This week, we head to Tipster’s favorite track, The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, for the first of two four-wide events this season. Handicapping a four-wide race isn’t easy because there is so much potential for the unexpected. Then again, the same drivers seem to win year after year, so maybe picking a favorite isn’t that difficult after all.
It's certainly not hard to pick a favorite in Top Fuel because Steve Torrence is the acknowledged master of four-wide racing with six wins, including a sweep of last year’s races in Las Vegas and Charlotte.
Robert Hight won a pair of four-wide races, and he’s had arguably the best Funny Car this season, albeit by a slim margin over the rest of the field. Finally, in Pro Stock, Erica Enders would love nothing more than to put her holeshot loss in Gainesville in the rearview mirror, and Las Vegas would appear to be the perfect place to do just that because she’s won here seven times, including last year’s four-wide race.
The favorite: Steve Torrence hasn’t won yet this season, but does that mean Tipster shouldn’t pick him as a favorite? It does not. Torrence and his Capco team are too good to have a lengthy drought, so this is just about the perfect time to get win No. 1 on the season. He’s been in the mix at every event this season, but the cards simply haven’t fallen his way. We say this often, but Top Fuel is an all-out slugfest this year, and every win is going to have to be earned. Expect the reigning champ to do just that this week.
The contenders: Let’s start with Mike Salinas, who won his first event here during the 2019 season. Salinas has already won this season in Phoenix, and he ran well in Gainesville, including a round-win in the Pep Boys NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout race. It would be surprising if he’s not in the final “quad” alongside Torrence.
Two more drivers who we’d expect to make the final are JFR teammates Austin Prock and Brittany Force. Prock is just starting to come into his own as a nitro driver after more than a year on the sidelines. As for Force, she often brings the quickest car in the field into race day, and yes, her starting-line driving is noticeably better this year.
And then there is Justin Ashley, who makes a lot of headlines with his driving but hasn’t yet mastered the concept of four-wide racing. (Actually, does anyone ever really master it?). Regardless, he’s also someone to watch.
The dark horse: Let’s got with Tony Schumacher this week. Yes, he’s an eight-time champion and the sport’s most successful Top Fuel driver, but he’s also returning after along layoff with what is essentially a new team. That being said, he’s already run well at times this season, so it’s entirely reasonable to think the Maynard Family/Scag Mowers dragster will hit the pay window sooner rather than later.
Steve Torrence Capco 3-1
Mike Salinas Scrappers 4-1
Austin Prock Montana Brands 5-1
Brittany Force Monster Energy 6-1
Justin Ashley Phillips Connect 7-1
Josh Hart Burnyzz/Technet 8-1
Doug Kalitta Mac Tools 9-1
Antron Brown Matco Tools 7-1
Tony Schumacher SCAG/Maynard 8-1
Leah Pruett Dodge//SRT 14-1
The favorite: Robert Hight’s perfect 9-0 record to start the season vanished in Gainesville, but given the conditions and the lack of qualifying opportunities, we can’t and won’t hold that against him. Hight looked great in winning the first two races of the season, especially in Phoenix. The weather conditions in Las Vegas figure to be similar, so that would likely favor the Auto Club team. Hight also isn’t fazed by the four-wide format, so he gets the nod again this week as our favorite.
The contenders: We can start with Matt Hagan, because he is coming off a win in Gainesville that was the first for new NHRA team owner Tony Stewart. Hagan runs well just about everywhere, and he’s got no inherent problems with the sometimes confusing nature of four-wide racing, so we can pencil him in for the final quad. The same goes for reigning world champion Ron Capps, who is off to a great start, and let’s also take a shot at Bob Tasca III, who often runs well in Las Vegas with his Motorcraft Quicklane Ford.
Two other drivers worth mentioning are John Force and J.R. Todd. Force historically shines in four-wide races, and Todd has a great record in Las Vegas.
The dark horse: Las Vegas loves underdogs, so let's take a real poke here and go with Chad Green. OK, he has just 13 races in a nitro Funny Car, but he did reach the semifinals in Gainesville just two weeks ago, and he ended Hight’s winning streak at nine rounds. Tim Wilkerson has this car running solidly in the threes, and that will go a long way in the often wacky world of four-wide racing.
Robert Hight Auto Club Camaro 3-1
Matt Hagan Dodge//SRT Dodge 4-1
Bob Tasca III Motorcraft Ford 5-1
Ron Capps NAPA Dodge 6-1
Cruz Pedregon Snap-on Dodge 6-1
John Force Peak/Blu Def Chevy 7-1
J.R. Todd DHL Toyota 8-1
Tim Wilkerson LRS Ford 9-1
Alexis DeJoria Bandero Toyota 10-1
Chad Green Bond Coat Ford 15-1
The favorite: If you are the type that sees the glass as half-empty, you’ll dwell on Erica Enders’ holeshot loss in Gainesville. If you tend to see things from a half-full perspective, you’ll realize she ran a 6.45, which makes her the quickest Pro Stock driver in the history of the class. She’s quicker than Jason Line’s previous record of 6.455 and quicker than Jimmy Alund’s European record of 6.458, both achieved with carburetors, hood scoops, and no 10,500-rev limiter. So, Enders has an insanely quick car, and she’s headed to a track that has accounted for seven wins in her career, including last year’s four-wide event. In the gambling world, this is what we call chalk.
The contenders: Who was the runner-up to Enders last year at the Las Vegas four-wide? Oh, it was her teammate, Aaron Stanfield, who is already having a great year and should be able to go nearly toe to toe with Enders. Stanfield is also on a hot streak, having won the Top Dragster title at last week’s Division 4 event.
Who else should make the final quad? How about Dallas Glenn, who just won in Gainesville and also won the last time we raced in Las Vegas last November. Let’s also take a look at Kyle Koretsky, who was a runner-up to Glenn in Gainesville. Koretsky’s father, Kenny, has enjoyed many memorable moments in Las Vegas, and a win here might top all of them.
The dark horse: He’s No. 9 in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series standings and has won just two rounds in the first three races, but we like Deric Kramer’s chances this week. Why, you ask? Well, he’s qualified No. 5 at every race this year, and with upwards of 18 to 20 cars trying to get in the show, that’s not a small feat. Kramer had a dreadful 2021 season, with just 12 round-wins in 17 races, but we all know he’s better than that. For what it’s worth, Michael Hiner is also one of Pro Stock’s most underrated crew chiefs. Look for a better result this time around.
Erica Enders Melling/Elite 2-1
Aaron Stanfield Janac Bros. 7-2
Dallas Glenn RAD Torque Systems 3-1
Kyle Koretsky Lucas Oil/Nitro Fish 4-1
Mason McGaha Harlow Sammons 8-1
Greg Anderson HendrickCars.com 5-1
Troy Coughlin Jr. JEGS.com/Elite 6-1
Matt Hartford Speed Pro 10-1
Chris McGaha Harlow Sammons 10-1
Bo Butner JHG/Butner Auto 11-1
Deric Kramer Get Biofuel 12-1