It’s crunch time in the battle for the 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series Pro titles as there are just two races and eight rounds of competition left in the season. The list of potential candidates has been narrowed in most classes, and in fact, two of the championships are nearly decided although no one has yet to clinch.
As we head to Nevada for the penultimate race of the season, and the ancestral home to Tricky Tipster, NHRA’s resident odds-guru, favorites have emerged, and they include Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock), and Gaige Herrera (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
The favorite: This is the time for the Capco team to remind everyone in Top Fuel what they’re made of. Over the last half-decade or so, Steve Torrence and his team have been thrust into just about every situation imaginable, and more often than not, they’ve come out on top. Torrence comes to Las Vegas in third place, but he’s just 13 points out of the lead, which means he could almost get there in qualifying. The Top Fuel class has never been tougher, but by a razor-thin margin, he’s our pre-race favorite.
The contenders: Leah Pruett, Doug Kalitta, and even Justin Ashley, Antron Brown, Mike Salinas, and Brittany Force are all alive in the title fight with Pruett the incoming leader and Kalitta a close second. Any one of them can win this race and would go a long way towards determining who wears the No. 1 next season.
Force has won two of the last three races here, and Brown won the springtime four-wide event held last April. Salinas has a win here in 2019, while Pruett was a runner-up in 2018. Ironically, the Strip hasn’t been particularly good to Kalitta as his lone victory came here in 2015.
The dark horse: Austin Prock is too far back to contend for a title, but this is still a very good team with a top notch driver, so they’re more than capable of hurting some feelings on race day. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Prock throw a few blocks on Sunday to help out teammate Force.
Steve Torrence Capco Contractors 4-1
Leah Pruett Dodge Power Brokers 5-1
Doug Kalitta Mac Tools 6-1
Antron Brown Matco Tools 7-1
Justin Ashley Phillips Connect 7-1
Clay Millican Parts Plus 8-1
Mike Salinas Scrappers 9-1
Brittany Force Monster Energy 10-1
Austin Prock Montana Brands 11-1
Shawn Langdon DHL/Kalitta Air 13-1
The favorite: After six wins, Matt Hagan finds himself in the top spot in Funny Car, largely because of a dominant performance two weeks ago in Dallas. The Funny Car battle has been a seesaw affair with no one able to maintain the advantage for long. Hagan has won the last two races here and has five Vegas wins overall. With a slim 36-point lead, he’s not able to clinch a title this weekend, but he can sure make things difficult for everyone behind him.
The contenders: It’s now or never time for contenders Bob Tasca III, Robert Hight, and Ron Capps, who are all within 99 points of Hagan in the close battle at the top. For each of them, Dallas was a missed opportunity that cannot be repeated. Capps and Tasca have recent wins here, while Hight was a runner-up to Hagan last season.
Outside of the four drivers mentioned, J.R. Todd, Tim Wilkerson, and even Dallas runner-up John Force would seem to have the best shot to pick up a late-season victory here.
The dark horse: We’re going to keep going with Chad Green because he’s long overdue to grab his first NHRA Funny Car win. The Countdown to the Championship hasn’t been particularly kind to Green and his Bond Coat Ford team, but this is Las Vegas, a town that loves longshots.
Matt Hagan Dodge Power Brokers Dodge 4-1
Bob Tasca III Motorcraft Ford 5-1
Robert Hight Flav-R-Pak Chevy 6-1
Ron Capps NAPA Toyota 6-1
J.R. Todd DHL Toyota 8-1
John Force Peak/Blu Def Chevy 9-1
Chad Green Bond Coat Ford 10-1
Tim Wilkerson SCAG Mowers Ford 11-1
Alexis DeJoria Bandero Toyota 12-1
Cruz Pedregon Snap-on Dodge 14-1
Blake Alexander Pronto/Head Inc. Ford 15-1
The favorite: Erica Enders doesn’t need to win in Las Vegas to successfully defend her 2022 Pro Stock championship, but there’s every reason to think she’s going to do it anyway. Enders is coming off what was easily her most impressive performance of the year in Dallas, and she’s headed to Las Vegas, a track that has been money for the Elite team for the better part of a decade. As for pressure, Enders shouldn’t be feeling too much of it. Sure, it’s not over until it’s over, but with an 85-point lead and a tremendous track record in Las Vegas, it will take a herculean effort to dislodge Enders from the top spot.
The contenders: The math is not in their favor, but for KB Titan drivers Greg Anderson, Dallas Glenn, and Matt Hartford, Las Vegas becomes nothing short of a must-win event. Even if one of them should win the race, they’ll be hoping to see someone other than Enders in the other lane for the final round.
Will the KB Titan team look to drop one, two, or possibly all three of their cars to the bottom of the ladder in order to secure an early match-up against Enders? At this point, desperate times call for desperate measures, so it’s likely that will happen. Sometimes, it works. Most times, it doesn’t.
The dark horse: Let’s go with a real dark horse here and pick Jeg Coughlin Jr., who is returning to the sport after a three-year absence. Coughlin is easily one of the greatest drivers to ever strap into a Pro Stock car, and he’s kept his skills sharp by bracket racing. Nothing he does, including winning this race, would be a huge surprise.
Erica Enders JHG/Elite Camaro 2-1
Dallas Glenn RAD Torque Systems Camaro 4-1
Matt Hartford Total Seal Camaro 5-1
Greg Anderson HendrickCars.com Camaro 6-1
Aaron Stanfield Janac Bros/J3 Energy Camaro 7-1
Troy Coughlin Jr. JEGS.com Camaro 8-1
Kyle Koretsky Lucas Oil/Nitro Fish Camaro 9-1
Deric Kramer GetBioFuels Camaro 9-1
Camrie Caruso Tequila Comisario Camaro 12-1
Cristian Cuadra Corral Boots Mustang 14-1
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
The favorite: Basically, the Las Vegas event will be a coronation for Gaige Herrera as the 2023 NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle champion as he’s got a huge lead in the standings and doesn’t need to do much more than qualify in order to win the title. Herrera already has nine wins this season, and his performance in Dallas was otherworldly with seven of eight runs in the 6.6s. He hasn’t seemed to respond to pressure this season anyway, and there isn’t much he’s going to feel this weekend. He’s as close to a sure thing as there is in drag racing.
The contenders: The battle between Eddie Krawiec and Matt Smith for the No. 2 spot is certainly worth watching, and should Herrera faulter, they should both be there to pick up the slack.
Also keep an eye on Hector Arana Jr., the defending Las Vegas winner, and Kelly Clontz, who made an insane 6.70 run in Dallas. It isn’t out of line to think either of them could win this race.
The dark horse: For what it’s worth, Steve Johnson won this race two years ago, and when things are just right, he’s got a bike that can get the job done. It’s been a rough year for the class’ most tenured rider, but from time to time, he’s still got the ability to surprise a few people.
Gaige Herrera Vance & Hines/Mission Suzuki Even
Eddie Krawiec Vance & Hines/Mission Suzuki 5-1
Matt Smith Denso Suzuki 6-1
Hector Arana Jr. GETTRX Buell 7-1
Kelly Clontz Steamfitters UA 602 Suzuki 8-1
Joey Gladstone Precision Services Suzuki 7-1
Jianna Evaristo Scrappers Suzuki 10-1
Steve Johnson Mac Rak Suzuki 11-1
John Hall BRAKES Suzuki 14-1