There is a general sentiment among all drag racers that a career is not complete without at least one U.S. Nationals victory. For what it’s worth, Tipster could not agree more.
Even those drivers who have won Indy before want to win again, and again, and again because the hallowed grounds of Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park is the place where legends are made.
Of course, this is also the final event before the start of the highly anticipated Countdown to the Championship playoffs, so just in case there wasn’t already enough pressure, let’s add some more.
In Brainerd, Tipster put the barrel of the bat squarely on the ball twice when he picked Steve Torrence and Bob Tasca III to win in Top Fuel and Funny Car. To no one’s surprise, they’ll be the favorites again, and they’ll be joined by Erica Enders in Pro Stock and Joey Gladstone in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
The favorite: The Capco team is back, or are they? Well, Steve Torrence’s most recent win in Brainerd was hardly a Rembrandt, but the sport’s most successful team over the last five years played the cards they were dealt and played them well. The competition in Indy will be out of control with 25 Top Fuel dragsters on the entry list, but only one of them willy carry a No. 1 on the rear wing, and that’s the Capco entry.
The contenders: We’re not kidding when we say there are at least a dozen Top Fuel dragsters capable of winning this event, and given the long history of upsets and underdogs at the Big Go, that list might actually be a bit longer. For starters, we’ll go with the obvious, which includes points leaders Brittany Force, Mike Salinas, and Justin Ashley. None of them have won the U.S. Nationals, although Ashley’s first win came here in the summer event in 2020.
The list of contenders should also include Josh Hart, who seems overdue for his first win of the season as well as Tony Schumacher and Antron Brown, who are both quite familiar with the feeling that goes with winning Indy.
The dark horse: Tripp Tatum has run just three events this season, but he’s made the most of his limited opportunities with a convincing victory in Gainesville last March. Tatum didn’t just win in Gainesville, he was also the low qualifier with a 3.67, so he’s a part-time player that runs like a full-time entry. Let’s also add Doug Foley to the mix because he raced in the Gainesville final round alongside Tatum.
Steve Torrence Capco 4-1
Brittany Force Monster Energy 5-1
Justin Ashley Phillips Connect 6-1
Tony Schumacher SCAG/Maynard 7-1
Josh Hart R+L Carriers 8-1
Doug Kalitta Mac Tools 9-1
Antron Brown Matco Tools 10-1
Mike Salinas Scrappers 11-1
Leah Pruett Dodge Power Brokers 12-1
Billy Torrence Capco Contractors 14-1
The favorite: At this point in the season, it seems like a no-brainer to pick Bob Tasca III because he's been to the final round in five of the last six events and has won three of the last four events. Sometimes, it’s hard to maintain that sort of momentum, especially when one considers the pressure that goes with racing in Indy. Fortunately, Tasca’s crew chief is Mike Neff, who knows very well how to shine on NHRA’s biggest stage. It won’t be easy, but the Motorcraft team rates a slim edge against the rest of the field.
The contenders: So, Robert Hight didn’t win either of the last two events, that hardly qualifies as a slump. It stands to reason that the Auto Club team will be just fine once the playoffs start, and, of course, they tend to do just fine in Indy with three prior wins. This car should likely be the co-favorite alongside Tasca.
It's also fair to rate Ron Capps and Matt Hagan as contenders because they’ve already won races this year and have a solid record heading into the Countdown. Let’s also add J.R. Todd and John Force because, well, they’re both world champs who handle pressure exceptionally well.
The dark horse: It’s temping to go with Tim Wilkerson here because he’s won Indy twice, or possibly even Alexis DeJoria who also has an Indy win to her credit. Better yet, let’s go with Bobby Bode, who seems overdue for some good luck, and for good measure, we’ll throw in Blake Alexander because this event marks the 38th anniversary of team owner Jim Head’s incredible Indy Funny Car win in 1984.
Bob Tasca III Motorcraft Ford 3-1
Robert Hight Auto Club Chevy 4-1
Ron Capps NAPA Dodge 5-1
J.R. Todd DHL Toyota 6-1
Matt Hagan Dodge Power Brokers Dodge 7-1
John Force Peak/Blu Def Chevy 8-1
Alexis DeJoria Bandero Toyota 9-1
Tim Wilkerson LRS Ford 11-1
Cruz Pedregon Snap-on Dodge 13-1
Bobby Bode Arbee Dodge 15-1
The favorite: Erica Enders wins just about everywhere, including the U.S. Nationals, which she’s won twice. Given the fact that she’s in the midst of perhaps the best season of her career, the stage would appear to be set for Enders to grab a third win this season. So far, Enders has appeared to be immune to almost everything her opponents throw at her, but perhaps its worth noting that she’s lost twice this season to Mason McGaha and twice to her teammate Troy Coughlin Jr. That accounts for four of her six losses.
The contenders: He’s not quite ready to bump Enders from the top spot, but Troy Coughlin Jr. is certainly among the leading contenders after picking up his first two Pro Stock wins in Sonoma and Seattle. Coughlin has finally begun to fulfill the promise he showed when he replaced his uncle, Jeg, at the wheel of the JEGS.com Camaro. Oh yeah, and Troy Jr. already has two Indy wins, one in Super Comp and one in Super Gas.
Let’s also give some credit to Aaron Stanfield, who was money earlier this season and is still a big threat to win the championship. Stanfield hasn’t won a race since Bristol, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him win in Pro Stock and/or the Constant Aviation NHRA Factory Stock Showdown.
Finally, wouldn’t it be fitting for Greg Anderson to finally bag his 100th career Pro Stock win in Indy? Don’t laugh, it could happen. Anderson’s HendrickCars.com Camaro has shown improvement lately, so it’s up to the reigning champ and six-time Indy winner to get the clutch out on time.
The dark horse: So, who might get their first career win in Indy? The most likely candidates include Mason McGaha, Cristian and Fernando Cuadra Jr., as well as rookie of the year frontrunner Camrie Caruso.
We’re hesitant to label him as a dark horse, but Matt Hartford has been somewhat quiet since his big win in Denver. It doesn’t take much imagination to see the Total Seal entry snap out of it on Monday afternoon.
Erica Enders Melling/Elite Camaro 3-1
Troy Coughlin Jr. JEGS.com Camaro 4-1
Aaron Stanfield Janac Bros/J3 Energy Camaro 5-1
Greg Anderson Hendrick Cars.com Camaro 6-1
Dallas Glenn RAD Torque Systems Camaro 7-1
Kyle Koretsky Lucas Oil/NitroFish Camaro 8-1
Cristian Cuadra Corral Boots Mustang 9-1
Matt Hartford Total Seal Camaro 11-1
Bo Butner JHG Camaro 13-1
Mason McGaha Harlow Sammons Camaro 15-1
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
The favorite: Joey Gladstone is riding the wave right now with back-to-back wins in Sonoma and Topeka, and the Reed Motorsports rider doesn’t appear to be ready to let up anytime soon. It would be hard to argue that Gladstone isn’t the best rider in the class right now, and that he doesn’t have the best bike. That’s a tough combination if you’re one of his opponents, and there will be many in Indy with 22 bikes on the entry list. Gladstone is out leader this week simply because he’s earned it.
The contenders: Vance & Hines teammates Eddie Krawiec and Angelle Sampey are two riders who immediately come to mind when one mentions Indy because they’ve both won here before, and they come to the Big Go with two very fast Suzukis. Krawiec would seem to have the best shot simply because he’s won here three times, including last season.
Matt Smith can never be too far down this list just because he’s the most resourceful racer in the class, and he’s still in his prime as a rider.
Hector Arana Sr. and Jr., Steve Johnson, Jerry Savoie, and Scott Pollacheck are also former U.S. Nationals winners who are back for another shot at Indy glory.
The dark horse: With 22 bikes in the field, we have a lot to choose from here. Let’s start with Pollacheck, who won here in 2020 but decided to take the 2022 season off. He’s back for a one-off appearance aboard one of Matt Smith’s spare bikes, so he’ll certainly be competitive. Jerry Savoie won here in 2015 and 2019, and while he’s been a bit quiet lately, the White Alligator Racing team has been known to turn on a dime, and they’re sure to bring their best weapon to Indy.
Joey Gladstone Reed Motorsports Suzuki 3-1
Eddie Krawiec Vance & Hines Suzuki 4-1
Matt Smith Denso Suzuki 5-1
Angelle Sampey Vance & Hines Suzuki 6-1
Angie Smith Denso Buell 7-1
Jerry Savoie White Alligator Suzuki 8-1
Scotty Pollacheck Matt Smith Racing Buell 9-1
Karen Stoffer Skillman/Big St. Charles Suzuki 11-1
Steve Johnson MacRak Suzuki 13-1
Hector Arana Jr. Team Arana Buell 15-1