With three races remaining to determine the 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series Professional champs, it’s put up or shut up time as the series heads to the historic Texas Motorplex for this weekend’s Texas NHRA FallNationalS..
Sometimes, it’s easy to overthink things when handicapping an NHRA event, but this isn’t one of them. We’re going straight chalk with the four incoming points leaders as our pre-race favorites. Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Bob Tasca III (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock), and Gaige Herrera (Pro Stock Motorcycle) each know that they can gain some serious ground on their opponents this weekend.
The favorite: Doug Kalitta has been in the position many times in the past, and for some unknown reason, he’s yet to deliver a Top Fuel title. That being said, something feels different this year as the Mac Tools dragster has recently come to life, and it isn’t a stretch to call it the best car in the class right now. Kalitta comes to Texas with a decent-sized 47-point lead over Leah Pruett, while Steve Torrence, Justin Ashley, and Antron Brown are all lucking as they are each within 100 points of the lead. As close as the standings are, one has to think whoever wins this event will become the favorite.
The contenders: We just mentioned Leah Pruett, Steve Torrence, Justin Ashley, and Antron Brown as they make up spots two through five in the standings. Ashley and Torrence would appear to be the best picks here because they each have two wins at the Texas Motorplex in the last five years. Ashley won back-to-back races in 2021 and 2022, so he’s the defending champion, while Torrence collected his most recent wins in 2018 and 2020. Torrence will also benefit from the addition of his father, Billy, who is making his first start of the season and will act as a blocker.
We should also give a nod to Clay Millican, who won his third event of the season in St. Louis. Millican is in eighth place, 152 points out of the lead, so it would be extremely difficult for him to make a run at the title, but he’s fully capable of making life miserable for those who are.
The dark horse: Tony Schumacher has five wins in Dallas, and he’s already had a pair of semifinal finishes during the Countdown to the Championship. There are 19 cars entered this weekend, so it will be tough, but this isn’t as much of a longshot as some might think.
Doug Kalitta Mac Tools 4-1
Leah Pruett Dodge Power Brokers 5-1
Steve Torrence Capco Contractors 6-1
Antron Brown Matco Tools 7-1
Justin Ashley Phillips Connect 7-1
Clay Millican Parts Plus 8-1
Austin Prock Montana Brands 9-1
Brittany Force Monster Energy 10-1
Mike Salinas Scrappers 12-1
Shawn Langdon DHL/Kalitta Air 13-1
The favorite: Bob Tasca III believes his Motorcraft Ford is the best car in the Funny Car class right now, and based on his recent results, it’s hard to make a case against him. So far in the first three Countdown races, Tasca has a win in Charlotte to go with a pair of semifinal finishes in Reading and St. Louis. Tasca’s lead over Robert Hight is just six points, while Matt Hagan is just 13 points back, and Ron Capps is very much in contention for a fourth title at 33 points behind. Tasca is the only one of the four leading contender that has yet to win a title, but that doesn’t seem to affect his confidence in the least.
The contenders: Yep, it’s Hight, Hagan, and Capps as far as the championship goes, but there are probably eight or more teams that are capable of getting the job done this weekend. As much as parity reigns in the Funny Car class, it is hard to envision that Tasca, Hight, Hagan, or Capps won’t make the final round. This event is just too important.
J.R. Todd, Tim Wilkerson, and Alexis DeJoria are also capable of making life rough on the championship leaders, so they cannot be discounted.
The dark horse: Chad Green had a tremendous regular season with seven semifinals finishes and a runner-up in Sonoma. He also went to the final in Reading, so this remains a team on the cusp of greatness. And yes, he’s a native Texan, so getting his first win at the Texas Motorplex would be extra special.
Bob Tasca III Motorcraft Ford 4-1
Matt Hagan Dodge Power Brokers Dodge 5-1
Robert Hight Flav-R-Pak Chevy 5-1
Ron Capps NAPA Toyota 6-1
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: Erica Enders is the defending event champ at what is now her home race, and she also won here in 2015. This time, she's got a slim lead of 25 points over Greg Anderson, so the battle for a sixth world title is far from over. The Elite Camaro has qualified No. 1 at the first three events of the Countdown, so that would seem to give Enders the upper hand as far as qualifying points and lane choice on Sunday. The rest is up to her clutch foot, which is rarely out of sync.
The contenders: After Enders, the KB Titan team has assembled an impressive fleet with Greg Anderson, Matt Hartford, and Dallas Glenn each within 64 points of the lead.
Anderson seems to have found the fountain of youth with his back-to-back wins in Charlotte and St. Louis. Anderson was ranked No. 8 coming into the Countdown, and he’s now risen to No. 2 with an honest-to-goodness shot at a sixth championship.
Hartford and Glenn certainly seem to have the right stuff when it comes to the driver/race car combination, and that helps explain why they’re in the middle of the points battle. The same goes for Elite drivers Aaron Stanfield and Troy Coughlin Jr., who are each more than 100 points back but could be poised for a big move if the leaders stumble.
The dark horse: Deric Kramer heads to Dallas facing a 116-point deficit, which means he’s still a title contender but must win a lot of rounds over the last three races in order to make it happen. Kramer has been to three finals this season with a win in Charlotte. He’s going to need a similar performance going forward.
Erica Enders JHG/Elite Camaro 3-1
Matt Hartford Total Seal Camaro 4-1
Greg Anderson HendrickCars.com Camaro 5-1
Dallas Glenn RAD Torque Systems 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: A lot changed in St. Louis as Gaige Herrera won for the eighth time in 12 races and extended his lead in the Pro Stock Motorcycle standings to 99 points over Matt Smith. Herrera can’t clinch the title in Dallas, but he can sure make it almost impossible for anyone else to catch him. Herrera has also been the top qualifier at 11 of 12 events this season. The only place the Vance & Hines team missed the setup was Denver, where he was third.
The contenders: Matt Smith’s bid for a seventh title was dealt a severe blow in St. Louis when his wife, Angie, was injured in a qualifying accident. Smith is a master at handling adversity, so it figures he’s going to keep applying maximum pressure to Herrera at the final three events. He’s also made it known that Joey Gladston will be his blocker in Dallas.
Hector Arana Jr., Eddie Krawiec, and Chase Van Sant would appear to be the next likely contenders for a win. Arana won last year’s Dallas event, so he clearly likes racing in Texas. Krawiec is also on the verge of his 50th win, and he has three wins here in 2013, 2016, and 2017.
The dark horse: Kelly Clontz made some of the best runs of her career lately, including a 6.820 in St. Louis. At this point, the only thing separating her from her first final round would appear to be a bit of luck.
Gaige Herrera Vance & Hines/Mission Suzuki 2-1
Matt Smith Denso Suzuki 7-2
Eddie Krawiec Vance & Hines/Mission Suzuki 5-1
Hector Arana Jr. GETTRX Buell 6-1
Joey Gladstone Denso Buell 7-1
Chase Van Sant Trick Tools Suzuki 9-1
Jianna Evaristo Scrappers Suzuki 10-1
Steve Johnson Mac Rak Suzuki 10-1
Kelly Clontz Steamfitters UA 602 Suzuki 14-1