After a solid outing at the recent NHRA New England Nationals, where he correctly picked Matt Hagan and Erica Enders to win in Funny Car and Pro Stock, and labeled Top Fuel winner Mike Salinas as one of the favorites, Tricky Tipster is back to offer his selections for the Thunder Valley Nationals in Bristol.
Honestly, picking Hagan, Enders, or Salinas right now isn’t much of a gamble since they’re three of the hottest drivers in the sport but its one thing to be a favorite and quite another to leave on Sunday with the Wally.
The annual NHRA stop in Bristol presents a few unique challenges. For one, the picturesque Thunder Valley Dragway represents a bit of a wild card since it is an altitude track with a tendency for varying weather patterns.
This time, we’re going to take a couple of chances so our favorites will be Brittany Force, Hagan, Aaron Stanfield, and Angie Smith in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
The favorite: Yes, Mike Salinas won in Epping and he’s off to the best start in his career with three victories so far, but he didn’t have the best car in Epping. Arguably, that honor could go to either low qualifier Steve Torrence, or current points leader Brittany Force. In this case, we’re going with Force as the favorite. Force made a pair of 3.70 runs on Sunday in Epping, but lost to teammate Austin Prock via a holeshot in round two. Force’s driving is much improved this season, but it’s obviously still a work in progress so look for a quick rebound from the Monster team.
The contenders: Salinas has climbed to within 30 points of the lead in Top Fuel so he’s clearly someone to watch as the tour heads to Bristol. He was admittedly not at his best in Epping but that didn’t matter. He found a way to get the job done which is exactly what championship-winning organizations do best.
Speaking of championship winning organizations, Steve Torrence was the low qualifier in Epping and set the track record with a 3.66 in his Capco Contractors dragster and he appeared primed for a long day on Sunday until he smoked the tires against Scott Farley. It’s safe to say that the Capco team is officially overdue for a victory and it seems almost certain they’ll get one by the Western Swing if not before.
Once again, we’ve got our eyes on Force’s teammate, Austin Prock, who also seems overdue for his first win of the season. Prock went to the semifinals of the Epping event, and it appears the Montana Brands team is beginning to hit their stride.
The dark horse: Based on their results in Epping, we like the Kalitta Motorsports team, particularly Doug Kalitta who enjoyed one of his best outings of the season with a quarterfinal finish. Granted, a quarterfinal isn’t usually much to get excited about, but the Kalitta team as a whole enjoyed a strong weekend with all three of their entries winning a round while Shawn Langdon went to the semifinals. They will most certainly improve as the season goes on.
Brittany Force Monster Energy 3-1
Steve Torrence Capco 4-1
Mike Salinas Scrappers 5-1
Austin Prock Montana Brands 6-1
Justin Ashley Phillips Connect 8-1
Leah Pruett Dodge Power Brokers 9-1
Tony Schumacher SCAG/Maynard 10-1
Clay Millican Parts Plus 11-1
Doug Kalitta Mac Tools 12-1
Antron Brown Matco Tools 14-1
The favorite: As this point, it would be criminal to go with anyone other than Matt Hagan who is the hottest driver in the sport right now. Hagan has already banked 23 round wins this season and he (along with Robert Hight) are running away with the points battle. Hagan’s record at Bristol (which he considers one of his home tracks) includes a win in 2015 and a runner-up in 2016.
The contenders: For the second-straight race Robert Hight is more of a co-favorite than he is a leading contender, which means we wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him racing against Hagan in the final round. Hight went toe-to-toe with Hagan in Epping but came up on the short end of the final. Hight’s record at Bristol includes a victory during the 2011 season so he does know his way to the winner’s circle.
Lately, Ron Capps has faded a bit while Hagan and Hight have traded blows but the reigning world champ is still very much in the mix with his Dean Antonella and John Medlen-led NAPA team. If history is any lesson, Capps actually has a better record in Bristol than Hight and Hagan combined with four wins including back-to-back victories in 2017-18.
The dark horse: A past world champion probably doesn’t fit the description of a longshot but let’s go with J.R. Todd, who is coming off an impressive semifinal showing in Epping. Todd, like the rest of the Kalitta Motorsports team, has struggled for much of this season, but looked much better last weekend which provides optimism going forward. Todd was also in the final round of last year’s Bristol event, finishing as a runner-up to Alexis DeJoria.
Matt Hagan Dodge Power Brokers Dodge 2-1
Robert Hight Auto Club Chevy 3-1
Ron Capps NAPA Dodge 5-1
John Force Peak/Blu Def Chevy 6-1
J.R. Todd DHL Toyota 7-1
Cruz Pedregon Snap-on Dodge 8-1
Bob Tasca III Motorcraft Ford 9-1
Tim Wilkerson LRS Ford 10-1
Blake Alexander Head Racing Ford 13-1
Alexis DeJoria Bandero Toyota 15-1
The favorite: Remember the last time that Erica Enders lost a round of Pro Stock racing? It’s okay if you don’t because its been a while. For the record, Enders lost in the opening round of the Amalie Gatornationals in the worst way possible; losing on a holeshot while setting the national record at 6.45. Since then, she’s been perfect with wins in Las Vegas, Houston, and Epping to take command of the points battle. Winning four races in a row is incredibly difficult in any class, especially Pro Stock but the Elite team seems to always find a little something extra when they need it the most. That’s good enough for Tipster.
The contenders: Once again, the list of leading contenders has to include Aaron Stanfield, Kyle Koretsky, and Dallas Glenn for starters. Stanfield is especially noteworthy since he’s coming off an impressive final round showing in Epping. He did not have the best car, but managed to drive his way to the final in order to protect his place in the standings.
Koretsky and Glenn lost in the quarterfinals, but both were competitive as was KB Racing team leader Greg Anderson, who is still seeking his 100th career victory. Anderson struggled in qualifying in Epping, but came to life in eliminations where he defeated rookie Camrie Caruso in round one.
The darkhorse: There’s a lot we could pick from, but this week lets zero in on two; Deric Kramer and Mason McGaha. Kramer is coming off his best qualifying performance of the year in Epping and he drove his Get Biofuels Camaro to the quarterfinals where he dropped a close battle against Stanfield.
McGaha remains a frontrunner to become NHRA’s next first-time pro winner. He went to the semi’s in Epping and could have easily made the final if not for a frustrating -.002 red-light against Enders, who shook the tires.
Erica Enders Elite/Melling Camaro 2-1
Aaron Stanfield Janac Bros/J3 Energy Camaro 4-1
Dallas Glenn RAD Torque Systems Camaro 5-1
Greg Anderson HendrickCars.com Camaro 7-1
Kyle Koretsky Lucas Oil Products Camaro 8-1
Mason McGaha Harlow Sammons Camaro 9-1
Deric Kramer Get Bio Fuel Camaro 11-1
Camrie Caruso SHA Camaro 9-1
Matt Hartford Total Seal Camaro 10-1
Chris McGaha Harlow Sammons Camaro 12-1
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
The favorite: Tipster isn’t afraid to take a gamble every now and then and this week, he’s going to roll the dice and take a shot at Angie Smith and why the heck not? For one, she’s off to a solid start this season and looked especially good in her Gainesville runner-up finish. Smith is also one of the few riders still on a Buell V-twin and recent weight adjustments would seem to favor that combination. This is only the second time the Pro Stock Motorcycle class has raced in Bristol (not counting the two no-points events in the 1990s) so there is also a bit of an unknown in the racetrack.
The contenders: The leading contenders for a Bristol win include Matt Smith and Steve Johnson, who have already traded wins (and insluts) this year, as well as Karen Stoffer, Angelle Sampey, and Eddie Krawiec.
Johnson would seem to have the best shot as he’s coming off a very impressive showing that includes wins in Houston and Charlotte to go with a runner-up in Richmond. Johnson would likely be the favorite if not for the rules adjustment and the effect it may or may not have on the Suzuki entries.
Matt Smith is perhaps the savviest racer in the history of the class which means he’s a threat to win anytime and anyplace. In fact, the reigning champ might be best suited to adapt to the tricky Bristol surface.
Finally, Vance & Hines teammates Krawiec and Sampey appear to be on the right track after some early struggles with their Suzuki entries.
The darkhorse: We’ve gone down this road a few times before but it bears repeating that we have yet to see the best of Joey Gladstone. He’s got talent to spare but needs some luck to finally get over the hump. He’s also based in Virginia, which makes Bristol something of a home race.
Angie Smith Denso Buell 3-1
Steve Johnson Slick 50 Suzuki 7-2
Matt Smtih Denso Suzuki 4-1
Karen Stoffer Big St. Charles Suzuki 5-1
Eddie Krawiec Vance & Hines Suzuki 6-1
Angelle Sampey Vance & Hines Suzuki 7-1
Jerry Savoie White Alligator Suzui 8-1
Joey Gladstone Reed Motorsports Suzuki 9-1
Jimmy Underdahl Scrappers Suzuki 11-1
Ryan Oehler Flyin’ Ryan Buell 14-1