For more than three decades, Hartland Motorsports Park has been the sight of some of NHRA’s most dramatic moments, including the sport’s first four-second and 300-mph Funny Car runs.
When it comes to results, there have been a few upsets over the years, but for the most part, professional titles have gone to those who have been in title contention or at least have a solid history of success. That could be good news for incoming point leaders Brittany Force, Robert Hight, Erica Enders, and Angelle Sampey.
Including Topeka, there are just three races remaining before the start of the Countdown to the Championship for nitro drivers and just two for races in Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle, so it’s go time for anyone looking to make a move in the standings. To that end, here are Tricky Tipster’s selections for this week, and it’s no surprise that the leaders are favored in each class with the exception of Pro Stock Motorcycle, where we're going with Joey Gladstone by a slight margin.
The favorite: Following a quarterfinal finish in Denver, the rest of the Western Swing was kind to Brittany Force as she picked up a win in Sonoma and a runner-up finish in Seattle to stretch her lead over Mike Salinas to 75 points. With three races remaining, that’s certainly not an insurmountable advantage, but it does provide a bit of breathing room. Force is the defending event champ in Topeka, and while it’s unlikely that she’ll reel off a string of 3.6s given the forecast for warm weather, she should hold a slim lead against the rest of the field. It’s also worth noting that she’s 4-1 in final rounds this year, so the 2017 champ has clearly improved when it comes to closing the deal.
The contenders: The usual suspects include Mike Salinas, Justin Ashley, Steve Torrence, and even Josh Hart, who make up the top five in the standings.
Salinas is coming off a tough round-one loss in Seattle, but a week earlier, he went to the final at his home event in Sonoma. Obviously, he’s looking to close the gap on Force and would almost certainly need a late-round finish in order to do so.
Much has been made of Torrence’s 2022 season, and the fact that the four-time and reigning world champ is still winless after 13 races. Tipster did not have that on his Bingo card, but Torrence does have a respectable 17-13 record in elimination rounds this season, and he’s fourth in the standings, so there are a lot of things that have gone right for the Capco team. We get the overwhelming feeling that they’ll be there in the end.
Leah Pruett and Tony Schumacher each earned wins on the recently completed Western Swing, and it’s not an exaggeration to suggest those wins were critical. Now, the challenge is to duplicate that success. Pruett has moved from No. 12 to No. 6 in the standings, while Schumacher still sits No. 11. Both of them could use another strong showing.
The dark horse: Probably not as dark as one might think, but there are a few reasons to tail Clay Millican this week. For one, Millican reached the final round of last year’s Topeka race, which was run under similar weather conditions. The Parts Plus team has won just one round since the Charlotte four-wide event, so they are certainly overdue for some good luck.
Brittany Force Monster Energy 3-1
Mike Salinas Scrappers 4-1
Steve Torrence Capco 5-1
Justin Ashley Phillips Connect 7-1
Josh Hart R+L Carriers 8-1
Doug Kalitta Mac Tools 9-1
Leah Pruett Dodge Power Brokers 9-1
Shawn Langdon DHL 10-1
Tony Schumacher SCAG/Maynard 11-1
Antron Brown Matco Tools 12-1
The favorite: Robert Hight didn’t sweep the Western Swing, but he returned from Seattle with something that might be even more valuable than three Wallys: a huge 228-point lead in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series standings. Hight helped himself with two wins and a semifinal on the Swing, and he also benefitted from three straight round-one losses by Matt Hagan, his closest pursuer. It’s hard to imagine any situation where Hight doesn’t enter the Countdown as the top seed, and that affords the Auto Club team not only a bit of wiggle room but also a chance to test some things they might not otherwise have been willing to do during the regular season.
The contenders: Right on cue, Bob Tasca III stepped up and delivered his first win of the season in Sonoma and then came back to qualify No. 1 in Seattle. As a result, he’s moved to No. 5 in the standings but one could make the case that this is currently the second-best car in the country.
Conversely, Matt Hagan had a horrible Western Swing, as the Dodge team went winless in three races, but somehow managed to hang on to the No. 2 spot in the standings. There is nothing wrong with the Dodge team that one good outing won’t fix, and with the U.S. Nationals and the Countdown on the horizon, this would be a good time to get back on track.
It's also time to start taking J.R. Todd and the DHL team seriously, especially after their runner-up finish in Seattle. The entire Kalitta Motorsports team has shown a lot of improvement this summer, indicating their best days of the season might be ahead of them.
The dark horse: After sitting out a handful of races this summer, Chad Green needs to race his way into the Countdown, and he’s currently not a part of the Top 10. Green needs to pick up 17 points to pass Jim Campbell for the final spot, and he’s got three races to do so. Needless to say, this would be an ideal time for the former Pro Mod racer to make his first nitro final.
Robert Hight Auto Club Chevy 2-1
Bob Tasca III Motorcraft Ford 3-1
J.R. Todd DHL Toyota 4-1
Ron Capps NAPA Dodge 6-1
John Force Peak/Blue Def Chevy 7-1
Matt Hagan Dodge Power Brokers Dodge 8-1
Alexis DeJoria Bandero Toyota 9-1
Cruz Pedregon Snap-on Dodge 11-1
Tim Wilkerson LRS Ford 13-1
The favorite: There is no reason whatsoever to pick anyone other than Erica Enders as the favorite this week. While it’s true she’s only won this event once (2015), it doesn’t do much to diminish her odds. Enders did lose the Seattle final to teammate Troy Coughlin Jr., but that’s a minor flesh wound in a season that has seen the Elite team inflict a lot of damage on their opponents. She’s the favorite until someone steps up and says otherwise.
The contenders: Aaron Stanfield has been a contender for the entire season, and he’s clearly got the second-best car in the class, so he rightfully deserves some respect.
Based on recent results, it would be wise not to overlook Troy Coughlin Jr. as a contender. Coughlin scored his long-awaited first Pro win in Seattle, and it likely won’t be his last as his JEGS.com Chevy is among the quickest cars in the class now.
And then we have Greg Anderson, still sitting not-so-comfortably on 99 wins, and his KB Racing teammate, Dallas Glenn, who is the defending Topeka winner. We say this every week, but there are a dozen or more cars that can win any Pro Stock event, and that’s certainly true this weekend.
The dark horse: Now that Troy Coughlin Jr. has won his first Pro Stock event, who’s next? It could easily be Mason McGaha, Camrie Caruso, or either one of the three Cuadra family entries. Of the group, McGaha would seem to have the best shot, while Cristian Cuadra gets a lot of attention for his quick reaction times. Caruso has cooled a bit since her hot start, but clearly, she’s a better driver now than she was when her career began 11 races ago.
Erica Enders Elite/Melling Camaro 2-1
Aaron Stanfield Janac Bros/J3 Energy Camaro 3-1
Troy Coughlin Jr. JEGS.com Camaro 5-1
Greg Anderson HendrickCars.com Camaro 6-1
Dallas Glenn RAD Torque Systems Camaro 7-1
Kyle Koretsky Lucas Oil Products Camaro 8-1
Mason McGaha Harlow Sammons Camaro 9-1
Bo Butner JHG Camaro 10-1
Matt Hartford Total Seal Camaro 11-1
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
The favorite: There’s a number of qualified candidates for this honor, including championship leader Angelle Sampey, reigning champ Matt Smith, and four-time champ Eddie Krawiec, but we’re going to give the nod to Sonoma champ Joey Gladstone because, quite frankly, he’s earned it. Gladstone’s win in Wine Country was long overdue, and it’s entirely possible that the floodgates are now open, and he’s going to go on a tear. Remember, he’s just two points out of the lead in the Camping World standings.
The contenders: Angelle Sampey, Matt Smith, Eddie Krawiec, Jerry Savoie, Angie Smith, Jerry Savoie, Steve Johnson, and Karen Stoffer. Pick any one of them, and you’d stand a reasonable chance of cashing a ticket on Sunday afternoon. That being said, Sampey and Krawiec seem to have two of the best bikes in the class right now, although based on the weather forecast for Topeka (brutally hot), the Smith family might have an edge with their V-Twin bikes (assuming Matt chooses to ride his twin). Stoffer, Savoie, and Johnson have struggled a bit lately, but they each have a win this season, so there’s no reason to think they can’t repeat.
The dark horse: Anyone know which Steve Johnson will show up in Topeka? Will it be the one who qualified No. 2 and won back-to-back events in Houston and Charlotte, or the one who lost in the first round in Norwalk and Denver? Johnson led the championship standings until Denver, and now, he’s slipped to third. There is still time to get back on track and pursue a championship, but with two events before the Countdown starts, the clock is ticking.
Joey Gladstone Reed Motorsports Suzuki 3-1
Angelle Sampey Vance & Hines Suzuki 4-1
Matt Smith Denso Suzuki (maybe) 5-1
Eddie Krawiec Vance & Hines Suzuki 6-1
Angie Smith Denso Buell 7-1
Jerry Savoie White Alligator Suzuki 8-1
Karen Stoffer Big St. Charles Suzuki 9-1
Steve Johnson MacRak Suzuki 10-1