NHRA: Leah Pritchett replaces Larry Dixon, Shawn Langdon stays at DSR

(Photo courtesy NHRA)

Even though it’s the off-season, things have been very busy on the NHRA circuit of late.

Let’s catch you up with some of the most recent news:

* Despite finishing fourth in the final standings, three-time Top Fuel champion Larry Dixon is looking for a new ride for 2016.

According to a report by RacingJunk.com’s Jay Wells, Dixon has been replaced at Bob Vandergriff Racing for 2016 by female driver Leah Pritchett, who will become teammates with Dave Connolly for the two-dragster operation.

Connolly finished 10th in his rookie Top Fuel season in 2015.

Pritchett, who will be sponsored by Quaker State for at least five races, made the big announcement last Thursday at the PRI motorsports industry trade show in Indianapolis.

“The opportunity to run a complete NHRA Top Fuel season has been a goal that I have worked towards for a very long time,” Pritchett said, according to RacingJunk.com. “I am beyond excited for the opportunity to focus on making the countdown next season, competing for a championship, working alongside Bob Vandergriff Jr., and re-introduce the Quaker State brand back into the NHRA.

“This dream is now a reality, thanks in large part to the vision of Bob Vandergriff Jr., as well as the support of great companies and people along my way to this personal and professional milestone, and of course my fans.”

Pritchett drove part-time in 2015 for Dote Racing.

The NHRA season-opening Winternationals is Feb. 11-14 at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California.

* Top Fuel driver and former champion Shawn Langdon will start 2016 with a lot more stability than he had starting the 2015 season.

Langdon, who caught on late last season with Don Schumacher Racing, replacing Spencer Massey, has been signed to a permanent full-time ride with DSR for 2016.

Langdon drove the last three seasons for Alan Johnson Racing, including racing under the sponsorship of Al-Anabi Racing in 2013, when he won the Top Fuel championship, as well as 2014.

But Al-Anabi unexpectedly pulled the financial plug less than a month before the 2015 season, leaving AJR to race on a race-by-race basis.

Finally, after the first 18 races of the season and heading into the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoff, AJR could not continue and Langdon was temporarily parked.

But not for long as DSR reached out to him to replace Massey, who was released from the team prior to the U.S. Nationals for unspecified reasons.

Langdon, 33, will join 2015 and two-time Top Fuel champ Antron Brown and eight-time and 2014 champ Tony Schumacher as teammates.

“After Pomona last month, Alan and I sat down and discussed 2016 and beyond,” Langdon said, according to RacingJunk.com. “Alan and I decided it was in both of our interests to go separate ways.

“That was tough. I had a great three years with Alan Johnson Racing and being part of the Johnson family. I’ll have special memories for the rest of my life.”

Langdon, who won the 2015 season-ending race at Pomona for DSR, will have veteran Todd Okuhara and Phil Shuler as his new co-crew chiefs at DSR.

“I’m very excited about this new chapter in my life,” Langdon said. “It was perfect to end the season the way we did at Pomona in the Finals. Hopefully, that’s a sign of what’s to come in 2016.”

DSR also announced that it has extended a partnership with Mopar dating back to 2003 on the Funny Car side. That means Jack Beckman, Matt Hagan, Ron Capps and Tommy Johnson Jr. will continue to drive Dodge Charger RTs in 2016.

“We had our most successful season competing in Funny Cars in 2015, and much of the credit goes to Mopar and all of its engineers and technicians who developed the new 2015 Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car body that we used,” Schumacher said, according to RacingJunk.com. “The aerodynamics and new Charger body combined with the power of the Mopar HEMI engine to produce the sport’s quickest times and fastest speeds, and we couldn’t be prouder to be partners with them.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

IndyCar Power Rankings: Alex Palou still first as Newgarden, Ferrucci make Indy 500 jumps

NBC IndyCar power rankings
Kristin Enzor/For IndyStar/USA TODAY Sports Images Network

The biggest race of the NTT IndyCar Series season (and in the world) is over, and NBC Sports’ power rankings look very similar to the finishing results in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Pole-sitter Alex Palou entered the Indy 500 at the top and remains there after his impressive rebound to a fourth after a midway crash in the pits. Top two Indianapolis 500 finishers Josef Newgarden and Marcus Ericsson also improved multiple spots in the power rankings just as they gained ground during the course of the 500-mile race on the 2.5-mile oval. Though Alexander Rossi dropped a position, he still shined at the Brickyard with a fifth place finish.

Santino Ferrucci, the other driver in the top five at Indy, made his first appearance in the 2023 power rankings this year and now will be tasked with keeping his A.J. Foyt Racing team toward the front as the IndyCar circuit makes its debut on a new layout..

Heading into the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix on the streets of downtown, here’s NBC Sports’ assessment of the current top 10 drivers through six of 17 races this year (with previous ranking in parenthesis):

  1. Alex Palou (1): Three consecutive top 10 finishes at the Indy 500, and yet the 2021 IndyCar champion still seems slightly snake-bitten at the Brickyard. A few different circumstances and a dash of experience, and Palou could have three Indy 500 wins. But he at least has the points lead.
  2. Marcus Ericsson (4): Some want to say the Indy 500 runner-up’s unhappiness with IndyCar race control was sour grapes, but the Swede had a legitimate gripe about the consistency of red flag protocols. Still a magnificent May for Ericsson, especially while the questions swirl about his future.
  3. Josef Newgarden (7): Strategist Tim Cindric and team did a fantastic job catapulting Newgarden from 17th into contention, and the two-time series champion did the rest. Particularly on a late three-wide pass for the lead, it can’t be overstated how brilliant the Team Penske driver was in his finest hour.
  4. Alexander Rossi (3): He winds up being the best Arrow McLaren finisher in a mostly disappointing Indy 500 for a team that seemed poised to become dominant. With a third in the GMR GP and a fifth in the Indy 500, this easily was Rossi’s best May since his second place in 2019.
  5. Pato O’Ward (2): Unlike last year, the Arrow McLaren star sent it this time against Ericsson and came out on the wrong side (and with lingering bitterness toward his Chip Ganassi Racing rival). The lead mostly was the wrong place to be at Indy, but O’Ward managed to be in first for a race-high 39 laps.
  6. Scott Dixon (5): He overcame brutal handling issues from a wicked set of tires during his first stint, and then the team struggled with a clutch problem while posting a typical Dixon-esque finish on “a very tough day.” The six-time champion hopes things are cleaner the rest of the season after the first three months.
  7. Santino Ferrucci (NR): Pound for pound, he and A.J. Foyt Racing had the best two weeks at Indianapolis. Ferrucci said Wednesday he still believes he had “by far the best car at the end” and if not for the timing of the final yellow and red, he would have won the Indy 500. Now the goal is maintaining into Detroit.
  8. Colton Herta (NR): He was the best in a mostly forgettable month for Andretti Autosport and now is facing a pivotal weekend. Andretti has reigned on street courses so far this season, and few have been better on new circuits than Herta. A major chance for his first victory since last year’s big-money extension.
  9. Scott McLaughlin (6): Ran in the top 10 at Indy after a strong opening stint but then lost positions while getting caught out on several restarts. A penalty for unintentionally rear-ending Simon Pagenaud in O’Ward’s crash then sent him to the rear, but McLaughlin still rallied for 14th. Detroit will be a fresh start.
  10. Rinus VeeKay (10): Crashing into Palou in the pits was less than ideal. But a front row start and 10th-place finish in the Indy 500 still were 2023 highlights for VeeKay in what’s been the toughest season of his career. The Ed Carpenter Racing cars have been slow on road and street courses, so Detroit is another test.

Falling out: Will Power (8), Felix Rosenqvist (9), Romain Grosjean (10)


PRESEASON: Josef Newgarden is a favorite to win third championship

RACE 1: Pato O’Ward to first; Newgarden drops out after St. Pete

RACE 2: O’Ward stays firmly on top of standings after Texas

RACE 3: Marcus Ericsson leads powerhouses at the top

RACE 4: Grosjean, Palou flex in bids for first victory

RACE 5: Alex Palou carrying all the momentum into Indy 500