We learned a lot from back-to-back NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series events in Houston and Charlotte, including the fact that the Top Fuel class is completely unpredictable. In Funny Car, we also learned that John Force still has some gas left in the tank at age 73 and that Matt Hagan will be a threat to win his fourth title this season. Finally, we learned that Steve Johnson is riding arguably the best bike in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class, and he’s going to be a handful the rest of the season.
Now comes the tricky part; predicting the winners for this week’s Virginia NHRA Nationals. NHRA hasn’t been to Richmond since the 2019 season, and much has changed, but Tipster feels comfortable labeling Brittany Force, Hagan, and Johnson as the pre-race favorites.
The favorite: After winning in Las Vegas and Houston, Brittany Force took a slight step backwards in Charlotte, but we’re willing to overlook one race. The fact is that that Monster Energy dragster is still the quickest car in the class and the track record holder almost everywhere we go (although not at VIR). Regardless, we’re going to give the nod to Force simply because she’s got an ever-so-slight performance advantage over the rest of the very deep and talented field.
The contenders: It’s been a while, but some fans will remember that Steve Torrence won the last Richmond event in 2019, and since then, he’s won 20 more times and won championships in 2019, 2020, and 2021. Torrence is still looking for his first win this season, and at this point, it's fair to say the Capco team is overdue.
It's also worth taking a long hard look at Mike Salinas after his recent four-wide win in Charlotte. Salinas has banked two wins this season, and with Rob Flynn at the helm, he appears destined to contend for the championship all season long.
And then there is Justin Ashley, who has a win this season and comes into Richmond as the third-ranked driver in the class. Ashley is just 46-points out of first place, so it’s entirely possible that he could leave Richmond as the championship leader if everything fell into place perfectly.
The dark horse: How about the current Virginia Motorsports Park track record holder, Clay Millican? Millican ran 3.749 back in 2019, and while that mark is almost certainly toast, he’s clearly got a car that works well in Richmond. Millcan’s team is still adjusting to new crew chief Jim Oberhofer, but the Parts Plus team is hanging tough at No. 5 in the standings. They just need a break or two to make the final.
Brittany Force Monster Energy 3-1
Steve Torrence Capco 4-1
Mike Salinas Scrappers 5-1
Justin Ashley Phillips Connect 6-1
Austin Prock Montana Brands 8-1
Leah Pruett Dodge Power Brokers 9-1
Tony Schumacher SCAG/Maynard 10-1
Antron Brown Matco Tools 10-1
Doug Kalitta Mac Tools 12-1
The favorite: In six races this season, Matt Hagan has two wins, two runner-up finishes, and 16-4 record in elimination rounds. He also happens to be a Virginia native, although he admittedly lives closer to Charlotte and Bristol than he does to Richmond. Hagan has won at least one NHRA national event at 19 different venues but not at Virginia Motorsports Park. This could easily be the week that the Dodge Power Brokers team makes it an even 20.
The contenders: Much like Top Fuel, there is serious parity in the Funny Car class, which means that Hagan has plenty of company at the top of the charts. We can start with Ron Capps, Robert Hight, and John Force, each of the multitime world champs. They’ve also each won at least one race this season.
Hight is just 22 points out of first place while Capps is very much in the running with 66 points to make up. Force, the winner of the most recent event in Charlotte, is 192 points out of first place, but there are a lot of races left before the start of the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
The dark horse: It’s hard to label a two-time world champion and 80-time national event finalist as a dark horse, but that’s where we find Cruz Pedregon this week. The Snap-on Tools team had a fantastic 2021 season under the leadership of John Collins, but they’re still trying to recapture that magic this season. Pedregon has been solid in qualifying this season, having been ranked no lower than No. 7 at any event. That should help make the road easier on race day.
Matt Hagan Dodge Power Brokers Dodge 4-1
Ron Capps NAPA Dodge 5-1
John Force Peak/Blu Def Chevy 6-1
Robert Hight Auto Club Chevy 7-1
Bob Tasca III Motorcraft Ford 8-1
Cruz Pedregon Snap-on Dodge 9-1
Tim Wilkerson LRS Ford 10-1
Blake Alexander Head Racing Ford 13-1
J.R. Todd DHL Toyota 13-1
Alexis DeJoria Bandero Toyota 14-1
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
The favorite: After back-to-back wins in Houston and Charlotte, this honor can’t go to anyone other than Steve Johnson. It remains to be seen whether he can keep pace for an entire season, but for now, this is the best bike in the class. Not only is he the favorite to win a third straight race, but he’s also likely to crush Hector Arana Jr.’s modest 6.795 track record. Winning three races in a row is a tall order for any racer in any class, so this is far from a lock, but for now, Johnson has the edge.
The contenders: Steve Johnson has won the last two events, but let’s not forget that Karen Stoffer won in Gainesville and set the record with a pair of amazing 6.6-second runs. Stoffer was a semifinalist in Houston and a runner-up in Charlotte, so she’s not far from the front of the pack.
And then there is Matt Smith and his wife, Angie. Matt was a runner-up to Johnson in Houston, but he’s making steady progress in his return to a Suzuki. As for Angie Smith, her odds improved this week when an NHRA rules revision added 10 pounds to the Suzuki entries. She already had a quick bike, and she should be even more competitive this week.
The dark horse: For Charlotte, we went with Jimmy Underdahl as our dark horse, and we’re going to stick with him this week. While he’s never won a race, it’s fair to say he’s never had a bike that has been as competitive as the Scrappers Suzuki he’s currently riding. Underdahl made a pair of 200-mph runs in Charlotte, and there appears to be more left. This week marks the return of his teammate, Jianna Salinas, so it would be the perfect time for him to grab his first victory.
Steve Johnson MacRak Suzuki 3-1
Matt Smith Denso Buell 4-1
Karen Stoffer Big St. Charles Suzuki 5-1
Angie Smith Denso Buell 6-1
Eddie Krawiec Vance & Hines Suzuki 6-1
Jimmy Underdahl Scrappers Suzuki 7-1
Angelle Sampey Vance & Hines Suzuki 9-1
Jerry Savoie White Alligator Suzuki 10-1
Joey Gladstone Reed Racing Suzuki 11-1
Ryan Oehler Flyin’ Ryan Buell 12-1