With the successful completion of the annual Western Swing, we can now look ahead to the remainder of the 2023 season, which is clearly headed into the homestretch. There are just nine races remaining and just three before the start of the Countdown to the Championship playoffs, including this week’s Menards NHRA Nationals presented by PetArmor.
The favorites this week include Justin Ashley, who is fresh off his fifth win of the season in Sonoma, as well as J.R. Todd, who seemed to find his groove on the Western Swing. The Pro Stock class has been out of the loop since Denver but we’re going to go with Dallas Glenn, the current championship leader.
The favorite: There was a fair amount of debate here when it came to deciding the favorite, but in the end it was hard to vote against Justin Ashley, who has won more races than anyone else in Top Fuel this season, and did as masterful job in the Sonoma final, where he defeated Antron Brown by a razor-thin margin.
The conditions in Topeka figured to be much, much different than what teams experienced two weeks ago in Sonoma but the Phillips Connect team has consistently been able to adapt to whatever is thrown at them and they’ve got a driver who tends to hit the gas on time, which allows them to win some races they might otherwise not.
The contenders: Two names that immediately come to mind are Steve Torrence and Antron Brown. Torrence won the Mission 2Fast2Tasty Challenge in Sonoma and had a car capable of winning on Sunday. He also won here in 2019 and was in the final last year.
As for Brown, he’s coming off a runner-up finish in Sonoma, and a race where he actually left on Ashley. Brown is also the defending Topeka champ, having defeated Torrence in the 2022 final. We’ve also got to give a nod to Austin Prock, the low qualifier in Sonoma, Clay Millican, who has two wins this season, and Kalitta Motorsports drivers Doug Kalitta and Shawn Langdon, who seem destined to win sooner rather than later.
The dark horse: It wasn’t that long ago so most NHRA fans should remember that Mike Salinas won the season-opening race in Gainesville but he hasn’t been to a final round since and has just one semifinal. Salinas has dropped to No. 8 in the standings and there’s really no reason why the Scrappers team shouldn’t be fighting for wins almost every week. It’s fair to expect a breakthrough performance at any time.
Justin Ashley Phillips Connect 3-1
Steve Torrence Capco Contractors 4-1
Antron Brown Matco Tools 5-1
Clay Millican Parts Plus 6-1
Austin Prock Montana Brands 7-1
Doug Kalitta Mac Tools 8-1
Brittany Force Monster Energy 9-1
Leah Pruett Dodge Power Brokers 10-1
Shawn Langdon DHL 11-1
Josh Hart R+L Carriers 11-1
Mike Salinas Scrappers 14-1
The favorite: There have been seven different Funny Car winners in the last eight events which should help explain why it’s so darned difficult to handicap this class. When all else fails, go with the hot hand and right now, that belongs to J.R. Todd. The DHL driver ran the table in Sonoma with wins in Saturday’s Mission 2Fast2Tasty Challenge and Sunday’s Funny Car eliminator. Beyond Sonoma, there is plenty of evidence to support this pick including a run of four-straight finishes of semifinal or better extending back to Norwalk.
The contenders: We used to joke about the “big three” in Funny Car which centered around Robert Hight, Ron Capps, and Matt Hagan, each a multi-time world champion. Today, Funny Car racing is more like the “Big 10” with at least that many teams capable of pulling off a victory. Regardless, Capps, Hight, and Hagan remain contenders in any event they enter.
It's also worth noting that Tim Wilkerson has two wins this season, Blake Alexander has one, and so does Bob Tasca III, who also happens to be the defending event winner.
The dark horse: Is it possible to be a GOAT and a dark horse at the same time? Let’s find out as we pick John Force this weekend. The 16 time champ has a runner-up finish and three semifinals so far this season but there have been other bright spots including Denver and Seattle, where he qualified No. 1 and No. 2. Force can still win (as can just about anyone else in the Funny Car class) but he’s going to need the right combination of opportunity and fortune.
J.R. Todd DHL Toyota 4-1
Bob Tasca III Motorcraft Ford 5-1
Ron Capps NAPA Toyota 6-1
Tim Wilkerson SCAG Mowers Ford 7-1
Matt Hagan Dodge Power Brokers Dodge 8-1
Robert Hight Flav-R-Pak Chevy 8-1
Chad Green Bondcoat Ford 10-1
Alexis DeJoria Bandero Tequila Toyota 11-1
John Force Peak/Blu Def Chevy 12-1
Blake Alexander Pronto/Head Inc. Ford 13-1
Cruz Pedregon Snap-on Dodge 14-1
The favorite: The Pro Stock class hasn’t competed in nearly a month but that doesn’t mean the teams have been idle. In fact, both the KB Titan team and the Elite squad have used the opportunity to test as they prepare for the final nine events of the season. Picking a favorite is still a bit of a crapshoot but it’s hard to go wrong with current leader Dallas Glenn, who has three wins in six finals and was a runner-up at the most recent Pro Stock race in Denver. Glenn has a sizable lead in the standings and naturally, he wants to stay in first place as the Countdown field begins to take shape. Glenn also won here in 2021 so it figures that he’s comfortable racing in Topeka.
The contenders: We could go a number of different directions here including reigning champ Erica Enders, who seems to have shaken off her early-season struggles. We also like her teammate, Troy Coughlin Jr., who is not only the defending Topeka winner, but also cashed in the most recent event in Denver.
Matt Hartford is another Pro Stock racer who is having a solid season and the same goes for Deric Kramer, who was arguably the hottest driver in the class this spring.
The dark horse: Camrie Caruso has already won a race this season but more recently, she’s dropped to No. 8 in the standings. A semifinal in Denver was a big confidence booster, but another final might be a better way to head into the U.S. Nationals and the Countdown.
Dallas Glenn RAD Torque Systems Camaro 3-1
Troy Coughlin Jr. JEGS.com Camaro 4-1
Erica Enders JHG/Elite Camaro 5-1
Matt Hartford Total Seal Camaro 6-1
Deric Kramer GetBioFuels.com Camaro 7-1
Aaron Stanfield Janac Bros/J3 Energy Camaro 8-1
Greg Anderson HendrickCars.com Camaro 9-1
Camrie Caruso Tequila Comisario Camaro 10-1
Cristian Cuadra Corral Boots Mustang 12-1