Full preview and predictions for Sunday’s 66th annual Denso US Nationals

CLERMONT, Ind — The “Big Go” is here. Sunday will mark the 66th annual DENSO Spark Plugs U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway. That’s a feat in itself. See, this year is unlike the previous 65 runnings of the prestigious event. This year, a pandemic has ensued. This year, we’re just lucky to able to have a chance at witnessing history, as with a global pandemic, so much change has ensued.

Nothing about 2020 has been seen before. While NHRA is known for the fastest straight line speeds in racing, their season has taken so many twists and turns that it’s remarkable that they’re able to put on a show in front of fans, albeit limited capacity, this weekend at Lucas Oil Raceway.

The schedule makers’ tasks haven’t been easy trying to pinpoint the series in a direction. Everything has remained fluid in nature. So, I applaud them for maneuvering through this crisis and having the resiliency to make sure a season is had with venues to visit.

So, a Wally is on the line as is racing supremacy on Sunday, yes Sunday, this weekend at LOR as here are my main storylines to watch heading into this year’s US Nationals.


TV Schedule

11 am – 1 pm ET FS1

1 pm – conclusion FOX


Not 1st Trip To Indy For These Teams This Year

What makes this weekend vastly different is this isn’t the first time these drivers and teams have been to Lucas Oil Raceway this year. In fact, this is the third time, all coming since July 12. Furthermore, this is the third straight race weekend on the season at Indy, so it’s not like anything is going to be new to these teams this weekend. How is that different than year’s past? Well, they’ve got a lot more data to work with now. Does that mean the cream rises to the top?

Can Capps Get His 1st “Big Go?”

Ron Capps has been trying for years to win at the US Nationals. He’s ran almost 600 NHRA events, won over 60 races, won a championship (2016), but was winless in the biggest race of the season — the US Nationals.

Fittingly, it was 2020 to when Capps finally won at Lucas Oil Raceway. But, to make it more fitting, it was in a new format for a race weekend not of the US Nationals. Capps, won back on Aug. 9 for his first win in Indy. It was his 65th career win in his 560th start. He’s made 124 final round appearances over the course of his storied career, but had no Indy wins.

Now he does.

Can he turn this into a US Nationals crown on Sunday?

Last year, Doug Kalitta finally got his first US Nationals crown. Is it Capps’ turn this year?

He was fastest through two rounds of qualifying but bumped down to P2 in the final round. He faces Jim Campbell in Round 1 on Sunday.


No John Force Or John Force Racing In General

Last year was an emotional scene at Indy when John Force won his first US Nationals Wally since 2002. It was his 151st career Funny Car triumph but his first here in 17 years. Now, he isn’t here to defend his crown.

Force, made the difficult decision this summer to shut his team down for the rest of the season. It was a tough choice, but to race during a pandemic and not be able to be with the fans or entertain his sponsors wasn’t what made him. So, he and all of his Funny Car and Top Fuel teams will sit this one out.

It’s the first time in decades we won’t have Force around which will be noticeable. He has 35 straight years to where he finished in the top 10 of the final standings. Now, that streak ends.

Tony Schumacher Is Back

While one popular driver is out (John Force), another one is back (Tony Schumacher). No one has won as many US Nationals nor Top Fuel events in general than Schumacher. He’s won 10 times over the course of his career. But, Schumacher lost his longtime sponsor prior to the 2019 season and jumped to the TV Booth as a result. Now, he’s back and looking for his first US Nationals triumph since 2016.

He will be P14 in the Top Fuel ladder and face Billy Torrence in Round 1.

He’s also reunited with crew chief Mike Green who was with them from 2009 through 2017. They won 27 races and two championships together.

Don Schumacher Racing’s Streaking To Indy

Ron Capps won the last time out on Aug. 9. His teammate Matt Hagan won a month prior in Indy on July 12. Those were the first two races back from the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, their other two teammates of Jack Beckman (Pomona) and Tommy Johnson Jr. (Phoenix) won too. If you go back to Dallas last year, DSR has won an impressive eight straight Funny Car events. Can they make it No. 9 at LOR on Sunday? They’ve won the last two LOR races this year with two different drivers.

Johnson Jr. is the points leader and has never won here. Beckman, last won here in 2015. They all sit 1-2-3-4 in the points heading to the US Nationals this weekend and took three of the top five qualifying spots.


No Countdown

The last several years, the US Nationals also set the 10 driver Countdown fields. This year, that’s not the case. Due to the pandemic, it was too difficult to set a playoff schedule, so we will race this year on points.

Right now, Doug Kalitta leads the Top Fuel points over Steve Torrence by 83 markers. Torrence, has won the last two championships while Kalitta has never won a title. Leah Pruett is 89 points back while the other Torrence, Billy, is 146 points out. These are the top four favorites to win this year’s title.

For Funny Car, Johnson leads Beckman by only 13 markers. Their teammates in Hagan (-28) and Capps (-102) give them a 1-2-3-4 standing right now. Bob Tasca III is the best of the rest in fifth at 118 points back. JR Todd is sixth, 124 out himself.

The Pro Stock fields are deep and close. Five time champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. leads three time champ Jason Line by 44 points. Third is defending champion and three time champ herself in Erica Enders (-77). A four time champion in Greg Anderson is fourth (-189). Last year’s US Nationals winner Alex Laughlin rounds out the top five as he’s 203 markers back.

That leaves the bikes. This is a tight field. First to eighth are only separated by 49 points right now. Ryan Oehler has won both races this season, both coming at Indy, but only holds a four point advantage over Angelle Sampey. Matt Smith is only seven points out in third. Eddie Krawiec is fourth, but just 28 points behind Oehler while Andrew Hines (-44), Scotty Pollacheck (-47), Hector Arana Jr. (-47) and Chris Bostick (-49) are close behind.



Old Guys Rule Last Year

Jerry Savoie won the US Nationals for the Pro Stock bikes last year. He was the oldest winner in not only the divisions history of the race, but also just for Pro Stock Motorcycles in general. He was 60 years, 8 months old.

John Force upped him that day in a Funny Car by becoming the oldest Funny Car winner ever at 70 years, 3 months.

With the veterans of the sport on top of their games, do we see veterans dominating this weekend too.

Females Still Here

Everyone points to the Force girls of Brittany and Courtney as the top females in this sport. Well, Courtney is retired and Brittany is sitting this season out. But, that doesn’t mean that the females won’t be well represented this weekend.

Leah Pruett is third in points in Top Fuel and has as good as a shot as any to earn the “Big Go” Wally on Sunday.

For Funny Car, Alexis DeJoria is back. She’s eighth in points and made it to the semis in Phoenix. In Pro Stocks, you have Erica Enders in the cars as she sits third in points. She’s looking for her first win here since 2015.

In Bikes, you have Angelle Sampey who’s the top female in the sport all time with 43 wins. She won the last race weekend here last month. Don’t sleep on Jianna Salinas who won at Pomona last year either.

This is a talented group of females that could take a win in all four major divisions of NHRA racing.


Parity

We’ve had a new winner since 2013 in the Top Fuel category. Shawn Langdon started it off in 2013 then Richie Crampton, Morgan Lucas, Tony Schumacher, Steve Torrence, Terry McMillen and Doug Kalitta.

For Funny Car, we’ve had JR Todd win in 2017 and 2018, but Mike Neff (2012), Robert Hight (2013), Alexis DeJoria (2014), Jack Beckman (2015), Matt Hagan (2016) and John Force (2019) to give us seven different winners in the last eight years.

In Pro Stocks, we’ve had 11 straight years (Jeg Coughlin Jr., Greg Stanfield, Greg Anderson, Dave Connolly, Mike Edwards, Shane Gray, Erica Enders, Chris McGaha, Drew Skillman, Tanner Gray and Alex Laughlin) with a different winner while four straight years with a different winner in the Bikes.


Picks

Top Fuel

1st round winners: 1 Langdon, 9 McClenathan, 5 Kalitta, 13 Ashley, 6 Pruett, 3 BTorrence, 7 Brown, 2 STorrence

2nd round winners: 1 Langdon, 5 Kalitta, 6 Pruett, 2 STorrence

Semis: 5 Kalitta over 1 Langdon, 2 STorrence over 6 Pruett

Finals: 2 STorrence over 5 Kalitta

Funny Car

1st round winners: 1 Johnson Jr, 8 Todd, 5 Hagan, 4 Tasca III, 6 De Joria, 3 Wilkerson, 7 Beckman, 2 Capps

2nd round winners: 1 Johnson Jr, 5 Hagan, 3 Wilkerson, 7 Beckman

Semis: 5 Hagan over 1 Johnson Jr, 7 Beckman over 3 Wilkerson

Finals: 7 Beckman over 5 Hagan

Pro Stock

1st round winners: 1 Anderson, 9 Line, 12 Laughlin, 4 Hartford, 6 Enders, 3 Kramer, 10 Coughlin Jr, 2 CMcGaha

2nd round winners: 9 Line, 12 Laughlin, 6 Enders, 10 Coughlin Jr.

Semis: 9 Line over 12 Laughlin, 10 Coughlin Jr over 6 Enders

Finals: 9 Line over 10 Coughlin Jr

Pro Stock Motorcycles

1st round winners: 1 Pollacheck, 8 Sampey, 13 Bostick, 5 ASmith, 6 Hines, 3 MSmith, 7 Arana Jr, 2 Krawiec

2nd round winners: 8 Sampey, 13 Bostick, 3 MSmith, 2 Krawiec

Semis: 8 Sampey over 13 Bostick, 2 Krawiec over 3 M Smith

Finals: 8 Sampey over 2 Krawiec

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