Top 5 things to watch for Sunday’s Dodge//SRT U.S. Nationals

Lack Of Track Time

Normally, the Big Go at the Lucas Oil Raceway features some of the most on track time as any event of the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season. The teams can test here prior, plus they normally get multiple days of action before setting the stage for the Dodge//SRT U.S. Nationals in the end.

On normal non pandemic years, they’d qualify Friday night, have a couple of qualifying runs on both Saturday and again on Sunday, then go to eliminations on Monday.

This year, like last, the action was condensed into one round of qualifying on Friday followed by two more on Saturday then the finals on Sunday. Mother nature though wrecked havoc on the schedule and rained out the day on Saturday, meaning the ladders were set by Friday night’s times.

That also means the teams and drivers have only had 1 pass down the track this weekend and those were in cooler night conditions two days ago. They’ll chase a Wally during the day on Sunday with temps starting in the low to mid 70s and ending in the low 80s by time we crown a winner.

How much of a role does this play?



Matt Hagan Being Out Will Close Up Funny Car Points

Last year, Matt Hagan won the Funny Car championship. Heading into this weekend, he sat on top of the standings entering the Dodge//SRT U.S. Nationals. But, due to a positive COVID test on Friday, he was forced to sit this one out.

That means his 15 point lead will evaporate which he will likely fall to possibly fifth or sixth by time this is all said and done on Sunday night. He was fifth at Topeka but won in Brainerd, the last race out, to go from fifth to first in points.

Now, he likely falls back down since the top five are separated by 25 points right now. Robert Hight in sixth is 83 points arrears.

Plus, the drivers behind him currently in points qualified second (Bob Tasca III), fifth (JR Todd), first (John Force), sixth (Ron Capps), third (Robert Hight), seventh (Alexis DeJoria), fourth (Cruz Pedregon), eighth (Tim Wilkerson) and 10th (Blake Alexander).



No Matter What Steve Torrence Does, His Lead Will Also Evaporate

The three time defending Top Fuel champion, Steve Torrence, currently leads the points again by 383 markers entering the weekend. He was P2 on Friday night and has a realistic chance of earning his second Wally in the Big Go in the last five years.

The thing is, no matter what happens this weekend, his spot in the points standings will remain since 187 is the max amount of points anyone can score here. Where I’m going with this is, Indy is the final race of the regular season. The Countdown starts next. That means the points are reset with his lead going down to 20 leaving here no matter if he wins or is a first round exit.

It’s essentially a loss of 363 points for him this weekend even if he wins.


Kalitta vs. John Force Racing

For the second straight year, the defending Funny Car winner in the US Nationals isn’t here to defend it. John Force won in 2019 but due to the pandemic, sat out the 2020 season. Jack Beckman won the Big Go a year ago but isn’t here this weekend. Does that open things up?

Kalitta Motorsports has won a race here in each of the last 4 years. JR Todd won back-to-back Funny Car Wally’s in the Big Go between 2017 and 2018. Doug Kalitta won in 2019 with Shawn Langdon triumphing in 2020. Both were in Top Fuel.

Can any of their drivers keep this streak alive?

Langdon is the last qualifier in Top Fuel and will face off against Brittany Force in Round 1. Kalitta, was the No. 3 qualifier. For Kalitta, he’s having a season not to his liking this year.

In 2020, Kalitta came into the US Nationals holding an 83 point lead over Steve Torrence. This year, he’s 709 points behind him. Talk about a drastic change.

Kalitta, started off last season with three straight final round appearances. He’s had just 2 in 12 races this year including a first round defeat in 5 of the last 6 races and making it past the second round just twice all year.

That’ll contribute to the downfall.

The thing is, can mount a comeback and earn his first career championship? He holds the record with 23 straight seasons with a top 10 finish in Top Fuel. He also holds the record for most career wins (49) without a title too. He’s finished runner-up in the standings five times but has never celebrated a season’s championship.

Last year seemed like the year where this one doesn’t. Can the flip flop?

He won the Big Go in 2019, so this could be the start of a run between now and the seven race Countdown.

Todd was the No. 5 qualifier in Funny Car and will go against Jim Campbell in Round 1 on Sunday. 3 of the last 4 races he’s made it to the semifinals.

Their main rivals though may come from the John Force Racing camp. They took the No. 1 qualifying spots on Friday night with Brittany Force in Top Fuel and John Force in Funny Car. Robert Hight was P3 also with JFR going 1-3 in that class.



Can Capps Finally Get A Wally In The Big Go?

Ron Capps has been trying for years to win at the US Nationals. He’s ran almost 600 NHRA events (578), 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 of last year for his first win in Indy. It was his 65th career win in his 560th start.

He’s since won two more times and has made 128 final round appearances but has no Indy wins on Labor Day weekend.

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

  • 2019 Recap from the US Nationals
  • 2020 Recap from the US Nationals

Two years ago, Doug Kalitta finally got his first US Nationals crown. Is it Capps’ turn yet?

He sits fifth in points (-25) entering this weekend and has made it to at the very least the semifinals in 4 of the last 6 races. The thing is, after his win in Pomona, he’s lost in the second round in each of the last two races. He was a second round exit a year ago too.


Of Note:

Parity

Last year was the first time since 2013 that we had a repeat winner. Shawn Langdon started it in ’13 and ended it in ’20. Between him, Richie Crampton, Morgan Lucas, Tony Schumacher, Steve Torrence, Terry McMillen and Doug Kalitta all won. Do we get another new winner on Sunday?

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, 2020), Matt Hagan (2016) and John Force (2019) to give us seven different winners in the last nine years. Beckman, isn’t back this weekend like Force wasn’t a year ago.

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 before Enders repeated her 2015 crown last September.

There’s been five straight years with a different winner in the Bikes category.


Key Stat:

Champions Lead

Steve Torrence has won each of the last three Top Fuel championships. Matt Hagan won his third career Funny Car title last year. Erica Enders won her second straight and fourth overall Pro Stock championship in 2020 while Matt Smith took home the Pro Stock bikes hardware.

Heading into this weekend at the Big Go, Torrence, Hagan and Smith lead their points standings again with Enders sitting in third.

In fact, in the Top Fuel category, the last person to defeat Torrence for a title is Brittany Force. She’s 383 points behind him in second right now. The driver before Force to win a championship in 2016 was Antron Brown. He’s third.

That means every Top Fuel champion since 2016 is 1-2-3 in points as the regular season concludes on Sunday afternoon.

For Funny Car, trends say Robert Hight will win the title this November but he sits sixth (-83) in points. He’s won championships in 2009, 2017 and 2019). All odd years including the last two odd years at that. 2017, 2019…2021?

JR Todd won in 2018 and sits third (-15) while Ron Capps won in 2016 and is fifth (-25). John Force is a 16 time Funny Car World Champion and resides in fourth (-16) heading into Indy. That means five of the top six in points have all won championships.

The only outlier?

Bob Tasca III in second (-15). He hasn’t made it to the final round since Norwalk though with 3 of his last 4 races seeing him bow out before the semifinals.

The thing is, Hagan tested positive for COVID on Friday and will miss this weekend. That will absolutely factor the points standings before we get a reset for the Countdown which is up next. 


In the Pro Stock category, Enders is looking for a second straight win here. She needs it as she’s 170 points behind Greg Anderson for the points lead. The thing is, Enders has kind of supplanted Anderson in Pro Stock lore this past decade with her winning four championships since 2014.

Both her and Anderson are trying to tie Jeg Coughlin for titles at five, but Anderson and Coughlin had their best years between 2000 and 2010 with them combining to win 8 of the 10 championships in that span. Anderson’s last was in 2010. Enders came along soon after as the torch was passed onto her.

Now, Anderson is back in the points lead following two wins and five final round appearances this season including a semifinal appearance in 4 of the last 5 races. He’s been on top all season long.

Enders meanwhile, has been to the semis in 3 of the last 4 races including a win in Norwalk 4 races ago. She’s only had two final round appearances, both being wins. Can she get back in Indy? She was third entering Indy last year and won the race as well as going on to win the championship too.

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