Pedregon, Rieff, Howe Pick Drag Racing’s Locks, Longshots & Top Playoff Stories

CHARLOTTE, NC – FOX Sports and the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) are in the staging lanes for this weekend’s opening round of the six-race NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, with Sunday’s Final Round airing at 2:30 PM ET on FS1 live from zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C.

The broadcast team of Dave Rieff (host), two-time Funny Car champion Tony Pedregon (analyst) and reporter Jamie Howe offer insight into drag racing’s high-pressure playoffs with a look at the favorites, the longshots and the storylines fans will be talking about:

FOX SPORTS: If you had to pick one racer who you’d say is a LOCK to win a championship this year, who would it be and why?

  • TONY PEDREGON: Since there are three or four legitimate contenders in Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock I will go with the low-hanging fruit and say that, based on the last race, Eddie Krawiec in Pro Stock Motorcycle will outperform the field. Timing is in his favor and it looks like there is more power to uncover for the Harleys.
  • DAVE RIEFF: This sport is way too unpredictable to make guarantees, but if I had to pick someone, it would be LE Tonglet as my stone-cold, lead-pipe lock. LE is a tremendous rider with a superior team. As the No. 1 seed in Pro Stock Motorcycle, he will more than hold his own.
  • JAMIE HOWE: It’s hard to pick a racer who is locked at this point because there are so many who could win each weekend. But I think, in Funny Car, it’s really Ron Capps’ to lose. They have dominated the point standings all season and are racing with a different confidence than last season. They are the defending champions and know how to do it.

FOX SPORTS: Give me a longshot pick who just may be peaking at the right time to shock the field and win an unexpected title?

  • TONY PEDREGON: Since the criteria is a longshot, I wouldn’t be surprised if Doug Kalitta jumps up and contends in Top Fuel. No wins yet this year; however, he has lost many close races and can easily turn things around.
  • DAVE RIEFF: I’d go with Terry McMillen. They are a team that has really turned the corner this year … a consistent .70s car that should have won in Seattle. The top teams are now running .60s, so there is work to do to keep up, but I like Terry and that team as my longshot.
  • JAME HOWE: JR Todd and the DHL team haven’t been the best performers but they have been there to capitalize and win races. They may be carrying enough momentum from winning Indy that they could peak at the right time to win a championship.

FOX SPORTS: What are the top one or two storylines you are watching heading into this first race of the Countdown?

  • TONY PEDREGON: Defending Top Fuel champion Antron Brown will have some serious competition this time around. Steve Torrence has improved and will be a serious threat. Leah (Pritchett) has the car and performance, but will be tested under pressure of the Countdown … Funny Car is wide open and it will be tough for (Ron) Capps to repeat with drivers like Robert Hight and Matt Hagan running so strong.
  • DAVE RIEFF: Ron Capps looking to be the first driver to win back-to-back Funny Car titles since John Force’s history-making run … And I’m keeping an eye on Drew Skillman in Pro Stock, a driver with the right temperament and the right skill set to be a champion.
  • JAMIE HOWE: Steve Torrence coming off an Indy win as the No. 1 seed in the Countdown leaves him with a bull’s eye. But if anyone in the field handles the pressure, it’s him. They have a solid car and have worked themselves into the combination they’ll run for the duration of the season. Also, Tanner Gray is a rookie on a mission in Pro Stock. He has six races left to earn the AAA Road to the Future Award.