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2014 Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals: Who to watch

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The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series kicks off its annual Western Swing this week with a trip to Bandimere Speedway near Denver, Colorado, home of the 35th annual Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals. The event takes place Friday through Sunday, July 18th through 20th and features all four of the NHRA’s top-tier categories: Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle.

2012 Top Fuel champ Antron Brown was the last driver to sweep the Western Swing, picking up wins at Bandimere Speedway as well as Sonoma Raceway in California and Pacific Raceway near Seattle, Washington. Each track on the swing has its own qualities, according to Brown.

“There's no other racetrack like it (Denver),” said Brown in a recent NHRA teleconference. “That track there has no air, no oxygen. What I call that race is a survival race, survival of the fittest. You've got to try to make as much power as you can. And then when you go to Sonoma, you go to complete opposite where you're right off the Bay, not too far from San Francisco, and then you actually get sea level conditions, really cool, calm weather that you're able to get after it and hit it…Then you leave there and you go to Seattle, Washington, which is all the way up in a state which you don't know what you're going to get there. It could be real cool at times but then it could be real hot and muggy...”

Another driver who has completed the sweep is Pro Stock driver Greg Anderson, back in 2004. Anderson missed the first five races of the 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season due to heart surgery, and is still seeking his first win of the season. Sitting 11th in points, Anderson knows a good run in the Western Swing is important for his Countdown to the Championship chances.

“The biggest thing right now for me and a huge thing for me personally and this team would be for me to win a race, and obviously I can't sweep the Western Swing unless I can win all three of them, so I'm going to have to win Denver to even have a chance at that,” said Anderson. “Right now for me to win a race, it would be huge. It's been two years since I won a race, and I know exactly in my heart it's going to take race wins to make this Countdown…I can't even look far enough down the road to think about sweeping the Western Swing right now, but I would sure love to start out at Denver with that first win in two years and get myself into that top 10. It would make things a whole lot better.”

Ron Capps has won at all three tracks on the Western Swing, but not in the same season. Currently sitting third in Funny Car points, Capps took home the Wally from New England Dragway a few weeks ago, and knows how tough it is to win in the sport these days.

“It's so tough to win,” said Capps. “I got pretty excited, and I started doing the Vine and the stuff on the way home, and I've kind of taken to that a little bit where the fans are really having fun with me with the social media stuff, and I thought it was fun to make some videos and take them home with me, and I'd love to do it again from Denver. It would be a fun trip home. But yeah, I've kind of grown to love doing all that stuff, and those Wallys, man, you forget how much you love holding those things at the track and how much work goes into it. It's something you really have to cherish.”

Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Andrew Hines made his NHRA pro debut at Bandimere in 2002, a track where he’s gone on to earn two wins in four final-round appearances. His brother, Matt, now working as crew chief for Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec, also has four wins at Bandimere, while teammate Krawiec has two wins of his own.

“I have a lot of great memories there and being able to go back to this track is always fun,” said Hines. “We’ve got a pretty good grip on what you need to run well on the mountain. We have good knowledge to draw from and hopefully that will help us. You have to change so much on the bike but we know what it takes to succeed here.”

Pro qualifying for the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals kicks off Friday at 4:45 and 7:15 p.m. MT, concluding Saturday at 3:15 and 5:45 p.m. MT. Eliminations get underway Sunday at 11 a.m. MT. Keep up with the action at www.nhra.com.

Quotes in this piece provided by the NHRA.

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