The variables that define Bandimere Speedway often make for some interesting outcomes and the track has been the site of some of NHRA’s biggest upsets. Then again, those who have their act together tend to do very well in Denver which helps explain why Steve Torrence once again gets our top billing. Torrence is joined at the top by Robert Hight (Funny Car), Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle), and Jose Gonzales (Pro Mod).
If you think that the unique conditions in Denver might make championship leader Steve Torrence vulnerable, think again. Torrence won the last time NHRA raced here in 2019 and he also won on the mountain in 2015. Let’s face it, the Capco team is good everywhere and it's going to take a serious sustained effort to dislodge them from the top spot, at least as far as Tipster is concerned. In fact, it may not happen this season.
He’s been giving Torrence a run for his money for most of the season with some solid results. Currently, he’s 215 points out of first place so it might be a lot to ask to overtake the leader, but he can certainly move closer. For what it’s worth, he won the Denver race in 2009, 2012, and 2017 and was a runner-up in 2016 so his results here are actually better than Torrence’s. Oh, and he’s also swept the Western Swing but let's not get ahead of ourselves.
Although Doug has just one win here, Kalitta cars have historically done well in Bandimere including back-to-back wins by team patriarch Connie in 1984-85. As much as Denver can throw teams a curveball, sometimes that works the other way as the radical changes made to deal with the thin air can occasionally expose some undetected flaws. Clearly, the Mac Tools flagship hasn’t had the best start to the 2021 season but this could be the turning point.
The Scrappers dragster looked really good in Epping and wasn’t half-bad in Norwalk. They’ve also tested extensively in the last month so it's safe to say they are as well prepared as they can be for the grueling three-race Western Swing. This would be a good spot for them to surprise a few people.
Monster Energy/Flavor Pak
There is no easy way to tiptoe around this so here goes; four of seven losses this season have come via holeshot. That being said there are some positives. For one, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the Monster dragster. In fact, it has been one of the qualifying leaders this season. Secondly, for all the back news, she’s still got to the final in Norwalk and is fourth in the Camping World standings so there is plenty of reason for optimism.
There are no mulligans in drag racing but if a team could discard one result, it surely would be Norwalk where they qualified on the bump and made an early exit against low qualifier Steve Torrence. The best way to get over a race like this is to move on to the next one so the DHL crew is most likely counting the minutes until their first qualifying run at Bandimere Speedway.
It might not look like it, but things are starting to turn around for the Mopar team which is perfect timing for their sponsor’s event. A recent test session certainly helped and they’ve also managed to win a round and move up in the standings at their last two events. It’s a small step, but also a significant one. There is no reason to think this car won’t be competitive in the second half of the season
He’ll be back in the seat after sitting out the bulk of the Norwalk race with a medical condition. In his place, crew chief Mike Kloeber worked quickly to bring fill-in driver Austin Prock up to speed and the team was rewarded with a nice semifinal finish. In 2019, Millican was runner-up to Steve Torrence and he’s fully capable of repeating that performance.
Auto Club Chevy
A perfect 4-0 record in final rounds in Denver should tell you all you need to know about the Auto Club team’s chances for success this weekend. They are good almost everywhere but seem to shine in the thin Bandimere air. The last three events have produced a win in Houston, a runner-up finish in Epping, and a narrow quarterfinal loss in Norwalk. He comes into this race as the No. 4 ranked driver in the class but could easily move up a spot or two.
Bob Tasca III
Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford
He’s led the Camping World standings since race No. 2 in Las Vegas and doesn’t seem to want to let go of the top spot anytime soon. When it comes to results at Bandimere Speedway, he’s also got a pair of runner-up finishes in 2013 and 2019 which means a lot given the changes necessary to compete at altitude.
Blue Def Chevy
A lot of people thought that when John Force sat out the bulk of the 2020 season, we’d never again see the fire and passion that made him a 16-time world champion. Honestly, the 2021 version might be even better than the last, at least judging by his first-half results. Two wins, three finals, and a 13-5 record in elimination rounds are about as good as it gets. Oh yeah, and he’s also been to the final 13 times here with eight wins so he definitely loves racing in Denver.
The last three events have been a bit frustrating with back-to-back-to-back quarterfinal finishes but the DHL team is holding steady in the No. 3 spot so they’re very much in the championship fight. It’s also reasonable to think that there is sentimental value in each trip to Denver since it was the sight of Todd’s first victory (in Top Fuel) in 2006 when he upset Tony Schumacher.
It’s hard not to think that his recent win in Norwalk was the start of something really good for the Snap-on Tools team. They seem to have been building momentum since the start of the season and it’s finally paid off. He’s also won a couple of times in Denver, the first of which came in 1993 and then again in 2013. A third victory is definitely not out of the question.
It might be a risky move to bring a new race car to one of the most challenging tracks on the tour but the NAPA team has a history of making similar moves and making them pay off. At this point in the season, one has to figure they are long overdue for a victory but to be perfectly honest, we like their odds next week in Sonoma a bit more than here. Regardless, this is a car that’s likely to win a few rounds during the Western Swing.
Muck like DSR teammate Capps, we’ve got to think there is a breakout performance coming soon for the Mopar team, and what better place to do it than their sponsor’s event? That being said, Hagan doesn’t have much of a history here except for a runner-up finish in 2011. Better days are certainly on the horizon and for all their first-half struggles they are just 156 points out of the lead. That’s a manageable number.
RoKit/Bandero Premium Tequila Toyota
She didn’t get the result she wanted in Norwalk, but that event might just be the turning point in the season. After a solid qualifying effort, the RoKit/Bandero entry went to the semifinals where they lost a heartbreaker to Cruz Pedregon. That could just as easily been their first win of the season. There’s a lot happening here and most of it is good.
After winning the Norwalk final it's hard to argue this isn’t the best bike in the class, or at least the best bike/rider combination. As for Denver, he won here back-to-back in 2007-08 so there is a history of success on the mountain. We’re going to go ahead and keep him in the top spot, but the rest of the pack is closing rapidly.
We’re not sure he’s getting the credit he deserves for what has happened in the first half of the 2021 season. Winning a race is impressive enough, but he’s also got a bike that can (and has) outrun each of the bigger teams. His runner-up in Norwalk was perhaps even more impressive than his Charlotte win and it doesn’t seem like he’s going to let up anytime soon. He’s the real deal and we’ve got him ranked accordingly.
Vance & Hines Buell
Five Denver victories should tell you all you need to know about how much he loves racing on the mountain. Remember, this was also his home track for a while when the team was based in Colorado. There’s also the whole issue of the Top 10. Currently, he’s not in after missing the first two races of the season. That won’t be the case much longer.
Vance & Hines Buell
Collectively, there have been 28 Pro Stock Motorcycle Wallys handed out at Bandimere Speedway and the Vance & Hines team has 13 of them including four to this guy. He’d have a couple more if he hadn’t raced teammate Hines in the final. When your team is batting nearly .500, you’ve got to be among the favorites. After qualifying No. 2 and making it to the semi’s in Norwalk it’s obvious that good things are happening in this camp.
Reed Motorsports Suzuki
Historically, there have been a few upset winners in Denver, most notably Blaine Hale, who won here in 2003. Then again, when this guy finally wins his first race, it won’t really be an upset. A breakthrough win will happen, it’s just a matter of when and where. It’s also worth noting that he missed a race (Las Vegas) and is still No. 6 in the standings. That should tell you that he’s been competitive just about everywhere we’ve raced so far in 2021.
The last two races have not been kind to the reigning Indy champ and last season’s No. 2 ranked rider but honestly, they should be nothing more than a minor speedbump in what is shaping up to be a solid campaign. After all, he remains No. 3 in the Camping World standings and it wasn’t that long ago that he won the final NHRA event in Atlanta. Seems more than reasonable to expect a few win lights during the Western Swing.
Flyin’ Ryan Buell
We’d probably have him ranked a bit higher if not for the fact that this is Denver, and it can throw a curveball to even the best and most experienced teams. We’re not exactly suggesting that he’s going to struggle at altitude, just that it might require some adjustments and with just three qualifying runs, it’s important to hit the bullseye early.
At times, we’ve seen this bike rocket to the top of the qualifying charts but the last two races have produced a No. 8 starting spot, which means a tough draw early in eliminations. If she can move up a few notches on Friday or Saturday, that could bode well for a long afternoon on Sunday. At this point, we’d have to think a semifinal or better finish would represent a big step in the right direction, especially with several quick bikes behind her in the standings.
This race is a huge crapshoot since Pro Mods don’t often race in Denver especially under the current rules package. That being said, we have to go with the current points leader who is 9-3 on the young season and has led the standings since Atlanta. He’s also going to want to move on from Norwalk, where a tough holeshot loss ended his bid for a second win this season. No one really knows what to expect this weekend but this is as safe a bet as we can come up with.
Overcoming obstacles and conquering variables seems to be his strong suit so his game might be tailor made for the thin air at Bandimere Speedway. He’s also coming off a tough holeshot loss in Norwalk so he’s going to be eager to make amends. He’s climbed from No. 17 to No. 2 in the standings but recently slipped to No. 4. We don’t expect him to continue moving in that direction.
Ran the table at the most recent event in Norwalk with a No. 1 qualifying effort and the fourth Pro Mod win of his career. We’d have him ranked No. 1 here easily if it wasn’t for the unique conditions at Bandimere Speedway but to be perfectly candid, he’s got the ability to adapt as well as anyone. It’s not unreasonable to think he could run the table again here.
J&A Service Corvette
He looked really strong at the last event in Norwalk with a solid qualifying effort and a runner-up finish. The end result was a move from No. 4 to No. 3 in the standings. There appears to be more where that came from. No reason to think he won’t stick around at or near the top of the standings for the rest of the season.
Has qualified No. 1 or No. 2 at every event this season but is still looking for his first win. In fact, he hasn’t been to a final round yet which seems a bit out of place. We’re betting that streak ends soon, perhaps even this weekend. This car is just too strong to continue to have race day struggles.
Often overlooked is the fact that this is basically a new car that has just three races on it and crew chief Frank Manzo is still searching for the sweet spot. Ironically, Manzo didn’t race in Denver very often during his long reign in the Top Alcohol Funny Car class so he’s also starting fresh this weekend. Odds are he’ll figure it out fairly quickly.
J&A Services Camaro
A win in his home state? Why not? For all his success in the Top Alcohol Dragster class, he’s never won a national event at his home track, Bandimere Speedway so this is the perfect opportunity to do so. As far as his chances, this car ran very well in Norwalk so there is plenty of reason for optimism.
JR Gray Jr
Gray Contracting Camaro
A handful of races into his NHRA Pro Mod career and the former grudge and radial racer is paying his dues. It's been a rough stretch lately with three consecutive early losses but one gets a sense that the tide is turning. It’s also reasonable to think that tuners Mike and Mike Janis Jr. will be able to come up with a suitable combination for Bandimere Speedway.