Bandimere Speedway kicks off the annual Western Swing for the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, as this weekend’s Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals kicks off three straight weeks of nitro action in the western half of the United States. It’s a big weekend in more ways than one: not only will all four premier classes of racing be back in action, but the race will also be shown live over-the-air as the first FOX broadcast of 2019.
Last year’s event gave three drivers their first wins of 2018, including John Force in Funny Car, Greg Anderson in Pro Stock, and Hector Arana Jr. in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Last year’s win from the Colorado-based track remains Force’s most recent Wally, as the 16-time champion continues to sit on 149 career victories; a repeat would no doubt lead to one of the biggest celebrations of the season.
The other winner from Bandimere last year, Top Fuel driver Leah Pritchett, could use a win just as badly. Pritchett missed the New England Nationals two weekends ago due to sponsorship issues, and will return to the track for Don Schumacher Racing still in search of her first win of the season. As was the case in last year’s Countdown to the Championship, Steve Torrence has been dominating the class as of late, scoring victories in seven of the last eight races and making it to the final in the exception.
Torrence’s whopping 479-point lead over Doug Kalitta in the Top Fuel standings enabled him to clinch the first Countdown spot in New England, but the points leaders in other classes have also built some sizable advantages. Robert Hight leads his teammate and car owner Force by 176 points in the Funny Car standings, while Bo Butner boasts a 148-point lead over Alex Laughlin in Pro Stock and Andrew Hines’ five wins in seven events have given him an 86-point advantage over Eddie Krawiec. Of the current second-place racers in points, only Kalitta has a Wally this season, having triumphed at the season-opening Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals from Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
The final cutoff spots for the Countdown, though, are a bit harder-fought. Scott Palmer only has an eight-point advantage over Austin Prock for the final Top Fuel spot, while Hector Arana Sr. is only 28 points clear of Scotty Pollacheck for 10th place in Pro Stock Motorcycle points and Kenny Delco needs to make up 86 points on Rodger Brogdon to make the Pro Stock cutof. In Funny Car, though, it’ll take a major surge from Cruz Pedregon to crack the top 10; he’s currently 168 points behind Shawn Langdon, who is coming off a final round appearance in New Hampshire.
The Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals will air on Sunday at 3PM ET on FOX. Following Sunday’s eliminations, the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series will pack up and head southwest to Sonoma Raceway for the NHRA Sonoma Nationals, the second race of the Western Swing.