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Several contenders at Thunder Valley Nationals this weekend

Jeff Birchfield • Jun 14, 2018 at 3:09 PM

It's a wide-open field for this weekend's NHRA Fitzgerald USA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway with several strong cars contending for race wins.

On its website, NHRA named Steve Torrence in Top Fuel, Courtney Force in Funny Car and Greg Anderson in Pro Stock as pre-race favorites. All three are solid picks with Torrence and Force coming off wins at Richmond last weekend, and four-time world champion Anderson at Thunder Valley testing with the KB Racing Team last week.

They certainly aren't the only ones to keep an eye on. We break down each of the three professional categories starting with:

TOP FUEL

Torrence is looking for his first Bristol win, but was the No. 1 qualifier for the event in 2016. One of his toughest competitors could be Leah Pritchett, whose husband Gary is the clutch specialist for Torrence's team.

In fact, all of the Don Schumacher Racing drivers could be a factor, particularly eight-time world champion Tony Schumacher, who is a five-time Thunder Valley Nationals winner. He's shown speed recently with a No. 1 qualifying effort at Richmond, and with a Top Fuel record 83 wins, you can never count "The Sarge" out.

Three-time champion Antron Brown is still looking for his first Bristol win, while Doug Kalitta, with his family-owned team, is a three-time Bristol winner. Brittany Force is the defending series champion, and she won earlier this season in Houston.

The sentimental favorite is Clay Millican, who scored an emotional Father's Day win in 2017 just two years after losing his son in a motorcycle accident. It was the veteran campaigner's first win on the NHRA side after being a six-time IHRA World Champion.

FUNNY CAR

Courtney Force has both the performance and momentum, having registered four wins this season — including three of the last four races. However, her father John is a four-time Bristol winner — with his victories in 2007 and 2013 breaking long winless streaks. The iconic racer hasn't won in over a year, with his 148th career win coming at the 2017 Gatornationals.

Ron Capps, also with four Bristol wins (including last year), leads a strong contingent from the Don Schumacher Racing stable. Tommy Johnson Jr. has two Bristol wins and two-time world champion Matt Hagan won the race in 2015.

It's the home track for the Christiansburg, Va., driver in Hagan, who opened up the season with a win at Pomona.

Robert Hight, also from the Force camp, won the 2011 Bristol event and he won recently at Chicago. J.R. Todd, who visited Bristol on a media stop last week, won back-to-back races at Las Vegas and Houston earlier in the season, one year after making the switch from Top Fuel to Funny Car.

PRO STOCK

Alex Laughlin had a perfect light to win to defeat eventual world champion Bo Butner in Pro Stock final for the 2017 Thunder Valley Nationals title and Laughlin has extra motivation with his car sponsor, Fitzgerald, sponsoring the race. But, he's just 11th in the points right now.

Anderson is the points leader with the KB Racing team, although he and teammate Jason Line, a three-time World Champion, have yet to win this season. No one would have predicted the only KB Racing driver to win over the last month is Deric Kramer at Topeka. The only other KB win this season was Butner in the opener.

Jeg Coughlin Jr. won in Pro Stock at Chicago and then was the Super Comp winner at Richmond, where he was eliminated in the Pro Stock quarterfinals. Tanner Gray was victorious at Richmond for his second win of the season, while Vincent Nobile, who is second in the points, also has two wins.

Erica Enders, who reached the final round at Richmond, is always fast at Bristol. She won earlier this season in Charlotte, but the fact there are so many drivers over all three classes who are contenders shows just how unpredictable this weekend's races truly are.

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