After taking last week off, the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series returns to action for the first of four weekends in a row at Route 66 Raceway in Illinois this weekend. The JEGS Route 66 NHRA Nationals marks the ninth of 24 stops on the 2018 calendar, as well as the return of Pro Stock Motorcycle competition for the first time since the Southern Nationals in Atlanta a month ago.
With the grids all set through Friday and Saturday qualifying, all that’s left to do is put 16 racers out on track in all four of the sport’s premier classes and decide the winners. As the first-round action kicks off this morning and carries into the finals this afternoon, here are some of the biggest storylines we’ll be watching out for:
How will John Force bounce back from his latest setback?
During qualifying rounds on Saturday, the legendary NHRA star found himself in the wall after struggling with the handling of his Chevrolet Camaro Funny Car. It’s been a rough season so far for Force, the 16-time champion, who failed to qualify for an event for the first time in a number of seasons earlier this year. He’ll still roll off sixth on Sunday, facing Tim Wilkerson in the first round with a repaired racecar, but he’ll have to pull out all the stops to make his second final round appearance of the season.
Which 1 vs. 2 matchup is most likely to happen in today’s action?
The Top Fuel ladder features this year’s points leader, Steve Torrence, and last year’s champion, Brittany Force, in the top two spots. That would undoubtedly be a fun final round matchup to watch, but it’s not the only matchup of its kind that could make for a great show: a 1-2 battle in Funny Car would see defending Route 66 winner Ron Capps try to take down top qualifier Matt Hagan, and a 1-2 battle in Pro Stock Motorcycle would see last year’s runner up Hector Arana Jr. face off with polesitter Andrew Hines.
Who will be the next winner in a closely matched Pro Stock field?
The top five Pro Stock drivers are separated by only 55 points coming into Sunday’s eliminations. Vincent Nobile holds a 30-point advantage over Greg Anderson; meanwhile, Anderson, Erica Enders, and Deric Kramer are only separated by four points for second, and Bo Butner rounds out the top five. Anderson qualified first for today’s action, and will face the winner of a Kramer-Butner faceoff in the second round of he advances, while Nobile is fifth on the ladder and Enders sits seventh.