Denso NHRA Sonoma Nationals Friday Preview

The NHRA Western Swing is the most iconic trio in motorsport. One that tests drag racing teams at three different tracks for three consecutive weekends and requires a logistically difficult 2,000-mile road trip (nightmare?) in addition to track success.

After racing last weekend at the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA Mile-High Nationals atop a mile-high mountain, the Camping World Drag Racing Series descended to just 15 feet above sea level to the Denso NHRA Sonoma Nationals this weekend. In the four days between the two events, teams and riders had to prepare for the biggest shift in power and speed they would see all season, as the crisp, dense county air of Sonoma and the hot, grippy surface of Sonoma Raceway combine to make for a radically faster Friday night qualifying session.

As the second leg of the Western Swing, the Denso NHRA Sonoma National Championships is also where Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock teams compete not only to win each event, but also to complete the famous challenge of “Sweeping the Swing” where runners look to find success three weekends in a row. With just four races remaining before the start of the championship countdown, Top Fuel’s Leah Pruett, Funny Car’s Robert Hight and Pro Stock’s Matt Hartford will all have that goal in mind during the nightly qualifying races tonight, two sessions of qualification on Final of Saturday and Sunday.

Superior fuel

Beyond Sweeping the Swing, Mile Salinas’ Scrappers Racing Pep Boys Top Fuel dragster leads Brittany Force by 10 points and Justin Ashley by 92 points at Sonoma in the most successful season of his career. In a race near his hometown, Salinas looks certain to improve his performance in 2021 where mid-track traction issues allowed Doug Kalitta to round him for the round victory.

Pruett will look to prevent that from happening as his Dodge Power Brokers dragster takes a win for his Tony Stewart Racing team at their sponsor’s race. Sonoma was good for Pruett, who reached the final round in 2021 against Steven Torrence where she had a better reaction but a slower car.

California-born Top Fuel rider Brittany Force will also be looking to convert her historic track record and qualifying success into a race victory this weekend. This would prevent Pruett from Sweeping the Swing and allow her to pass Salinas in the points standings. She will have her work cut out with 2021 Sonoma winner Steve Torrence, Billy Torrence, Antron Brown and Clay Millican all well placed and capable of success in Sonoma and looking to disrupt the momentum of Salinas and Pruett.

funny car

The Funny Car peloton enters Sonoma with two top speed titans: Robert Hight and Matt Hagan. Hight was deadly for competition at this track; Sonoma rewarded him with national records (339.87 mph in 2017) and Wallys in 2021, 2019 and 2018. Hight’s Camaro is nearly unstoppable in Sonoma and looks strong to go to Seattle for Sweep the Swing in Funny Car.

The man most likely to stop Hight’s rapid march west is Hagan. Although 95 points back in the standings, Hagan gave Hight a run for his money here. In 2019, Sonoma’s Funny Car Finals ended in a Hagan vs. Hight duel with Hight the winner on one hole. History repeated itself in 2021 when the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series returned to Sonoma and saw Hagan and Hight in the finals again in an even tighter race. Again, the advantage went to Hight.

While Hagan’s Hellcat Charger and Hight’s Camaro will be the ones to watch, Ron Capps has also proven to be a contender in the Bay Area. He was runner-up here in 2018 and 2016 and number one qualifier last year. His GR Supra could be about to end the Hagan/Hight Sonoma showdown.

Professional inventory

Pro Stock’s return to Western-Swing sweeping potential (the class didn’t race in Denver in 2021) means their 500-cid DRCE big blocks go from suffocating to the great outdoors. Many teams will be swinging for the fences with tonight’s atmospheric conditions, and fans will want to see if the right strategy is restraint or radicalism.

Matt Hartford is the racer to watch as his team was tested on the track on Sunday and then logistically tested on the road to Sonoma when their semi was unable to transport the race trailer as planned . Will the momentum of success outweigh the stressful pressure of arriving in California? Not if Erica Enders has anything to say about it — and she will. Surprisingly, Enders never made the final in Sonoma, but after her victory in Norwalk, expect her to be as lethal as ever at the top of the track. If there was a year for it to rewrite its Pro Stock history, that’s it.

Enders arrives in Sonoma leading in points with teammate Aaron Stanfield right behind her, followed by a pack of KB Racing cars (Kyle Koretsky, Dallas Glenn and Greg Anderson) all looking to qualify in the top five and crush the Hartford’s Western Swing dreams like Hartford stomped on Anderson in Seattle in 2019.

Pro Stock Motorcycle

Pro Stock moto racers won’t get a chance to sweep the swing, but motos will always be a class to watch. The power difference between Denver and Sonoma on a motorcycle is huge, with the rev gain and trap speeds every rider experiences tonight in Sonoma versus Sunday in Colorado needing their full attention. Be sure to watch the riders at the top of the track and catch their breath before the interview.

Matt Smith is a solid contender, he has the power, finesse and team architecture to execute. What changes does it need to make to bikes between Denver and Sonoma? “We change the motors, gear ratios and clutch—and in my case, we changed the whole bike,” Smith said. Who can stop it? Vance & Hines, but it won’t be easy. Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec are used to facing Smith in Sonoma, and the qualifying sessions will prove that old rivalries make for entertaining races. Steve Johnson’s newfound success and continued discipline also put him in the pipeline for a solid qualifying that could lead to victory on Sunday.

You can catch the action all weekend at FOX Sports 1 and NHRA.tv.

You can follow the NHRA on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to get a closer look at the action.

TV SHOW :

Saturday, July 23, FS1 will air qualifying TV coverage from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. (ET)

Sunday, July 24, FS1 will air qualifying TV coverage from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. (ET)

Sunday, July 24, FOX will televise the final eliminations from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. (ET)

About Todd Wurtsbach

Check Also

Pro motocross mechanics discuss life as the key to travel

Has there ever been chatter in the mechanics areas during motos? alexander I think so. …