Tricky Tipster, NHRA’s resident odds-maker, had a so-so weekend last week in Reading when he accurately predicted Matt Hartford to win in Pro Stock and had Pro Stock Motorcycle winner Matt Smith as a close second to Gaige Herrera. Top Fuel winner Doug Kalitta was mid-pack at 8-1 odds, while Funny Car champ Robert Hight was among the contenders at 5-1.
It's a short week as the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series moves South to luxurious zMax Dragway for the Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals. This time, we’re going with Reading runner-up Steve Torrence as the favorite in Top Fuel, while Hight and Hartford will get top billing in Funny Car and Pro Stock, respectively. Pro Stock Motorcycle is a tough call, but after much deliberation, we’re betting that Herrera makes a quick recovery.
The favorite: Steve Torrence didn’t win in Reading, but he went to the final round and made four runs between 3.68 and 3.70 during eliminations, and that’s the sort of consistency that wins championships. Torrence now has the points lead, albeit by just seven points over Justin Ashley, but as history has shown, once the Capco team gets a lead, they’re not often inclined to give it up. Torrence also has had massive success in Charlotte with six overall wins, including two at the fall Countdown to the Championship event.
The contenders: We’ve got to start with Doug Kalitta because he not only won his landmark 50th event in Reading but ran exceptionally well in the process, including a 3.65 for low elapsed time of the event. We’re not totally convinced that the Mac Tools team is going to go back-to-back and make a run at the championship, but that’s certainly possible.
Justin Ashley took it on the chin in Reading with a very rare holeshot loss to Tony Schumacher, but that appears to be just a small speedbump as he’s almost certainly going to be in the championship fight until the bitter end.
Antron Brown, Leah Pruett, and Brittany Force are all within 71 points of the lead in Top Fuel, which not only means the title won’t be settled soon, but it also increases the level of pressure to produce a good result this weekend. None of the contenders can afford a round-one loss at this point in the Countdown.
The dark horse: After reaching the semifinals last week, he’s less of a dark horse than he should be, but Tony Schumacher has suddenly become somewhat of a threat. Schumacher is just 134 points out of the lead despite a forgettable regular season, so another positive result could really shake up the championship standings. Schumacher also has a pair of wins here in 2008 and 2014.
Steve Torrence Capco Contractors 4-1
Justin Ashley Phillips Connect 5-1
Antron Brown Matco Tools 6-1
Doug Kalitta Mac Tools 6-1
Brittany Force Monster Energy 7-1
Austin Prock Montana Brands 8-1
Leah Pruett Dodge Power Brokers 9-1
Shawn Langdon DHL/Kalitta Air 10-1
Clay Millican Parts Plus 12-1
Mike Salinas Scrappers 13-1
Josh Hart R+L Carriers 14-1
The favorite: We could go a number of ways here, but at this point, it seems that Robert Hight is a safe bet in Funny Car. Hight not only won last week in Reading, but he also claimed the win the last time we ran in Charlotte at the four-wide race in the spring. Hight is also the championship leader, albeit by a scant three points over Ron Capps. All told, Hight has seven wins in Charlotte between both events, making it one of his best tracks on the tour.
The contenders: The extensive list starts with Ron Capps, who was the hottest driver in the class until last weekend in Reading. Bob Tasca III, Matt Hagan, and Reading runner-up Chad Green are also very much in the battle as they occupy the top five spots in the championship standings. John Force not only has a grandstand named after him in Charlotte, but he also has made seven final rounds here with four wins.
The dark horse: We’re going to take a shot at Alexis DeJoria this week. Why? Well, she’s had a great car all season long but just hasn’t been able to put all the parts together for her first win. Currently, the Bandero Premium Tequila Toyota team is No. 6 in the standings, but just 97 points out of first place, so she’s still very much a title contender.
Robert Hight Cornwell Tools Chevy 4-1
Ron Capps NAPA Toyota 5-1
Bob Tasca III Motorcraft Ford 6-1
Matt Hagan Dodge Power Brokers Dodge 7-1
Chad Green Bondcoat Ford 8-1
J.R. Todd DHL Toyota 9-1
Alexis DeJoria Bandero Toyota 10-1
John Force Peak/Blu Def Chevy 11-1
Tim Wilkerson SCAG Mowers Ford 12-1
Cruz Pedregon Snap-on Dodge 14-1
Blake Alexander Pronto/Head Inc. Ford 15-1
The favorite: Can Matt Hartford go three for three with wins in Indy, Reading, and Charlotte? That’s a tall order, but he seems to have the car to do it, and he’s been driving well enough to get the job done, so we’re going to give him top billing again this week. The only downside is that it’s awfully tough for anyone to win three straight races in any NHRA class these days, especially in Pro Stock. Hartford has a 30-point lead over Erica Enders for the title. This is Hartford’s best chance to win a championship, and he knows it.
The contenders: Once again, Dallas Glenn and Erica Enders are the leading contenders because they have each scored multiple wins this season. Enders has made a dramatic comeback after a tough start to the season, and she’s very much in the running for a sixth title.
Glenn dropped from first to fourth in the standings following a tough early loss in Reading, so he’s going to face increased pressure to get back in the hunt at what amounts to his home track. Glenn won his first race in Charlotte in the spring of 2021, so he’s got a bit of positive history at zMax Dragway.
Roughly 100 points separate the top seven drivers in Pro Stock, including Troy Coughlin Jr., Reading runner-up Kyle Koretsky, and Factory Stock championship leader Aaron Stanfield. Even Deric Kramer and Greg Anderson are well within striking distance with five races remaining in the season.
The dark horse: Camrie Caruso has been hit or miss this season. On one hand, she won her first race in Phoenix, but she’s also got a few early losses on her scoresheet. Caruso is currently 131 points behind leader Hartford, so technically, she’s still in the running for the title, but she also can’t afford a mistake from this point forward. A semifinal or better finish here would be most welcomed.
Matt Hartford Total Seal Camaro 3-1
Erica Enders JHG/Elite Camaro 7-2
Dallas Glenn RAD Torque Systems Camaro 4-1
Aaron Stanfield Janac Bros/J3 Energy Camaro 5-1
Kyle Koretsky Lucas Oil/Nitro Fish Camaro 6-1
Deric Kramer GetBioFuels.com Camaro 7-1
Troy Coughlin Jr. JEGS.com Camaro 8-1
Greg Anderson HendrickCars.com Camaro 9-1
Camrie Caruso Tequila Comisario Camaro 11-1
Cristian Cuadra Corral Boots Mustang 14-1
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
The favorite: Gaige Herrera was nearly unstoppable in the first part of the season, but he’s failed to win in both Indy and Reading, which could be argued as two of the most important events of the season. Herrera has also been bumped to No. 2 in the points as he stands 17 markers behind Matt Smith. So, how will he respond? Herrera can’t afford to give up too much ground to Smith, who knows a thing or two about winning championships, so a strong showing in Charlotte becomes even more imperative.
The contenders: Last week, we cautioned not to count out Matt Smith, and that proved to be sage advice as the six-time world champion backed up his Indy win with a win in Reading against hired teammate Chip Ellis. Smith will do anything to win the title, so he certainly rated among the favorites. In fact, it would be easy to rank him as a co-favorite to Herrera.
Herrera and Smith aside, Hector Arana Jr., Eddie Krawiec, Angie Smith, Chase Van Sant, and even Steve Johnson are in the running this week. Tipster also needs to give a nod to Jianna Evaristo, who made her first 200-mph run in Reading and clearly has enough bike to make noise on Sunday. Her first win in Pomona in 2019 ranks as one of NHRA’s greatest upsets. Her next one won’t be nearly as shocking.
The dark horse: The zMax event is expected to feature the return of Joey Gladstone, which has the potential to shake up the balance of power at the top of the class. Gladstone isn’t in the running for the championship, but he certainly can make life miserable for those who are in it.
Gaige Herrera Vance & Hines/Mission Suzuki 2-1
Matt Smith Denso Suzuki 7-2
Hector Arana Jr. GETTRX Buell 5-1
Eddie Krawiec Vance & Hines/Mission Suzuki 6-1
Angie Smith Denso Buell 7-1
Jianna Evaristo Scrappers Suzuki 8-1
Chase Van Sant Trick Tools Suzuki 9-1
Steve Johnson Mac Rak Suzuki 10-1
Joey Gladstone Precision Services Suzuki 11-1