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Contenders abound at Bristol

Jeff Birchfield • Jun 15, 2018 at 1:37 AM

BRISTOL, Tenn. — A wide-open field for this weekend’s NHRA Fitzgerald USA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway features several strong cars that should be contending for race wins.

On its website, the NHRA named Steve Torrence in Top Fuel, Courtney Force in Funny Car and Greg Anderson in Pro Stock as pre-race favorites. All are solid picks with Torrence and Force coming off wins at Richmond last weekend and four-time world champion Anderson testing with the KB Racing Team last week at Thunder Valley.

They certainly aren’t the only ones to keep an eye on. Here’s a breakdown of the three professional categories:

TOP FUEL

Torrence is looking for his first Bristol win but was the No. 1 qualifier for the event in 2016. One of his toughest competitors could be Leah Pritchett, whose husband, Gary, is the clutch specialist for Torrence’s team.

In fact, all of the Don Schumacher Racing drivers could be a factor, particularly eight-time world champion and five-time Thunder Valley Nationals winner Tony Schumacher. He showed speed recently with a No. 1 qualifying effort at Richmond, and with a Top Fuel-record 83 wins, you can never count out “The Sarge.”

Three-time champion Antron Brown is still looking for his first Bristol win, while Doug Kalitta, with his family-owned team, is a three-time Bristol winner. Brittany Force is the defending series champion and won earlier this season in Houston.

The sentimental favorite is Clay Millican, who scored an emotional Father’s Day win in 2017 just two years after losing his son in a motorcycle accident. It was the veteran campaigner’s first win on the NHRA side after being a six-time IHRA world champion.

FUNNY CAR

Courtney Force has both the performance and the momentum after registering four wins this season, including three of the last four races. However, her father, John Force, is a four-time Bristol winner after his victories in 2007 and 2013 broke long winless streaks. The iconic racer hasn’t won in more than a year, though; his 148th career win came at the 2017 Gatornationals.

Ron Capps — also with four Bristol wins, including last year — leads a strong contingent from the Don Schumacher Racing stable. Tommy Johnson Jr. has two Bristol wins and two-time world champion Matt Hagan won the race in 2015.

It’s the home track for Hagan, the Christiansburg, Va., driver who opened the season with a win at Pomona.

Robert Hight, also from the Force camp, won the 2011 Bristol event and recently won at Chicago. J.R. Todd won back-to-back races at Las Vegas and Houston earlier in the season just a year after making the switch from Top Fuel to Funny Car.

PRO STOCK

Alex Laughlin had a perfect light to defeat eventual world champion Bo Butner in the Pro Stock final and win the 2017 Thunder Valley Nationals title and Laughlin has extra motivation with his car sponsor, Fitzgerald, sponsoring the race. But he’s just 11th in the points right now.

Anderson is the points leader with KB Racing, although he and teammate Jason Line, a three-time world champion, have yet to win this season. No one would have predicted the only KBR driver to win over the past month would be Deric Kramer at Topeka. The only other KB win this season came from Butner in the opener.

Jeg Coughlin Jr. won in Pro Stock at Chicago and in Super Comp at Richmond, where he was eliminated in the Pro Stock quarterfinals. Tanner Gray triumphed at Richmond, his second win of the year, and Vincent Nobile, who is second in the points, also has two wins.

Erica Enders, who reached the final round at Richmond, is always fast at Bristol. She won earlier this season in Charlotte.

But the fact there are so many drivers over the three classes who are contenders shows just how unpredictable this weekend’s races truly are.


NHRA Fitzgerald USA Thunder Valley Nationals

Friday, June 15

9 a.m. — Gates open

10 a.m. — Sportsman qualifying

2:30 p.m. — Factory Stock Showdown qualifying

3:15 p.m. — Nitro Harley qualifying

3:45 p.m. — Pro Mod qualifying

4:30 p.m. — Pro Stock qualifying

5 p.m. — Nitro qualifying (Funny Car/Top Fuel)

6 p.m. — Nitro Harley qualifying

6:15 p.m. — Factory Stock Showdown qualifying

6:45 p.m. — Pro Mod qualifying

7:30 p.m. — Pro Stock qualifying

8 p.m. — Nitro qualifying (Funny Car/Top Fuel)

(Fireworks at conclusion of qualifying)

Saturday, June 16

7:30 a.m. — Gates open

8 a.m. — Sportsman eliminations

11:30 a.m. — Factory Stock Showdown qualifying

Noon — Nitro Harley qualifying

12:15 p.m. — Pro Mod qualifying

1 p.m. — Pro Stock qualifying

1:30 p.m. — Nitro qualifying (Funny Car/Top Fuel)

2:30 p.m. — Nitro Harley qualifying

2:40 p.m. — Factory Stock Showdown eliminations

2:45 p.m. — Pro Mod Eliminations

3:30 p.m. — Pro Stock qualifying

4 p.m. — Nitro qualifying (Funny Car/Top Fuel)

(Fan Fest begins 30 minutes after last qualifying round)

Sunday, June 17

8:30 a.m. — Gates open

10:30 a.m. — Track walk

11 a.m. — Pre-race ceremonies

Noon — Eliminations

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