Tricky Tipster had a tough outing in Charlotte as many of the favorites went out early, so what’s going to happen as the tour heads to St. Louis for the NHRA Midwest Nationals? In Top Fuel, Doug Kalitta has now won back-to-back Top Fuel races in Reading and Charlotte, so the question becomes can he win a third?
The Charlotte Funny Car title went to Bob Tasca III, who is determined to keep himself in the championship hunt until the bitter end, while Greg Anderson became the seventh different winner in Pro Stock with his 102nd victory. Finally, Gaige Herrera returned to the winner’s circle in Pro Stock Motorcycle after a couple of tough outings in Indy and Reading.
So, who’s favored in St. Louis? We’re going to ride the hot hand with Kalitta even though it’s extremely difficult to win three straight races in any class, especially Top Fuel. Call us crazy, but we also like Robert Hight’s chances in Funny Car even though he’s coming back from a big explosion in Charlotte. In Pro Stock, there is a great temptation to pick leader Matt Hartford, but we’re going with Erica Enders because she hasn’t lost a round at World Wide Technology Raceway since 2019. Of course, we’re also picking Herrera because he’s still got the most dominant bike in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class.
The favorite: Doug Kalitta’s 50th win in Reading was not a fluke, but just in case anyone thought it was, he went out and won again in Charlotte. Talk about peaking at the right time. Kalitta was ranked No. 8 in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series standings as recently as Brainerd but has come to life with a semifinal in Indy and back-to-back wins in Reading and Charlotte. Kalitta is now the championship leader, and the Mac Tools team is well aware that this is their best chance to finally deliver a long-awaited world title.
The contenders: Doug Kalitta isn’t the only driver who appears to be peaking at the right time. Leah Pruett delivered a strong semifinal finish in Charlotte to keep herself within striking distance of the leaders. For most of this season, Justin Ashley, Steve Torrence, and Antron Brown have been the leaders in Top Fuel, and all three are very much in championship contention. A win here by any of them would go a long way towards a possible title.
We should also give a nod to Mike Salinas, who made the sport’s first 300-mph eighth-mile run last week, and JFR teammates Brittany Force and Austin Prock, who both need a win desperately to remain in title contention.
The dark horse: T.J. Zizzo will make another of his infrequent appearances with his Rust-Oleum dragster, and he’s got the ability to make life miserable for those pursuing the championship. Zizzo has a car that can run with the class leaders, so it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising to see him qualify near the top of the pack and light a few win lights on Sunday.
Doug Kalitta Mac Tools 4-1
Steve Torrence Capco Contractors 5-1
Antron Brown Matco Tools 6-1
Justin Ashley Phillips Connect 6-1
Leah Pruett Dodge Power Brokers 8-1
Brittany Force Monster Energy 9-1
Austin Prock Montana Brands 10-1
Mike Salinas Scrappers 12-1
Shawn Langdon DHL/Kalitta Air 13-1
Clay Millican Parts Plus 15-1
TJ Zizzo Rust-Oleum 16-1
The favorite: This might be the toughest call to make because there are about seven or eight Funny Cars that could easily win this event. In this case, we’re willing to gamble a bit and pick Robert Hight and his Cornwell Tools team. Then again, maybe it's not such a stretch because Hight is the championship leader, and he’s been to the final round of the first two Countdown events with a win and a runner-up to show for it. Hight also qualified No. 1 last week with a very impressive 3.825, which should be enough to get anyone’s attention. Finally, Hight is the defending event winner and has three overall victories in the Gateway City.
The contenders: Once again, this extensive list includes reigning world champ Ron Capps, Charlotte winner Bob Tasca III, Matt Hagan, and Reading runner-up Chad Green, who remains a title contender, albeit 132 points behind leader Hight.
Capps and Hagan are tied for third place, but the deficit is a manageable 69 points. That being said, neither can afford to fall much further behind the leaders as the Countdown reaches the halfway mark this weekend. Tim Wilkerson and JR Todd aren’t mathematically eliminated from the championship, but it’s a tall mountain for either of them to climb to get to the top. A win here, or at least a final round, is almost mandatory.
The dark horse: To suggest this season has been a disappointment for Cruz Pedregon would be an understatement, but the two-time world champ is still capable of a big outing as he showed recently with a semifinal finish in Indy. Remember, last season, Pedregon delivered a dominant win to close the season in Pomona. At some point, it’s reasonable to expect he’ll find that form again.
Robert Hight Flav-R-Pak Chevy 4-1
Bob Tasca III Motorcraft Ford 5-1
Ron Capps NAPA Toyota 6-1
Matt Hagan Dodge Power Brokers Dodge 7-1
Chad Green Bondcoat Ford 8-1
J.R. Todd DHL Toyota 9-1
Tim Wilkerson SCAG Mowers Ford 10-1
Alexis DeJoria Bandero Toyota 11-1
John Force Peak/Blu Def Chevy 12-1
Cruz Pedregon Snap-on Dodge 14-1
Blake Alexander Pronto/Head Inc. Ford 15-1
The favorite: The last time Erica Enders lost a round in St. Louis was 2018. Since then, she’s racked up a perfect 16-0 record en route to four straight wins. Tipster knows that all good things must eventually come to an end, but we’re not ready to hand the St. Louis Wally to anyone else just yet. Enders gave up the championship lead last weekend but is just four points out of first place. She’s likely to make up that deficit in qualifying, and no one should be surprised if she goes the distance on Sunday and emerges from the weekend as the championship leader.
The contenders: Matt Hartford certainly is a contender as he’s got arguably the best car in the class and he’s the championship leader. He also seems to be the one driver who doesn’t mind racing against Enders. In fact, he often relishes the challenge of racing the five-time champ.
Dallas Glenn heads to St. Louis just 15 points out of first place, so he’s also clearly a leading contender, and the same applies to his teammate, Greg Anderson, who used his clutch win in Charlotte to close the gap to the leaders to just 61 points.
Finally, Troy Coughlin Jr., Aaron Stanfield, Deric Kramer, and Kyle Koretsky are each less than 100 points from first place, so they’re all looking for opportunities to move up this weekend.
The dark horse: For the second straight week, we’ll roll with Camrie Caruso, who looks to find the form that allowed her to score her first win earlier this season in Phoenix. Caruso qualified No. 2 in Charlotte but went out in the quarterfinals. She’s going to need at least a semifinal or a final round to keep title hopes intact.
Erica Enders JHG/Elite Camaro 3-1
Matt Hartford Total Seal Camaro 4-1
Dallas Glenn RAD Torque Systems Camaro 5-1
Greg Anderson HendrickCars.com Camaro 7-1
Kyle Koretsky Lucas Oil/Nitro Fish Camaro 8-1
Aaron Stanfield Janac Bros/J3 Energy Camaro 9-1
Deric Kramer GetBioFuels.com Camaro 9-1
Troy Coughlin Jr. JEGS.com Camaro 10-1
Camrie Caruso Tequila Comisario Camaro 12-1
Cristian Cuadra Corral Boots Mustang 14-1
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
The favorite: Gaige Herrera insisted there was nothing wrong even as he lost early in Indy and Reading, and he proved it with a win in Charlotte that could easily be classified as his most dominant victory of the season. Herrera has been racing long enough to know not to ever count out someone like Matt Smith, but he remains the leading contender for the Pro Stock Motorcycle title, and a win here would go a long way towards achieving that goal.
The contenders: Matt Smith does well almost everywhere, including St. Louis, where he’s got five wins, including the last two bike races in 2020 and 2022. Smith doesn’t quite have the bike to run with Herrera, but his years of experience and unmatched race savvy go a long way towards making up the performance deficit. It's also interesting to note that Smith’s blocker, Chip Ellis, isn’t entered for this weekend’s event, which means the low qualifier (likely Herrera) will get a round-one bye.
Other than Smith, we can look to Hector Arana Jr., Eddie Krawiec, Angie Smith, and Chase Van Sant as the leading contenders should Herrera not make it to the final round.
The dark horse: Inconsistency remains a bit of an issue, but Jianna Evaristo has a bike that is fully capable of winning a race. For one thing, she’s already got one win, and secondly, she can now run 6.7s at more than 200 mph when conditions allow, and that should be enough to take on almost anyone in the class. Evaristo is currently seventh in the class, and it’s not out of the question she moves up a spot or two this weekend.
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
Chase Van Sant Trick Tools Suzuki 9-1
Jianna Evaristo Scrappers Suzuki 10-1
Steve Johnson Mac Rak Suzuki 12-1
Joey Gladstone Precision Services Suzuki 14-1