As the Countdown to the Championship heats up, so does the pressure on Tricky Tipster to accurately predict winners. We laid an egg last week in Reading although we did rank Pro Stock winner Greg Anderson and Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Steve Johnson near the top of our rankings.
This week, when it comes to our best bets, we’re going to continue to play the hot hand and go with Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
Okay, so he didn’t win the first race in the Countdown, but the Wally still went home to Kilgore, Texas with the Capco team. Interesting to note that his lead, once triple digits, has shrunk to just 12 points but no one over here is about to panic. They’ve still got the best car/driver combination in the class.
Monster Energy/Flavor Pak
It’s too early in the Countdown to call this a must-win event but this is a perfect opportunity to take over the points lead for the first time this season. The Monster team is on an amazing streak of seven straight low qualifiers but they’d gladly trade those for a few more Sunday win lights.
We said it last week but it bears repeating; he is not a blocker. In fact, after his Reading win, he’s a genuine threat to win the Camping World NHRA Top Fuel title. With the win, he’s climbed from eighth to third in the standings and this is obviously a very strong car.
As long as we’re discussing drivers who are capable of winning the championship, why not throw her in the mix? Last week was tough with a round two loss, but there is optimism here and there should be. For all their early struggles, this is still a championship caliber group.
It remains to be seen if this car is actually good enough to contend for a title but his lights remain rock steady. Last week in Reading, he had a .034 in the semi’s and a .033 in the final and those numbers have to be a concern for the rest of the field. Holeshot losses are painful, especially during Countdown time.
Now when it comes to do-or-die races, this is pretty much it for the Matco Tools team. A round one loss last week was painful, but they’re still in the game. They need to dig deep and find a way to get the job done, and get it done soon.
Think Justin Ashley is the only driver in Top Fuel who can cut a light? The former world champ had a pair of .050 lights last week but couldn’t get past Billy Torrence in the quarterfinals. The Kalitta team has had their fair share of issues this season but this car has managed to hang around the top of the standings for most of the year.
We’ve seen enough evidence to know that this car can go toe-to-toe with the Capco and Monster teams in the performance department. If they can run 3.6s, so can the Parts Plus crew. They just need to find a way to capture the magic they showed earlier this summer with back-to-back final rounds.
Peak/Blue Def Chevy
Okay, so it’s only five points but John Force does have the points lead with six races left and as we’ve been wondering lately, is there anyone out there who really thinks he can’t win a 17th championship this season. Tipster is certainly a believer and has the GOAT ranked accordingly. He’s also had his fair share of success in Charlotte. He could make a major statement here.
First off, the job that Tommy Johnson Jr. did in a fill-in role is nothing short of spectacular with a win in Reading to keep the Mopar team’s championship hopes alive. Secondly, the fittest guy in the pits has been cleared to drive after his bout with COVID. We have no doubts that he’ll be back in forum quickly.
Tipster is probably guilty of not giving the NAPA team the credit they deserve especially when one considers they’re just 15 points out of first place this late in the season. That being said, they could really use a win, and we mean right now. Funny Car is so close right now that one round can and will make all the difference in the world.
Auto Club Chevy
He looked great in Reading but just happened to lose a tough battle against the boss in the semifinals. The good thing is that we race again in less than a week so he’s got a good chance to put that loss behind him quickly. Once again, there are still at least a half-dozen racers in the hunt for the Funny Car title and this is most certainly one of them.
Can he makeup 89 points and win a third Camping World Funny Car title? Why, yes, but it won’t be easy. That’s the task the Snap-on team is faced with and they’re going to need to be just about perfect to make it happen. Whether or not they win a championship, they’re certainly in the running for race wins.
A very consistent performance in Reading resulted in the semifinal finish which was crucial to the DHL team’s title hopes. Now, they need to duplicate that performance (or improve upon it). In the grand scheme of things, 39 points aren’t much to make up, but they can’t risk falling further behind the leaders.
Bob Tasca III
Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford
There’s no way to sugar coat this; the loss to Paul Lee in Reading was painful and it put a big dent in their title hopes but all is not lost. There is 66 points to make up and six races in which to do it. That’s definitely possible but there is little margin for error.
Levi, Ray & Shoup Mustang
There is something really cold about running 3.89 in the opening round in Reading and not seeing a win light. The silver lining is that he ran in the 3.8s on Sunday when few others could. Let’s not forget that he also won Indy less than three weeks ago and that still make a powerful statement.
Not sure what means more, winning race No. 97 to tie Warren Johnson for the all-time Pro Stock lead, or coming out of Reading with the championship lead. There is more history to be made this year and it doesn’t matter if it’s a record-breaking 98th win or a seventh championship. Perhaps even both.
It’s probably a good thing that the next stop on the tour is zMax Dragway because the four-time world champion has had some of the best moments of her career here. We’re sure that last week’s loss was a bitter pill to swallow, but it shouldn’t do much to take away from the big picture.
RAD Torque Systems Camaro
Once you get past the top two drivers in the class, there is a whole group that is separated by a small fraction so picking favorites is hard. That being said, this is certainly a top five car and at most events, it’s in the top three. It might be too much to ask to win a championship, but the Rookie of the Year award is all but his.
Troy Coughlin Jr.
Last week, we talked about progress and what happened next? How about a very impressive semifinal finish in Reading. There are still six races left for him to get his first professional win this season and that appears more and more likely based on recent results.
Lucas Oil/Nitro Fish Camaro
Much like Coughlin, this kid is a win waiting to happen and it will be really surprising if it doesn’t happen this season. There’s a lot of good things happening here.
Janac Bros. Camaro
He’s struggled a bit lately but remember, this is the same guy who won three of four races this summer and he’s still the No. 3 ranked driver in the Pro Stock class so there is still hope of winning a championship.
Total Seal Camaro
He’s managed to win at least one round at almost every event this season but obviously, the goal is four rounds. Qualifying isn’t much of a problem, but he could use a little bit of good luck on race day.
Harlow Sammons Camaro
Won the Four Wide race here in 2017 so he’s got a nice history with zMax Dragway. More recently, the Harlow Sammons cars have taken a step back in qualifying and that means a tough draw in the early rounds. A one or two place improvement would provide a bit of relief.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
We have no idea what went wrong in Reading, but it was nothing short of a disaster. Fortunately, he really likes racing at zMax, which is basically his home track so there is every reason to expect a better effort this time around.
Vance & Hines Buell
A month ago, he was barely mentioned in the same sentence with the word championship but that has changed for the better. He’s right in the mix and fully capable of winning a fifth world title.
What he’s done this year is nothing short of amazing. In fact, it might be one of the biggest stories of the 2021 NHRA season, especially if he can hold on to actually win a championship.
Vance & Hines/Mission Foods Suzuki
Made it to the semifinals last week in Reading and it was a huge confidence booster for the remainder of the Countdown. There are still a few small details to be ironed out but there is also plenty of reason to think she can win again this season.
He was the only MSR rider to escape the first round last week but he had almost nothing for Steve Johnson in the quarterfinals. That doesn’t change the fact that this is a quality bike with a very solid rider so we’re figuring at least a semifinal (or better) this week.
Vance & Hines Buell
As we’ve noted last week, he’s really got his work cut out for him if he’s to win a seventh championship. Surely, no one expected him to be outside the Top 10 one race into the Countdown. Honestly, the championship is probably out of reach, but race wins are not.
Big St. Charles Suzuki
Here’s another example of a team that is capable of winning, but hasn’t connected all the dots lately. As we all know, things can change quickly in the sport so last week’s quarterfinal could easily become this week’s win.
Much like hubby Matt, we’re sure she’d like to forget all about last week’s Reading race. She’s also a North Carolina native and nothing would be sweeter than a win at her home track.