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Tricky Tipster: Denso NHRA Sonoma Nationals

The annual NHRA Western Swing wraps up this weekend at Sonoma Raceway and Pro Stock Motorcycle sensation Gaige Herrera is still in the running to complete a clean sweep of all three events. Herrera has won convincingly in Denver and Seattle so it’s no surprise that he’s the odds-on favorite to claim another title in Sonoma.
27 Jul 2023
NHRA National Dragster staff
Nitro Time Machine
Tricky Tipster

The annual NHRA Western Swing wraps up this weekend at Sonoma Raceway and Pro Stock Motorcycle sensation Gaige Herrera is still in the running to complete a clean sweep of all three events. Herrera has won convincingly in Denver and Seattle so it’s no surprise that he’s the odds-on favorite to claim another title in Sonoma.

The Top Fuel and Funny Car classes are a bit less predictable although Seattle Top Fuel champ Steve Torrence is again the favorite while Robert Hight is going to get the nod by a very slim margin in the topsy-turvy Funny Car class.


The favorite: For the better part of the last two years, Steve Torrence has maintained there is nothing wrong with his Capco Contractors team and perhaps now, following his impressive win in Seattle, the detractors will begin to believe him. Torrence was impressive in his latest victory, and he’s now got the lead in the Camping World standings. As history has shown, Torrence usually doesn’t budge when he’s got the top spot.

Torrence also has a bit of history at Sonoma Raceway as he won the 2021 event by beating Leah Pruett in the final round.

The contenders: Let’s see, Brittany Force had the best car in qualifying in Seattle so she’s certainly a contender and the same goes for Justin Ashley, who generally has a good car everywhere he goes. We also can’t discount Clay Millican, who has had a win and a semifinal in his last two starts and the same goes for Doug Kalitta, who finally seems on the verge of winning his 50th Top Fuel title. It might also be wise to include Mike Salinas, who calls Sonoma Raceway home.

The dark horse: After making the final round in Chicago, Josh Hart looked to be making a move on the championship leaders but the R+L Carriers team has endured a few tough losses recently. Hart ran a very competitive 3.75 in the opening round in Seattle, but as luck would have it, Steve Torrence ran 3.73 in the other lane. When that happens, all you can do it regroup and move on to the next one.

Steve Torrence         Capco Contractors                 4-1
Justin Ashley             Phillips Connect                      5-1
Clay Millican              Parts Plus                                6-1
Brittany Force           Monster Energy                     7-1
Doug Kalitta              Mac Tools                                8-1
Leah Pruett               Dodge Power Brokers          9-1
Josh Hart                   R+L Carriers                            9-1
Austin Prock             Montana Brands                   10-1
Mike Salinas             Scrappers                               12-1
Antron Brown          Matco Tools                           12-1
Shawn Langdon       DHL                                         14-1
Field                                                                           19-1


The favorite: Anyone notice what’s happening in the Funny Car class right now? In the last six events, there have been six different winners and surprisingly Alexis DeJoria, John Force, J.R. Todd, Cruz Pedregon, and Chad Green remain winless. That makes it awfully difficult to establish a favorite but we’ve got to go to Robert Hight again simply because the NorCal native has owned Sonoma Raceway with four wins since 2008 including three-straight from 2018-2021 (remember, there was no 2020 event). Hight has won just one round on the Swing so far, but a strong showing here would make the trip a success.

The contenders: After winning in Denver, Matt Hagan and the Dodge Power Brokers team are in line for a second title here and Hagan, much like Hight, enjoys racing in Sonoma wine country with three finals here in the last decade.

Another California native, Ron Capps, is a solid pick as he’s won here four times but hasn’t visited the winner’s circle here since 2013. The contender label also fits Tim Wilkerson, who looked awfully strong in his Seattle victory last week and J.R. Todd, who much like his Kalitta Motorsports teammates, looks as though he could grab his first win of the season at any moment.

The dark horse: We’ve picked Blake Alexander a few times in this spot and he’s delivered. At the very least, his victory a few weeks ago in Norwalk was anything but a fluke and it shows what the Pronto/Head Contractors team is capable of. Alexander hasn’t run all the races so he’s not guaranteed a spot in the Countdown and he’s currently No. 11 so he’s got additional motivation to score points.

Robert Hight            Flav-R-Pak Chevy                           4-1
Ron Capps                NAPA Toyota                                 5-1
Matt Hagan              Dodge Power Brokers Dodge     6-1
Tim Wilkerson          SCAG Mowers Ford                      7-1
J.R. Todd                    DHL Toyota                                   8-1
Bob Tasca III             Motorcraft Ford                           8-1
Alexis DeJoria           Bandero Toyota                           9-1
Chad Green              Bondcoat Ford                             10-1    
John Force                Peak/Blu Def Chevy                     10-1
Blake Alexander      Pronto/Head Inc. Ford                11-1
Cruz Pedregon        Snap-on Dodge                             12-1
Field                                                                                  20-1


The favorite: There is no such thing as a sure bet in drag racing but this season, Gaige Herrera comes darned close. While not technically a rookie, he’s still new to the Camping World NHRA tour but has adapted quickly with five wins in seven races as a member of the Vance & Hines team. No Pro Stock Motorcycle racer has ever swept the Western Swing largely because the two-wheel class has never competed in all three legs. That changed this season with the addition of Seattle to the schedule and Herrera is a big favorite to cash in. Don’t’ be surprised if he also wins Saturday’s Pro Stock Motorcycle Allstar Callout event.

The contenders: Eddie Krawiec came to life in Seattle with an impressive runner-up finish that has us thinking his 50th win might be on the horizon. It would also be unwise to discount Hector Arana Jr., who figures to put up some big numbers in Sonoma, which is traditionally a bike-friendly track.

The Smiths, Matt and Angie, also seem to have an affinity for racing in Sonoma. In fact, Matt ran over 205 mph here a couple of years go and has a win in five final rounds. Oh yeah, and as inconsistent as he can be, Steve Johnson also ranks among the contenders as he’s got a bike that is capable of going the distance anywhere.

The dark horse: Chase Van Sant made several great runs in Seattle including a 6.79 in round one aboard his Trick Tools Suzuki. Van Sant wasn’t able to get past Eddie Krawiec in round two, but he’s clearly got one of the best bikes in the field and Sonoma is exactly the sort of place where riders can get their first wins.


Gaige Herrera            Vance & Hines Suzuki             2-1
Hector Arana Jr.        GETTRX Buell                            9-2
Eddie Krawiec            Vance & Hines Suzuki             6-1
Matt Smith                 Denso Suzuki                            7-1
Angie Smith                Denso Buell                              8-1
Chase Van Sant          Trick Tools Suzuki                   9-1
Steve Johnson            Mac-Rak Suzuki                      10-1
Marc Ingwersen        Buckeye HD Buell                   12-1
Jianna Evaristo          Scrappers Suzuki                    14-1
Field                                                                               19-1