After three long years, the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series tour will return to Pacific Raceways in Washington for the Flav-R-Pac NHRA Northwest Nationals, the third and final stop on the annual Western Swing.
We already know that no driver will sweep the Swing this year as none of the Denver champions were able to repeat in Sonoma last week. Instead, championship favorites got back on track, as Brittany Force continued her winning ways in Top Fuel while Erica Enders quickly overcame the disappointment of an early Denver loss with her fifth Pro Stock win of 2022. In Funny Car, Bob Tasca III went to the final round for the third straight race and delivered his first win of the season.
Not surprisingly, Force and Enders will be the favorites again this week, and Denver champ Robert Hight rates a slim edge against a tough Funny Car field.
The favorite: Coming off a sub-par Denver showing, Brittany Force and her Monster Energy/Flav-R-Pac team delivered a dominating performance in Sonoma that included a booming 337-mph top speed. Force has now won four of the first 12 events of the season and has retaken the lead in the Camping World Top Fuel standings. She’s never won in Seattle, but then again, we haven’t raced here since 2019, so opportunities have been limited.
The contenders: Yes, we know that Mike Salinas, Justin Ashley, and Steve Torrence will be tough, but two other drivers that come to mind are Leah Pruett and Austin Prock. Coming off a breakout win in Denver, Pruett and her Dodge Power Brokers team quickly adjusted to Sonoma’s sea-level conditions and delivered a 3.689 to take the top spot. Seattle’s conditions can be similar to those in Sonoma, so that should be a good omen.
As for Prock, he’s the defending event champion, even if it was three years ago. This year has been a mixed bag for the former rookie of the year with a runner-up to start the season in Pomona and two other semifinals. With four races remaining in the regular season, he’s got an 11-12 record in elimination rounds and is ranked No. 8 in the stacked Top Fuel field.
The dark horse: Tipster thinks it’s about time that Doug Kalitta gets the respect he deserves, especially after a very strong outing in Sonoma. Kalitta qualified No. 2 with a strong 3.694 and reached the semifinals for the first time in 2022. When the Kalitta Motorsports team added Alan Johnson and Brian Husen, most expected an adjustment period, but few expected it to last for half a season. Now, it appears they’ve made enough progress to justify a championship run.
Brittany Force Flav-R-Pac 3-1
Mike Salinas Scrappers 4-1
Leah Pruett Dodge Power Brokers 5-1
Steve Torrence Capco 6-1
Justin Ashley Phillips Connect 7-1
Austin Prock Montana Brands 8-1
Doug Kalitta Mac Tools 9-1
Shawn Langdon DHL 10-1
Antron Brown Matco Tools 12-1
Tony Schumacher SCAG/Maynard 16-1
The favorite: Robert Hight’s dreams of a Western Swing sweep ended in Sonoma when the Auto Club Camaro dropped a tight race against eventual winner Bob Tasca III in the semifinals. At this point, we’re sure Hight would gladly accept a Seattle victory as a nice consolation prize, and there’s little reason to think he won’t deliver. Hight won his lone Seattle title in 2017 and also qualified No. 1 that year. It’s going to be close, but he’s our pre-race favorite by a very slim margin.
The contenders: Given his recent performance, including a Sonoma victory, it’s very tempting to list Bob Tasca III as our Seattle favorite. In fact, Tasca and Hight could easily be considered co-favorites. Tasca has never won in Seattle, but he was a runner-up to Matt Hagan in 2013. With a 10-2 record in the last four events, Tasca is rolling right now, so it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see him square off against Hight in the final on Sunday.
To put it mildly, the Western Swing has not been kind to Matt Hagan. After smoking the tires against Jack Wyatt in Denver, the three-time champion qualified No. 11 and lost another first-round match in Sonoma, this time to Cruz Pedregon. Luckily for Hagan and the Dodge Power Brokers team, there is still time to salvage something out of the Swing, but it’s hard to imagine that anything less than a victory would be satisfactory.
Reigning world champ Ron Capps has also not had the sort of Western Swing he’d hoped for with just one round-win in two events. It’s well-known that Capps won his first NHRA event in Seattle in Top Fuel in 1995, but he’s also got three Funny Car wins. Adding a fourth this week would be huge.
Finally, John Force is the all-time leader in Seattle wins, and it's not even close. Force has nine wins in 11 final rounds, and he’s technically the defending event winner, having won his landmark 150th title in 2019.
The dark horse: Between qualifying with a third-best 3.867 and reaching the semifinals on Sunday, Alexis DeJoria and her Bandero Tequila team looked awfully good in Sonoma. DeJoria has been to the semifinals three times in the first half of the season, and it seems likely that her first final round isn’t too far off.
Robert Hight Auto Club Chevy 2-1
Bob Tasca III Motorcraft Ford 3-1
John Force Peak/Blu Def Chevy 5-1
Matt Hagan Dodge Power Brokers Dodge 6-1
Alexis DeJoria Bandero Toyota 7-1
Ron Capps NAPA Dodge 9-1
Cruz Pedregon Snap-on Dodge 10-1
J.R. Todd DHL Toyota 11-1
Tim Wilkerson LRS Ford 13-1
The favorite: When Erica Enders lost in the first round in Denver, we figured it wouldn’t take long for the Elite team to extract revenge on the field, so it wasn’t surprising to see them return to the winner’s circle in Sonoma. Enders had previously never won in Sonoma, but her lone Seattle win came in 2012. Given the strength of her Melling/Elite Camaro, previous results don’t count for much as she’s got a car that’s easily capable of winning any time and any place. Enders has a shot to make some serious history this season, and a Seattle win would be another piece in that puzzle.
The contenders: This is Pro Stock 2022, so there are numerous contenders. In fact, it’s not a stretch to think any one of the 16 qualifiers is capable of winning this race. That being said, Aaron Stanfield is off to a tremendous start with a 24-8 record with two wins in six finals. Matt Hartford is also on the scoreboard with a huge confidence-boosting win in Denver.
Greg Anderson is still looking for his 100th career Pro Stock win, and with three Seattle victories on his résumé, he’s got a long history of success in the Pacific Northwest.
This race is also a big event for Dallas Glenn, who finally gets to race in Pro Stock at his home track. Glenn is very familiar with Pacific Raceways, and after dropping from No. 4 to No. 5 in the standings after Sonoma, he’d love to right the ship.
The darkhorse: We’re going to stick with our Sonoma prediction here and give the nod to Bo Butner and Troy Coughlin Jr., both of whom have made steady progress lately. Coughlin qualified No. 5 in Denver and No. 3 in Sonoma, so he’s obviously worked out a few bugs with his JEGS.com Camaro. The same could be said for Butner, who qualified in the top half of the field at both events. Either one could be this season’s next Pro Stock winner.
Erica Enders Elite/Melling Camaro 2-1
Aaron Stanfield Janac Bros/J3 Energy Camaro 3-1
Greg Anderson HendrickCars.com Camaro 5-1
Matt Hartford Total Seal Camaro 6-1
Dallas Glenn RAD Torque Systems Camaro 7-1
Troy Coughlin Jr. JEGS.com Camaro 8-1
Mason McGaha Harlow Sammons Camaro 9-1
Bo Butner JHG Camaro 10-1
Kyle Koretsky Lucas Oil Products Camaro 11-1
Chris McGaha Harlow Sammons Camaro 12-1