BROWNSBURG, Ind. (Sept. 20, 2017) – Leah Pritchett prepared for many scenarios to start the NHRA Countdown to the Championship playoff that opened last weekend near Charlotte.
But nowhere on her radar was a first-round upset loss.
And nothing is better than for her Mopar/Pennzoil Top Fuel team to only have a few days to think about it. Pritchett races Friday to open qualifying for the 33rd annual NHRA Dodge Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pa.
Pritchett and her team led by crew chief Todd Okuhara and assistant Joe Barlam qualified third for the Carolina Nationals after starting the Countdown ranked third with four event titles, six No. 1 qualifying performances and owning the NHRA Top Fuel elapsed time world record.
But in the first round, she was upset by No. 14-seed Wayne Newby, a part-time racer from Australia. Newby’s time of 3.827 seconds at 313.66 mph certainly was beatable, but Pritchett’s dragster lost traction early in the run and finished with a time of 4.172 at 300.06.
“Timing is everything and our second first-round loss of the year wasn’t how we expected to start the Countdown,” Pritchett said. “It was nothing you’d want to write to Mom about.”
Her championship goal wasn’t shattered. Although she was the only top-10 driver to lose in the first round, No. 1 Steve Torrence, No. 2 Antron Brown and No. 4 Tony Schumacher lost in the second round.
But she dropped from third to seventh and 65 points behind new leader Doug Kalitta, who won the Carolina Nationals for his first title of the season.
“It takes a lot to get this Mopar/Pennzoil team down and how Charlotte ended isn’t going to do it,” she said.
The Mopar/Pennzoil team will get a chance to overcome the hot, sunny conditions it faced last weekend near Charlotte.
Unlike previous years, an uncommon forecast awaits at Reading. A year ago Friday qualifying was rained out with temperatures in the 50s, this weekend is predicted to be in the high 80s with clear skies.
“That won’t be ideal for us,” she said. “We were looking for it be cool like it was at Brainerd (Minn.) last month when we set the world record (3.640 seconds) and ran my fastest lap (331.53 mph).
“We are confident we will bounce back at Maple Grove. The definition of confidence is something you believe to be true, and at the bottom of my heart I know we will come back at Reading.
“It’s a new beginning for us. One thing this team is very good at is bouncing back.”
MOPAR MEGA BLOCK PARTY ON THURSDAY
The Dodge Nationals kicks off Thursday with a free second annual Mopar Mega Block Party from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. with DSR Dodge drivers including Pritchett attending to participate in a charity Home Run Derby and autograph session.
The event to celebrate Mopar’s 80th anniversary will include a massive Mopar car show and displays that will allow fans to drive the popular Dodge Challenger SRT Demon simulators. The night will include a mega fireworks show sponsored by Pennzoil that will be followed by a free concert.LEAH PRITCHETT, Mopar/Pennzoil
Crew chief: Todd Okuhara; Assistant: Joe Barlam
Pts Events Wins Rup Semi Qtr 1st rd Poles DNQ W/L
2017 7th 19 4 2 8 3 2 6 0 41-15
CAREER 89 5 3 15 16 44 7 6 75-78
Career best time, speed: 3.640 sec.-world record (2017 Brainerd); 331.53 (2017 Brainerd)
BY THE NUMBERS
Last event: Sept. 15-17, Charlotte: Qualified No. 3, lost in first round to Wayne Newby
A year ago at Reading: Qualified No. 1, lost in semifinals to Brittney Force
Career at Reading: Wins 0, Runner-ups 0, Poles 1 (2016-career first)
COUNTDOWN TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP
(Through Charlotte, 19 of 24 events, 1 of 6 in Countdown playoff; wins in parenthesis; DSR drivers in CAPS)
2. Steve Torrence (7) 2159 -14
3. ANTRON BROWN (4) 2135 -38
4. Brittany Force (1) 2117 -56
5. TONY SCHUMACHER (1) 2115 -58
5. Clay Millican (1) 2110 -63
7. LEAH PRITCHETT (4) 2108 -65
8. Terry McMillen 2051 -122
9. Scott Palmer 2042 -131
10. Shawn Langdon 2036 -137
About Papa John’s
Headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky, Papa John’s International, Inc. (NASDAQ: PZZA) is the world’s third-largest pizza delivery company. For 16 of the past 18 years, consumers have rated Papa John’s No. 1 in customer satisfaction among all national pizza chains in the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). Papa John’s is the Official Pizza Sponsor of the National Football League, the Official Pizza of Major League Baseball and the Official Pizza Partner of the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA). For more information about the company or to order pizza online, visit Papa John’s at www.papajohns.com. Also visit us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/PapaJohns, Twitter at http://twitter.com/PapaJohns, YouTube at www.youtube.com/user/papajohns, Instagram at www.instagram.com/papajohns, and Pinterest at www.pinterest.com/papajohnspizza. Looking to be a part of something Better? Join the Papa John’s Pizza Family at www.papajohns.com/careers/ and www.papajohns.com/franchise
ABOUT DON SCHUMACHER RACING
Don Schumacher Racing, headquartered in Brownsburg, Ind., fields seven professional NHRA teams. In Top Fuel, the U.S. Army dragster driven by eight-time world champion Tony Schumacher, the Matco Tools dragster driven by three-time world champion Antron Brown and the Papa John’s Pizza Top Fuel dragster driven by Leah Pritchett; and in Funny Car, 2016 world champion Ron Capps in the NAPA AUTO PARTS Dodge Charger R/T; 2011 and 2014 world champion Matt Hagan in the 80th anniversary Mopar/ Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T, and 2012 NHRA world champion Jack Beckman in the Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge and the Make-A-Wish Dodge driven by Tommy Johnson Jr., both of which are funded by Doug and Terry Chandler.
DSR has won 314 NHRA national event titles and 16 world championships.
Photo Credit: Auto Imagery via Don Schumacher Racing