Three races down and three to go in the Countdown to the Championship and one gets the feeling that the old saying, “You ain’t seen nothing yet,” applies to the ongoing points battles in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, and Pro Stock Motorcycle.
While Erica Enders appears to have the upper hand in her pursuit of a fifth Pro Stock title, the rest of the classes are very much up for grabs as the tour heads to Dallas for the Texas NHRA FallNationals, the final event in the weeklong Stampede of Speed.
In fact, Top Fuel is wide open with perhaps seven or eight racers still in contention for the title, including current leader Justin Ashley and four-time and reigning champ Steve Torrence, who is coming off a huge win in St. Louis.
Tipster has made the call, and this week, Torrence, Capps, Enders, and Matt Smith are favored to leave the Lonestar State with a new Stetson and a pile of NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series points.
The favorite: Welcome back, Steve Torrence. Yes, we know, the Capco driver never actually left. In fact, they’ve never been ranked lower than third at any point this season, but there is something about their latest win in St. Louis that makes one think they might just dominate the last three events. Torrence won here in his Top Alcohol Dragster in 2005 and has Top Fuel wins in 2018 and 2020. Oh, and he also just ran a 3.655, which is a candidate for run of the year.
The contenders: This list would essentially be everyone else currently ranked in the Top 10 plus a few others. Such is the nature of the Top Fuel class right now.
If we’re going to break this down to just a few favorites, let's go with Justin Ashley, Brittany Force, Mike Salinas, and Antron Brown. All four are very much in contention for the title, and all four need a strong showing in order to continue to be in that position.
Force is a bit of an enigma right now because this has been arguably the best car in the class this season, but they haven’t won a race since Sonoma and started the Countdown with three consecutive quarterfinal finishes. The Monster team must produce at least a semifinal here or better yet a win to maintain pace.
Ashley has been on cruise control for most of the season, but his round-one loss in St. Louis represents the first real adversity the Phillips Connect team has faced. How he rebounds from that will go a long way toward determining his fate.
Finally, Salinas has been quiet lately, but he finds himself just 34 points out of first place, which makes him a legit title contender. The Pep Boys/Scrappers team could use a victory since their last one came in Norwalk.
The dark horse: Leah Pruett is 179 points out of the lead in Top Fuel, so her odds of winning the title are almost nonexistent, but there is a decent chance that she’ll have a say in who does win. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see the Dodge Power Brokers team spoil the day for one of the leading contenders.
The favorite: This is a seriously tough choice. Do we go with Robert Hight or Ron Capps? We could make a case for either one based on their performance during the regular season, but we’re just going to play a hunch here and go with Capps. Actually, we’ll call it an educated hunch because he is the defending Dallas winner, which certainly counts for something. Capps still needs to make up a few points to take the lead over Hight and would be the ideal spot to do so.
The contenders: As we noted last time, if Robert Hight is not the favorite, then Hight is certainly the leading contender. Honestly, after eight wins this season, it's hard to find any fault in what the Auto Club team is doing. The only thing preventing them from being the favorites is the weather forecast. It is expected to be warm and humid, which might temper the normal performance advantage that the Auto Club team often enjoys when racing in prime conditions.
Anyone else who is even thinking about winning the championship, and that means Matt Hagan, John Force, and Bob Tasca III, had better find another gear, and they had better find it quickly. Consider this a must-win event for any of these three, and they could also benefit from a bit of help in the form of early losses for the top two cars.
We also can’t forget J.R. Todd, who went to the final round in Dallas in 2018. Todd’s DHL Toyota has shown a marked improvement lately, and he is someone who could easily cause trouble for the championship leaders.
The dark horse: The last time Bobby Bode raced in the state of Texas, he made quite a splash with a final-round finish in Houston against Matt Hagan. Overshadowed by the whole helmet-throwing deal is the fact that Bode was on his way to a victory when his Arbee entry blew up. Can Bode get back to the final? Of course, he can, but it’s going to require another gritty performance and perhaps a bit of luck.
Auto Club Chevy
Power Brokers Dodge
Peak/Blu Def Chevy
Bob Tasca III
The favorite: The easiest decision on the board. We’re going to ride Erica Enders to the finish line simply because she’s dominated all season and is the one NHRA Pro who could lock up a title before Pomona. When someone wins half of the races this season, how could they not be ranked No. 1? Enders isn’t just on track to win a fifth title this year, she can also make history with a strong finish, joining just a handful of NHRA Pros to have a 10-win season. Greg Anderson’s class record of 15 wins is safe, largely because of the reduced schedule, but it’s hard to imagine the Elite Camaro not winning at least one or two of the final three events.
The contenders: Well, at this point, Aaron Stanfield is most likely the only driver who could dethrone Enders, and it would take something extraordinary for that to happen. Heck, even if Enders skipped the Dallas event, Stanfield would nearly have to run the table in order to take over the top spot, and we all know that’s not going to happen.
So, setting the points chase aside, let's take a look at who could actually win the race, and the additional contenders include the KB teammates Greg Anderson, Dallas Glenn, and Kyle Koretsky, as well as Matt Hartford, who tends to be a thorn in the side of championship contenders from time to time.
The dark horse: Bo Butner, perhaps? He’s been hit or miss this year, but lately, there have been signs of steady progress. We'd also like to give a nod to the Cuadra family, particularly brothers Cristian and Fernando Jr. Both of them are excellent drivers who are just looking for the right opportunity to claim their first victories.
Janac Bros/J3 Energy Camaro
RAD Torque Systems Camaro
Hendrick Cars.com Camaro
Lucas Oil/NitroFish Camaro
Total Seal Camaro
Troy Coughlin Jr.
Powerbuilt Tools Camaro
Fernando Cuadra Jr.
Corral Boots Mustang
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
The favorite: There is still a slight window of opportunity for an upset, but the greater likelihood is that either Matt Smith or Joey Gladstone will win the 2022 NHRA Camping World Pro Stock Motorcycle title. Smith, the reigning and five-time champ, has the upper hand in both performance and points, although Gladstone has proven that he’s not going down without a fight. Naturally, Smith and Gladstone are the favorites this weekend in Dallas, with Smith having a small edge due to the performance of his Denso Buell. Should he win, it would go a long way towards locking down a possible sixth title.
The contenders: Angie Smith, Eddie Krawiec, Steve Johnson, Jerry Savoie, and Angelle Sampey are each within 116 points or less of leader Matt Smith, which means they are all still in the running for the title, although time is beginning to run out. If any one of the aforementioned riders has intentions on winning a title, this is almost a must-win event. Angie Smith has had a great bike all year but has not been able to consistently produce four solid runs on race day.
The Vance & Hines duo of Krawiec and Sampey are also in a peculiar position. They both have fast motorcycles, but starting-line miscues have been their downfall. Should either one of them put their starting-line issues behind them, it could easily change the landscape of the championship battle.
Another rider to watch carefully is Savoie because he’s enjoyed tremendous success in Dallas with three wins in six finals since 2015. Savoie’s White Alligator Suzuki is very quick, although it hasn’t had the sort of consistency he’d like to see. The 2016 world champ is 108 points behind Matt Smith, and if he can knock one or two rounds off that lead this week, it will make for a very interesting discussion for the final two events.
The dark horse: Let’s take a real shot in the dark here and go with Kelly Clontz. Why? Well, Clontz enjoyed perhaps her best outing as a Pro in St. Louis with a career-best 6.82 elapsed time on her Steamfitters US Local 602 Suzuki. She also had a great chance to beat Matt Smith in the second round but slowed before the finish line. Regardless, she’s made steady progress, and it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see her in the late rounds.
Reed Motorsports Suzuki
White Alligator Suzuki
Vance & Hines Suzuki
Vance & Hines Suzuki
Skillman/Big St. Charles Suzuki
Steamfitters UA 602 Suzuki