Pedregon: NHRA Legend John Force ‘is a Threat Once Again’
CHARLOTTE, NC – The FOX NHRA broadcast team of two-time NHRA Funny Car champion Tony Pedregon, play-by-play voice Brian Lohnes and two-time NHRA Competition Eliminator champion Bruno Massel offers insight into the 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series heading into this weekend’s NGK Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMax Dragway in Concord, N.C., the sixth event of the 24-race season:
FOX Sports: What is the biggest surprise (good, bad or both) at this point in the season?
- Pedregon: On the good side, I will start with Clay Millican. After the departure of crew chief David Grubnic, the team had to sort through some changes that they seem to have worked out within a couple of races, scoring a couple of final-round showings and a very solid car/driver combination. On the not-so-good front, Steve Torrence has not made a single final round after winning the last six races of 2018.
- Lohnes: Clay Millican and Mike Kloeber have provided the most positive surprise to me this season. With the departure of the entire crew, Kloeber’s return to the top ranks of the sport, and what could only be called a challenging pre-season test, these guys were looking to be on shaky ground. They have made multiple finals and the car looks as good as it did last year at this time … In Funny Car, it has been a bit of a surprise to see Ron Capps, Rahn Tobler and the NAPA guys scuffle a little to start the year, but I fully expect them to be in championship form by the time the Countdown arrives after Indy and likely by the Western Swing.
- Massel: The biggest surprise for me would be Brittany Force. Yes, she’s the 2017 champ, but it is impressive how quickly this team has jelled with new crew chief, David Grubnic.
FOX Sports: Which driver/crew chief tandem has the best chemistry at this point in the season?
- Pedregon: No big surprise here. After John Force named David Grubnic as daughter Brittany’s new tuner, the combo won Houston and they did it with some crushing performance numbers. Look for Mike Salinas/Alan Johnson to be tough in Top Fuel.
- Lohnes: I really like what Terry McMillen and Rob Wendland have happening. Terry lets Rob do what he needs to do with the car and personnel, and in turn, Rob respects Terry’s abilities as one of the most consistent leavers and levelheaded drivers in the class. They have good mojo and outside of some bad luck this year, they’d be higher in the Top Fuel points.
- Massel: The best crew chief/driver chemistry is easily Jimmy Prock and Robert Hight. Three wins in five races, and doing it in impressive fashion.
FOX Sports: Which team(s) do you expect to make a late-season run to become relevant in the championship points race?
- Pedregon: In Top Fuel, Doug Kalitta will be in contention as usual; however, now that he has a better car under him, should be in the conversation for a championship. In Funny Car, John Force should be in position to make another championship run with his new team and new tuner. The 16-time champ is a threat once again.
- Lohnes: I am going to pin this one on Bob Tasca III in nitro Funny Car. The car has shown some flashes of what it is capable of and Bob is a top-three leaver in the class. When all the pieces are together with Eric Lane and Mike Green working together, these guys will be capable of bringing the noise. Sometimes, drag racing is like making a good stew. You have to give all the ingredients time to cook together before it is ready.
- Massel: Late-season run for a championship in Funny Car, I’ll go with Tommy Johnson Jr. His car always performs well in the hot summer months, and usually is strong in the Countdown. Take away the explosions and TJ isn’t off to a bad start.
FOX Sports: Make your picks – who comes out of Charlotte with Wallys?
- Pedregon: In Top Fuel, Steve Torrence or Antron Brown bouncing back. In Funny Car, Robert Hight has the best car, but I will go with Bob Tasca or Tommy Johnson Jr.
- Lohnes: I see JR Todd sweeping the four-wide races in 2019. He’s somehow managed to master the format and as these things go in drag racing, the mental edge he seems to have on other racers is beginning to work more and more in his favor during four-wide races. In Top Fuel, I feel like Doug Kalitta will do it in Charlotte. He is driving like no one has seen him (or anyone else) compete in many years. He’s going to be up on the wheel in Charlotte.
- Massel: Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), upset with his performance behind the wheel this season, the champ will find the next gear and get another Four-Wide Wally. In Funny Car, Tim Wilkerson has had an exceptional car at the first five races, just keeps finding a way to lose on Sunday, I say Wilk is overdue.
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