Yes—plenty of teams certainly can catch Kaleb Driggers and Junior Nogueira in the 2022 ProRodeo world standings race, but whether they will is another matter all together.
Reigning World Champ Driggers, 32, enters the 2022 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo with an $83,214.71 lead on No. 2 Clay Tryan—very likely the widest margin any header has entered the Finals with in team roping history. Nogueira’s gap is even wider with $97,546.17 more than No. 2 Jake Long. In 2021, Driggers won the world with $263,227 in earnings—just $35,349.15 more than he enters the Finals with in 2022. Nogueira, 32, won the world in 2021 with $277,612, $49,734 more than he enters the Finals with this year.
“More than likely, nobody can catch them,” said eight-time World Champ Rich Skelton. “But with the money that’s out there, it’s not impossible. The average pays over $70,000, but more than likely, no. They won the world last year and got momentum, and they’re roping good. Every steer Junior has heeled is like roping the Heel-O-Matic. That Kaleb just gets it on them and gets their feet together and does a remarkable job, and it allows Junior to not make any mistakes. And he’s fast along the way.”
Clay Smith and Paul Eaves still hold the single-season earnings record of $289,921 set in 2018, but Driggers and Nogueira’s $227,877.65 means they’ll be gunning to smash that mark, too.
Go-round winners will pick up $28,914, and last hole still pays $4,663.50.
In 2021, Driggers and Nogueira placed in six out of 10 go rounds and won Round 4, earning $143,896 at the Finals alone.
“I’d be really surprised if anybody can catch them,” said seven-time World Champ Jake Barnes. “They have the momentum. They’re winning everywhere they go. But I’ve had that happen before, too—one year, Clay and I had a really good year, and we went to the Finals and things didn’t go so good and we still ended up winning it. If I was a betting man, I’d put all my money on them. There’s no guarantees, but you’re not going to go back there and skunk them.”
Both men plan to start on the same horse they rode in 2021—Cuervo and Timon—and stick to their game plan of roping each steer, one at a time, keeping Driggers’ head horse working around his left leg and giving Nogueira a consistent shot.
“I see them as a dynasty,” Barnes added. “Their chemistry is just a little bit better than everybody else’s. I think they’ve matured more, both of them, and I think they’re settling in and coming into their prime. What’s so crazy is there’s a lot of great ropers, but there’s more to being a great roper—it’s about being a great team. Great ropers can rope with other great ropers and the chemistry isn’t there. But in them, they have a groove going on and the ball is rolling for them.”