Photo: Don Schumacher Racing

NHRA: Leah Pritchett sets new quickest national elapsed time record

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Pomona Winternationals winner Leah Pritchett added to her incredible start to the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, one she came in with high hopes with anyway, with a slightly bigger accomplishment:

She set a new national elapsed time record for a 1,000-foot distance in NHRA history.

Pritchett, who drives the Don Schumacher Racing-entered, Todd Okuhara-tuned Papa John’s Top Fuel dragster, ran a 3.658-second pass at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park on Friday outside Phoenix during the first day of qualifying for this weekend’s Arizona Nationals. The speed was 329.34 mph.

Incidentally, both Pritchett and Courtney Force set unofficial best times in Top Fuel and Funny Car testing, also at Wild Horse Pass, earlier this month.

You could barely put a piece of cheese between Pritchett’s two times; her time at the test was 3.654 seconds, but because that’s a test it is not an official mark.

The previous official record in competition was a 3.671-second pass, which Steve Torrence set July 31, 2016 at Sonoma.

“To be behind the wheel of this machine that is constantly putting out time and time again fast numbers and quick numbers is, to be honest, a little bit difficult to comprehend,” Pritchett said, via NHRA.com. “It’s everything that dreams are made of. It’s almost too good to be true, but it’s not.”

For good measure, Pritchett’s teammate Tony Schumacher also eclipsed Torrence’s old mark with a side-by-side run to second at 3.667 seconds, and 323 mph and change in the U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster.

Force led the Funny Car charts on the first day of qualifying, while Jason Line led Pro Stock. Both drivers drive Chevrolets.

Lest Force’s day be overshadowed, she set a record of her own. Force broke the track’s elapsed time and speed records during the opening session of qualifying for Sunday’s NHRA Arizona Nationals with a pass of 3.838 seconds at 332.67 mph.

Force lost to Matt Hagan in the Pomona finals while Line beat his KB Racing teammate, Greg Anderson, for the Pomona win.

Alexander Rossi’s Grand Prix of Alabama gamble fails to pay off

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Alexander Rossi bobbled for the first time in 2018 with an 11th-place finish in the Honda IndyCar Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park.

And to add insult to injury, Rossi also lost the points lead as a result.

Rossi got off to about as great a start to the season as possible. He finished third at St. Petersburg and sat third in the standings. He finished third again at Phoenix and climbed to second in the points.

Rossi won the Long Beach Grand Prix after starting from the pole and leading 71 laps. That put him at the top of the standings after three races.

Then, as quickly as he climbed to the top, he got knocked down a spot after finishing off the podium for the first time in 2018.

Rossi not only missed the podium, he finished outside the top 10.

“We didn’t get the result that we wanted,” Rossi said after the race. “That remains a mystery. But at the end of the day it was about survival. We couldn’t make the tires last; we couldn’t really get a great fuel number.”

The biggest negative was the one factor that was mostly out of his control. Rossi gambled that he was facing only a brief shower when rain began to fall with about 15 minutes remaining. He was wrong.

“We tried to be pretty aggressive on the dry tires and stay out and survive the rain, hoping it would dry out,” Rossi said. “And it didn’t really work.

“Sometimes you’ll have those days.”