NHRA Dodge Nationals: Leah Pritchett earns first No. 1 Top Fuel qualifying spot

(Photo and videos courtesy NHRA)
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NHRA Top Fuel driver Leah Pritchett came into the 2016 season with four goals:

1) To win a race.

2) To make the Countdown to the Championship playoffs for the first time in her career.

3) To become a No. 1 qualifier at a race.

4) To win the Top Fuel championship.

She accomplished the first (won earlier this season at Phoenix), made the playoffs last month and on Saturday qualified No. 1 for Sunday’s Dodge NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway in Mohnton, Pa.

Now all that’s left is the championship, which is still within reach with the four races remaining (including Sunday’s eliminations).

Pritchett, who is No. 9 in the points, topped all other Top Fuel drivers in her Mopar/Pennzoil dragster with a career-best 3.705 second pass at 327.35 mph. She’ll face Shawn Reed in the first round.

“It feels pretty phenomenal,” Pritchett said of her achievement. “It’s right there behind winning a race, but this is do-or-die time.

“This is the time of digging deep for the Countdown and to be No. 1 at one of the fastest race tracks says a lot about my team.

“There were a lot of things going on with that run, and to be No. 1 is really awesome, but we came here to win the race.”

Weather has been a significant issue at Maple Grove this weekend, forcing cancellation of three of the four scheduled qualifying rounds. Ergo, Pritchett got while the getting was good.

Defending 2015 Top Fuel champ Antron Brown was second quickest (3.731 seconds at 321.42 mph. Brown, who is the defending race winner at Maple Grove and has won five times in the first 20 races this season, will face J.R. Todd in Sunday’s first round.

In Funny Car, two-time champion Matt Hagan took the No. 1 spot with a performance of 3.873 seconds at a massive 333.99 mph – both new track records.

It was Hagan’s fifth No. 1 of the season and 26th of his career. He comes into Sunday’s eliminations seeking his fourth win of the season. His first round opponent will be Jim Campbell.

“It’s always fast here,” said Hagan, who also won at Maple Grove in 2014. “You get here and you have to be in the mindset where you put your mouthpiece in, you pull your helmet on and pull your belts down tight because it’s going to be a ride if it hooks.”

Tommy Johnson Jr. qualified second (3.897 seconds at 330.80 mph) and will face Cruz Pedregon in Sunday’s first round.

In other first round action Sunday, reigning Funny Car champ Del Worsham qualified third and will face 16-time champion John Force. Points leader and five-time 2016 event winner Ron Capps qualified fourth and will face Alexis DeJoria.

In Pro Stock, Vincent Nobile continued to have one of his best seasons ever, qualifying No. 1 with a 6.552 second effort at 211.83 mph. It’s Nobile’s third No. 1 of the season and seventh of his career.

A nine-time career winner, Nobile will face rookie Drew Skillman in the first round Sunday.

“With the weather out here, we weren’t sure what was going to happen,” said Nobile, who is seeking his first career win at Maple Grove. “Honestly, we didn’t make a very good run. I’d be willing to say everybody behind me didn’t make a very good run either.

“I know we can be as fast and maybe a little bit faster, but with that being said, those guys definitely didn’t make a good run. All that matters is we’re on top and going into race day tomorrow No. 1.”

Points leader Jason Line qualified No. 2 (6.575 seconds at 211.20 mph) and will face Val Smeland in Sunday’s first round.

Also, Greg Anderson qualified No. 3 and will face five-time Pro Stock champ Jeg Coughlin.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, five-time and reigning world champion Andrew Hines took the top qualifying spot with a 6.784 second effort (at 196.22 mph).

It’s Hines’ 38th career No. 1 and second of the year. He comes into Sunday’s first round match vs. Charlotte winner Chip Ellis having earned five wins this season and is seeking his third career win at Maple Grove.

“This could be huge in the long run,” Hines said. “Championships have come down to just a couple of little points here in the last few years, going back the last seven or eight years since the little points were implemented.

“I’m going to take it right now and run with it. It was nice to bring my Harley here and make a nice, clean, straight run. It obviously puts up a big run when it goes down the track straight.”

Hines’ teammate, Eddie Krawiec, qualified second (6.811 seconds at 191.29 mph). Krawiec has won three times in his career at Maple Grove and will have a tough first round battle with Angelle Sampey, who is currently second in the points and is a six-time career winner at Maple Grove.

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TOP FUEL: 1. Leah Pritchett, 3.705 seconds, 327.35 mph  vs. 16. Shawn Reed, 6.833, 90.47; 2. Antron Brown, 3.731, 321.42  vs. 15. J.R. Todd, 5.589, 125.19; 3. Shawn Langdon, 3.736, 329.42  vs. 14. Smax Smith, 5.477, 236.30; 4. Doug Kalitta, 3.750, 326.56  vs. 13. Ike Maier, 5.144, 261.72; 5. Larry Dixon, 3.791, 325.77  vs. 12. Brittany Force, 4.676, 299.80; 6. Dom Lagana, 3.811, 323.74 vs. 11. Richie Crampton, 4.168, 204.42; 7. Scott Palmer, 3.935, 310.05  vs. 10. Clay Millican, 4.067, 308.14; 8. Steve Torrence, 3.955, 325.61  vs. 9. Tony Schumacher, 3.990, 274.27.  Did Not Qualify: 17. Terry McMillen, 7.205, 197.45; 18. Terry Haddock, 13.955, 26.01.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 3.873, 333.99  vs. 16. Jim Campbell, Charger, 15.003, 53.76; 2. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.897, 330.80  vs. 15. Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 12.526, 75.47; 3. Del Worsham, Camry, 3.904, 325.77  vs. 14. John Force, Chevy Camaro, 12.185, 78.24; 4. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.192, 325.06  vs. 13. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 12.151, 81.44; 5. Robert Hight, Camaro, 4.690, 243.24  vs. 12. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 11.102, 141.11; 6. Chad Head, Camry, 6.628, 96.51  vs. 11. Jack Beckman, Charger, 9.998, 63.76; 7. Mike Smith, Dodge Stratus, 7.562, 83.83  vs. 10. John Hale, Charger, 8.614, 75.88; 8. Courtney Force, Camaro, 8.041, 81.55  vs. 9. John Bojec, Toyota Solara, 8.428, 69.96.

PRO STOCK: 1. Vincent Nobile, Chevy Camaro, 6.552, 211.83  vs. 16. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 17.898, 110.86; 2. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.575, 211.20  vs. 15. Val Smeland, Chevy Cobalt, 12.909, 67.92; 3. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.580, 210.77  vs. 14. Jeg Coughlin, Dodge Dart, 7.147, 153.60; 4. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.584, 210.77  vs. 13. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.950, 161.30; 5. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.585, 210.73  vs. 12. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.856, 203.74; 6. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.587, 210.05 vs. 11. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, 6.706, 206.64; 7. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.597, 210.64 vs. 10. Alan Prusiensky, Dart, 6.677, 207.21; 8. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.604, 211.00  vs. 9. Erica Enders, Dart, 6.643, 208.65.  Did Not Qualify: 17. Curt Steinbach, 21.211, 60.95.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.784, 196.22  vs. 16. Chip Ellis, Buell, broke; 2. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.811, 191.29  vs. 15. Angelle Sampey, Buell, 9.986, 81.35; 3. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.828, 195.39  vs. 14. Joey Gladstone, Suzuki, 7.439, 187.13; 4. Melissa Surber, Buell, 6.873, 191.76  vs. 13. Cory Reed, Buell, 7.280, 146.40; 5. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.880, 193.02  vs. 12. Hector Arana, Buell, 7.175, 194.91; 6. Matt Smith, Victory, 6.901, 191.13  vs. 11. Angie Smith, Victory, 7.081, 188.04; 7. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.925, 193.88  vs. 10. John Hall, Buell, 7.013, 188.75; 8. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.959, 192.58  vs. 9. Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 6.975, 185.33.  Did Not Qualify: 17. Steve Johnson, broke.

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