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Fan’s View: Who to Watch when the NHRA Heads to Denver

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The NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series begins its three-race Western Swing this weekend, July 20 through 22, at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison, Colorado, 10 mile west of Denver. This is one of the trickiest tracks on the schedule, situated in the Rocky Mountains at an elevation of more than 5,800 feet - the altitude affects everything, from engines to aerodynamics to set-ups. Last year's event winners - Spencer Massey (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) and Karen Stoffer (Pro Stock Motorcycle) - will all be back for the show this year, and the upcoming three-week string of events will mean a lot going into the Countdown to the Championship. Here are a few drivers to watch this weekend at the MOPAR Mile-High NHRA Nationals.

Top Fuel - defending champ Massey currently sits atop the Top Fuel standings on the strength of four wins. It's one of the tightest battles of the season, however, as he holds only a 29-point lead on Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tony Schumacher and a 53-point lead on his other teammate, Antron Brown, in third. Brown was the last driver to sweep the Western Swing, taking all three events in 2009, while Schumacher won at Bandimere back in 2008

Funny Car - of seven winners in Funny Car this season, four of them have recent wins at Bandimere: Force (2011), Robert Hight (2010), Ron Capps (2009) and Jack Beckman (2007). Hight, Capps and Beckman have three of the top four spots in Funny Car points, while Force is battling it out with 2008 Bandimere winner Tim Wilkerson for the 10th and final spot in the Countdown with five races to go.

Pro Stock - like Funny Car, three of the top four Pro Stock drivers have recent wins at Bandimere: Edwards (2011), currently in fourth; Allen Johnson (2007, 2009 and 2010), currently third; and Greg Anderson (2008), currently first in points. Add to that mix the 2006 winner, Dave Connolly, who is crew chief for recent winner Erica Enders, who sits in sixth, and as usual, Pro Stock has one of the toughest fields of the weekend.

Pro Stock Motorcycle - the points-leading duo of Ed Krawiec and Andrew Hine have a combined three recent wins at Bandimere (Krawiec in 2009 and Hines in 2006 and 2010), while Stoffer (2011) sits sixth in points and two-time recent winner Matt Smith (2007 and 2008) is back in ninth. Can anyone get past the Harley-Davidisons of Krawiec and Hines? So far this season - no.

Paula is a long-time auto racing fan who also covers the NHRA at Examiner.com.

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