry just about out of championship contention. It’s amazing that this car almost never loses in the first round and if you give them a break or two, they can go the distance.
She made huge headlines on Wednesday with the formation of the Tony Stewart Racing team for 2022 but now the focus needs to be on the remaining three races of the 2021 season. Dallas was not a great outing with an 11th best qualifying run and a first round loss. This race can and should be much better.
Much like Leah Pruett, he’s got a lot to look forward to in 2022 but still needs to focus on what’s left of this season. The Matco car has been hit or miss lately. Perhaps a change of scenery and a little fresh mountain air will do the trick.
The good news is that he got to the final round last week in Dallas. The not-so-good news is that he lost to teammate Ron Capps, which means his lead in the Funny Car standings is down to just 33 points. No need to panic. This is still a championship-caliber car that is capable of winning anywhere and Bristol is sort of a home race.
Winning in Dallas was huge for his championship aspirations. He’s also got to be excited to return to Bristol, where he has five wins including the first (modern-day) NHRA event here in 2001 and back-to-back victories in 2017-18. Another win would do a lot to shake up the Camping World Funny Car points.
When it comes to the points battle, the Snap-on team seems inclined to want to hang around a bit longer. After Dallas, they are 113 points out of first place. That’s a lot to make up but with three races remaining, it is possible to do so. If nothing else, they are positioned to take advantage should one of the leaders slip up.
Peak/Blue Def Chevy
Four-time Bristol winner and a finalist the last time we raced here in the spring of 2019. That bodes well for his chances of adding a 155th title to his already amazing career. He’s struggled in qualifying at the last two events so this would be a good time to fix that and get back into the top half of the field.
Bob Tasca III
Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford
Speaking of guys who’ve done well in Bristol, this is your defending champ, even though it was 28 months ago. A lot has changed since then but the Motorcraft team remains one of the sport’s best so another victory here wouldn’t be at all surprising.
Went to the semi’s a week ago in Dallas which was actually an impressive achievement since he had to beat Tim Wilkerson and Robert Hight in order to get there. This is another team that would likely benefit from a change of scenery and given the weather forecast for this weekend, conditions will be much different than we’ve seen lately.
Auto Club Chevy
With 188 points to make up there is almost nothing short of a miracle that will allow the Auto Club team to win the championship but they are very much in the battle to win this race and they may put together some very impressive runs give the conditions that are expected.
Levi, Ray & Shoup Mustang
He’s a two-time Bristol runner-up with final rounds in 2010 and 2014 so he knows this place well and figures to be in the thick of the battle. While he tends to race better in hot weather, this car can also get the job done on fast tracks so they’re not to be taken lightly.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
Is it fair to say he no longer has the best bike in the class? That remains to be seen but he’s still the championship leader and is arguably the best and most well rounded race in the class. Even if he doesn’t have the best bike, he can usually find a way to win.
His loss in Dallas had to be especially frustrating because he clearly had the bike to beat and could have left with the points lead. As it is, he’s just eight points out of first place and that can be made up during qualifying. This is going to get interesting.
Vance & Hines/Mission Foods Suzuki
Okay, we’ll take a shot here that she has a big race and remains in contention for a fourth Pro Stock Motorcycle championship. With just 53 points to make up, she could leave this race as the leader or at least gain some ground against Matt Smith and Steve Johnson.
Vance & Hines Buell
This is the first time that the Pro Stock Motorcycle class has raced in Bristol for points and everyone is hoping to be the first rider to leave with a Wally. The four time champion has as good a shot as anyone and technically, he’s still very much in the running for this year’s title.
Once again, we’ve got a rider who could be out of the championship picture, but really isn’t. Sure, making up 139 points in three races is extremely difficult, but it’s not impossible and after all this is the Pro Stock Motorcycle class and if something weird is going to happen, it will be here.
She did her job as a blocker last week taking out two of the Vance & Hines bikes so we’re expecting a similar effort this time around. She’s also got a chance to finish in the Top 5, which hasn’t happened before so that’s a goal worth shooting for.
Vance & Hines Buell
Since Pro Stock Motorcycles don’t race in Bristol if figures that few teams will have any usable data from previous events. That tends to favor the best tuners in the class and he’s certainly one of them. Something needs to happen to shake off a 2021 season funk and this might be just what the V&H team needs.
Reed Racing Suzuki
Dallas was not a fun race for the Reed team and this one is bound to be better. We still think this team needs nothing more than a little good luck in order to go the distance. There is a win waiting to happen here and who knows, this might just be the week to get it done.