Tricky Tipster: What happens in Vegas determines championships
What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Well, maybe not as far as the Camping World NHRA championship battles are concerned. What happens in Vegas, particularly during this weekend’s Dodge//SRT NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil, could have a profound effect on what happens two weeks from now when the season concludes in Pomona.
For those who are leading their respective categories; Steve Torrence, Ron Capps, Greg Anderson, and Matt Smith, the focus here is to not make a mistake and give up ground to a would-be challenger. For everyone else who dreams of an NHRA world title, it’s time to make hay since there are just eight rounds left in the 2021 season.
As much as we like longshots, Tricky Tipster has once again favored the incoming points leaders with Torrence (Top Fuel), Capps (Funny Car), Anderson (Pro Stock), and Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) as the pre-race favorites.
He’s not exactly able to breathe easy, but Torrence’s lead of 73 points over Brittany Force is the largest of any pro class so he’s clearly got an advantage in his quest to win a fourth-straight title. The Capco team rarely settles for anything less than a win but to be honest, a semifinal or better finish would all but seal the deal here.
His recent win in Bristol was impressive. In fact, his whole second half of the season has been impressive, and it’s obvious that his driving has improved dramatically this season. With 150 points to make up it’s not reasonable to think he can win the championship, but winning one of the last two races (or both) is definitely not out of the question.
Monster Energy/Flavor Pak
If there are any tricks left in crew chief David Grubnic’s bag, this might be a good time to bring them out. With 73 points to makeup, the championship is definitely within reach (especially since Pomona offers the points-and-a-half format) but if you want to challenge Torrence, it’s going to take nothing less than a dominant win here.
Since the start of the Countdown, he’s got a win, a runner-up, and two semifinal appearances which helps explain how he’s moved from seventh to third in the standings. Can he still win the championship? Probably not without sweeping the final two events and getting a lot of help, but he’s certainly in contention for race wins.
Bristol was a stinker with a rare round one loss but at the same time, he ran 3.69 in qualifying so the news wasn’t all bad. The bottom line here is that this car can run with anyone in the field and it’s entirely possible that he takes out one of the championship contenders on race day.
Even though they’ve won just one round since Indy, we’re going to give the Matco Tools team the benefit of the doubt here because they are the defending event champs of the 2020 Las Vegas Fall race. There is no doubt these guys are building for the future, but that doesn’t mean they can’t finish this season on a high note.
There is a pattern here over the last few races with the Capco car. They qualify well and win the first round without too much trouble. Then, they struggle a bit in the quarterfinals. This is a team that can and does win races so they’ll probably just need a minor break or two in order to get back on track with a semifinal or better finish.
Bristol began on a promising note with a 3.69 in qualifying that was easily enough to secure a top half starting spot. Then, tire smoke on Sunday ended the Mopar team’s chances for a victory. She was a runner-up here in 2018 so there should be some reason to think this weekend will produce a better result.
It’s hard to say this is the best car in the class right now but they’ve got the points lead so it’s a given that almost anyone else in the field would gladly trade places. He’s won here five times, but that last victory came in 2012 so it’s been a while. The primary goal here is to win one more round than Hagan but obviously, a win would be a nice bonus.
He’s been relegated to second place, but it's only by a single point that can be made up in the first qualifying session, and likely will be. He’s also been to the final round in five of the last seven Las Vegas races and has three wins.
No matter how good or bad the rest of his year goes, he’ll always have Las Vegas to look forward to since his record here includes three-straight wins in 2018-19. And, to be perfectly honest, he’s not completely out of the running for a second world title. A win here would really make Pomona interesting.
Speaking of those still in contention for a championship, he’s knocking on the door with a 101 point deficit to make up. If he can win this race and have even a slight hiccup by the leaders then we’re set for a knockdown, drag-out fight to the finish.
The Bristol win was a long time coming and very much overdue and there is every chance that it leads to more success. When it comes to Las Vegas she’s also got a great history at this track with wins here in 2014 and 2016, the latter coming at the expense of her crew chief, Del Worsham in the final.
Peak/Blue Def Chevy
It seems less and less likely that he’s going to win a 17th championship this season but then again, this is John Force and he’s made a career out of making the difficult seem possible. He’s in the same boat as his old rival Cruz Pedregon; win the race and hope those above you go out early,
Bob Tasca III
Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford
The last time we raced here at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last spring this is the guy who left holding the Wally which almost always inspires confidence for the next time. At this point the championship is just about the longest of longshots but a second Vegas title wouldn’t be surprising at all.
Auto Club Chevy
The best news here is that the Auto Club team was the low qualifier in Bristol which says a lot about potential. At some point, they’re going to turn the corner and start stringing together some win lights in Sunday, and it figures to happen sooner rather than later.
He is rolling into one of his favorite tracks with an 81 point lead in the Camping World NHRA standings, which means he’s very much in control of his own destiny. Anything less than a disaster should leave him in a strong position to seal the deal in Pomona while a win here would just about spell game over.
At this point it might be best to forget about the points and just focus on winning the race which is something the Elite team has done many times in Las Vegas including the last three times we’ve raced here. The bottom line is it ain’t over till it’s over.
Janac Bros. Camaro
He is having an amazing year no matter what he’s driving, and it isn’t over yet. Remember, he was a runner-up here in the Spring at the Four Wide race and he was in the semis at the last Pro Stock race in Dallas. He’s a prime contender to play the role of playoff spoiler.
RAD Torque Systems Camaro
There is an almost sure-fire way to break the apparent tie with Top Fuel racer Josh Hart for the Rookie of the Year honors and that would be to win one of the final two races (or both). He’s certainly got the ability and the car to get the job done.
Lucas Oil/Nitro Fish Camaro
A year ago, he officially announced his arrival in the Pro Stock class with a runner-up at this event. Since then, he’s made steady progress including his first victory. It surely, won’t be the last and given the competitive nature of the Pro Stock class, there’s no reason to think win No. 2 can’t come this week.
Harlow Sammons Camaro
The last two races have been pretty good for the Harlow Sammons team including a semifinal in St. Louis and a runner-up in Dallas. He tends to run well here but surprisingly hasn’t been to a final. This would be a perfect time to rectify that.
Troy Coughlin Jr.
Fun fact; he won his first national event here in Super Comp more than a decade ago. Wouldn’t it be fitting if he also got his first Pro Stock victory here as well? Don’t laugh, it could easily happen.
Total Seal Camaro
Let’s be honest for a minute; outside of the win in Houston, the Total Seal team hasn’t had the kind of year they expected but there’s still time to make up for lost time. A win here would go a long way towards making this a successful season.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
There isn’t anyone in any class who wouldn’t like to head into the final two races as the points leader and when you’d already won four championships, you know exactly what to expect. In his last four events, he’s won nine rounds which is fantastic, but there is still much work to be done.
Vance & Hines/Mission Foods Suzuki
Her Bristol victory was inspiring for many reasons, not the least of which was the fact that she’s now well within striking distance of leader Matt Smith. She doesn’t necessarily have to win this race, but she’s going to need to keep pace with the Denso team in order to challenge for world title No. 4.
Despite the tough showing in Bristol, don’t count him out just yet. A 56 point deficit isn’t a lot to make up, especially with the bonus points available in Pomona. It might not top the drama of 2019, but a win here would make for an amazing finish to the 2021 season.
Vance & Hines Buell
At this point, it would take an amazing finish in order to win the championship and we’re talking most likely about a sweep of the final two events and some help from outside. It’s possible, but not likely. As for winning this race, that’s definitely a possibility although he hasn’t won here since 2017.
Big St. Charles/Skillman Suzuki
Any bike that can run 6.77 in the think mountain air near Bristol is going to merit respect and when you add a rider who can often hit the Tree with consistency, you’ve got a winning combination. And, this is essentially a home race for whatever that’s worth.
The Pro Stock Motorcycle class has reached the point where eight or more bikes are capable of winning on a given weekend and this is most certainly one of them. He’s also coming off an impressive No. 1 qualifying effort at the last event in Bristol.
White Alligator Suzuki
Based on Karen Stoffer’s performance in Bristol, the White Alligator team is beginning to get a handle on their four-valve engine program which bodes well for their flagship entry. He win this race in 2016 and it was a key victory on his way to a championship.
Defending event champion has lost to her husband, Matt in the last two events so priority No. 1 should be qualifying on opposite sides of the ladder. An all-Smith final round on Sunday would be a jackpot as far as the championship battle is concerned.