CLERMONT, Ind — The prestigious 68th annual Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals is back in the circle city of Indianapolis. Here are the top 5 storylines to watch for this weekend’s event that takes place from Aug. 31 through Sept. 5 at Lucas Oil Raceway (IRP).
The Indiana native is well known within the borders here of the Hoosier State and while he may not be racing at the big track to the east anymore, Stewart returns to IRP as an owner. “Smoke” has competed many times on the .686-mile oval on the eastern part of the grounds here, but now he’ll be an owner for 2 Nitro Classes in NHRA.
Tony Stewart Racing was an already established operation but now they’ve dug into drag racing and will show up this week with Leah Pruett in Top Fuel and three-time Funny Car World Champion Matt Hagan staying in Funny Car’s in TSR’s inaugural 2022 NHRA season.
They each have a realistic shot of putting Stewart to victory lane in Indy.
Pruett won the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA Mile High Nationals back in June while Hagan has won three times (Gainesville, NHRA Spring Nationals and Epping) this year.
Can We Top Last Couple Of Years
2019 saw Doug Kalitta and Alex Laughlin emotionally score their 1st US Nationals victories. It also saw John Force nearly being brought to tears after earning his 1st US Nationals win since 2002. Jerry Savoie also was emotional after his win as well.
2020 was another big year for big winners. Last year rivaled 2019 though.
When we look back on the 2021 Dodge//SRT U.S. Nationals and look at the winners, we’re going to smile in reflection of what we witnessed. Steve Torrence scored his second Wally here on Labor Day weekend but his eighth of the season and 48th of his career at that point.
Tim Wilkerson earned his 21st career Funny Car win.
Erica Enders scored her 32nd Pro Stock triumph while Eddie Krawiec took his 49th career trip to the victory circle, seven shy of most ever in Pro Stock Motorcycles at the time too.
Torrence has won 4 straight Top Fuel titles. Enders has won 3 of the last 4 and 4 total Pro Stock championships. Krawiec also has 4 championships in Pro Stock Motorcycles. Each he and Enders have 3 Big Go Wally’s in their trophy case. There’s a great chance that Torrence, Enders and Krawiec will be labeled among the best there ever was in NHRA Drag Racing by time their careers are said and done.
For Top Fuel, it’s Tony Schumacher (8 titles) and Joe Amato (5 titles) that Torrence is chasing.
For Pro Stock, it’s Bob Glidden (10 championships), Warren Johnson (6 championships) and Jeg Coughlin (5 championships) that Enders is running down.
In the Bikes, Dave Schultz and Andrew Hines (6 titles) each is who Krawiec is after now.
But you also have to look at who these four beat last year too.
Arguably, the days’ runner-ups last year were as big as a storyline as the winners itself. Yes, you had legendary drivers like Torrence, Enders and Krawiec as well as fan favorite Wilkerson winning, but you also had runner-ups of Brittany Force, Ron Capps, Kyle Koretsky and Angelle Sampey.
Force, has never won the Big Go but here she was as the top qualifier and in the finals for a chance to join her dad and sister in Indy lore. Force came up just short though.
For Capps, he’s won 70- races in nearly 600 career starts. None of those 70 race wins came in this prestigious event though. While he won an added Indy race in 2020, it wasn’t the US Nationals. Capps, got to the finals and had a shot at a US Nationals Wally, but came up short to Wilkerson in heartbreaking fashion for his 62nd career Funny Car runner-up. For a guy with the second most wins ever in Funny Car competition, trailing only the great John Force, it’s astonishing that he’s never won a Wally on Labor Day weekend here.
In Pro Stocks, it was the youngster Kyle Koretsky coming home second. This was only his 19th career Pro Stock race and here he is as the No. 1 qualifier, the first of his young career, and in the finals for just the third time of his life too. He’s going against a soon to be legend in Erica Enders and she just beat him on the reaction time to earn her 32nd win at the time and his third runner-up.
Angelle Sampey came home just shy of her 44th career win but had to settle for her 33rd runner-up instead.
Just look at those second place names on Sunday and the story behind them – Force, Capps, Koretsky, Sampey.
A Return To Monday
For the first time since 2019, the finals move back to Labor Day itself. Due to a COVID year in 2020, they ran a shorter weekend with a Friday-Saturday-Sunday format. That remained the same last year too with limited qual runs.
Now, it’s back to the traditional format with one quals round on Friday and 2 each on Saturday and again on Sunday.
Final Race Before The Countdown
Indy is once again the final race before the playoffs. Due to the pandemic in 2020, there was no Countdown. It was just a season tallied by points accumulated from start to finish. Last year it was back to the playoff format. Same to be said for 2022.
This year, there’s some very tight battles for the final few spots.
In Top Fuel, just 4 of the 10 spots are clinched (Brittany Force, Mike Salinas, Steve Torrence and Justin Ashley). Josh Hart (+158), Shawn Langdon (+122), Pruett (+122), Tony Schumacher (+64), Doug Kalitta (+53) and Antron Brown (+29) hold the final 6 spots to the postseason.
However, Clay Millican (-29) and Austin Prock (-29) are trying to force their ways in.
A similar battle is shaping up in Pro Stock. 4 of the 10 spots are also clinched here (Erica Enders, Aaron Stanfield, Kyle Koretsky and Greg Anderson). Troy Coughlin Jr. (+173), Dallas Glenn (+145), Mason McGaha (+81), Camrie Caruso (+47), Matt Hartford (+30) and Bo Butner (+5) hold the 6 wildcard spots and are vying against Fernando Cuadra Jr. (-5), Deric Kramer (-25), Cristian Cuadra (-61) and Chris McGaha (-125) who are each trying to bump their ways in.
For Funny Car and Pro Stock Motorcycle divisions, their fields are more solidified. However, their battles on the cutline are just as close though.
In Funny Car 9 of the 10 spots are clinched (Robert Hight, Matt Hagan, Ron Capps, Bob Tasca III, John Force, JR Todd, Alexis DeJoria, Cruz Pedregon and Tim Wilkerson). Currently, Chad Green leads Jim Campbell by a mere 4 points for that 10th and final spot. Blake Alexander is only 26 points out himself.
In the bikes division, 8 of their 10 are set (Joey Gladstone, Angelle Sampey, Eddie Krawiec, Steve Johnson, Matt Smith, Angie Smith, Jerry Savoie and Karen Stoffer). Marc Ingwersen (+87) and Ryan Oehler (+7) hold the final 2 spots. Jimmy Underdahl (-7), Chris Bostick (-90), Kelly Clontz (-109), Jianna Salinas (-111), LE Tonglet IV (-153) are each trying to get into the Countdown themselves.
Per NHRA rules, a total of 187 points will be up for grabs this weekend, which includes 150 points for a win, a maximum of 12 qualifying-session points (three sessions with four points given to each session’s best time), a maximum of 10 points for being the overall qualifying leader, and 15 points for competing in the event.
While NASCAR, INDYCAR and F1 are each in a pursuit of opening the doors up for more female racers, there’s no shortage of females here in NHRA. In fact, they’re very successful. That’s why this weekend is one to where they should be the limelight in the fact that it’s the 40 year anniversary of Shirley Muldowney’s US Nationals victory.
Muldowney was the first woman granted an NHRA license. They tried to fight her for it and even after granting her a license, they had remorse and tried to take it back. She didn’t allow it and proved that this just isn’t a mans game.
Muldowney won 3 championships but her biggest win came here on Labor Day weekend in 1982. Now, 40 years later, there’s a real chance that all 4 top professional categories could be won by women.
Brittany Force and Leah Pruett are among the favorites in the Top Fuel field. They’ve combined to have won 5 of the 15 races this season. Funny Car could end up in Alexis DeJoria’s hands. She sits 7th in points entering the weekend and a 2014 US Nationals champion.
Erica Enders leads the Pro Stock points and is the two-time defending Pro Stock US Nationals champion at that. She’s won 6 times this season alone.
Then you have Angelle Sampey, Angie Smith and Karen Stoffer in Pro Stock Bikes. They sit 2nd, 6th and 8th in points Sampey and Stoffer winning 2 of the 9 races run this season in this category.