Photo courtesy NHRA

NHRA: Leah Pritchett runs fastest Top Fuel speed ever in Arizona test

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It may have been one day late than what was on the actual calendar, but Saturday sure seemed liked Groundhog Day for NHRA Top Fuel driver Leah Pritchett.

Pritchett was the fastest driver in the NHRA’s annual “Spring Training” preseason test at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.

Just like last year’s test.

But this time it was with a symbolic twist: she ran the fastest speed ever in a Top Fuel dragster at a blistering 334.73 mph (at 3.78 seconds).

Unfortunately, because it was not a points paying national event, Pritchett’s speed will not be considered a national record.

“It was awesome,” Pritchett said of the speed. “I was smiling ear to ear. It was smooth and felt so incredibly great. We took the pieces of 10 runs and put them together and made it stick.

 

 

The current Top Fuel speed national record is 333.66 mph, held by 2017 Top Fuel champ Brittany Force).

Shawn Langdon recorded the fastest speed for a dragster at 334.15 mph in 2012 at Reading, Pennsylvania, but he did not back it up to set the national record on the same weekend.

The NHRA has since abolished “backing up” – a previous or subsequent speed within one percent of the potential record-breaker on the same weekend.

And now, just like Groundhog Day, Pritchett goes into this weekend’s season-opening Winternationals in Pomona, California, looking to repeat what she did at the start of last season.

That is: after being the fastest in last year’s preseason test, Pritchett went on a roll, winning the season opener at Pomona and the following race two weeks later at Phoenix – and wound up winning three races overall in the first five of the 2017 season.

She’s hoping to have her own version of Groundhog Day this weekend and then again two weeks later in Phoenix.

“It’s warm and will probably be even warmer in Pomona, so we think we’ll see a testament to all of this testing in Pomona,” Pritchett said. “We’ve got a good foothold on the tune-up. Man, we really needed that.”

INDYCAR: Patricio O’Ward turns heads in Carlin debut

Chris Jones / IndyCar
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While the top story coming out of Sunday’s IndyCar Classic at Circuit of the Americas is undoubtedly 18-year-old Colton Herta’s victory in only his third IndyCar start, another teenager made quite some noise during the first IndyCar race at the facility.

19-year-old Patricio O’Ward made an impressive start to his 2019 IndyCar campaign by starting and finishing in eighth position. It was the first of his 13 races this season for Carlin Racing.

“I think it was a pretty good race for us. We ended exactly where we started and didn’t go backwards, so I’d say that was a successful day” O’Ward said. “I know the No. 31 Carlin Chevrolet had a top-five finish in it today and even though we couldn’t make it happen, it’s nice to know that we have the pace and can be fighting up front with the veteran drivers.”

O’Ward, the 2018 Indy Lights champ, made his series debut for Harding Steinbrenner Racing at last year’s season finale at Sonoma Raceway, where he made it to the Firestone Fast Six in qualifying and finished ninth. O’Ward was scheduled to race for the team full-time in 2019, but left in early February to pursue other options due to a lack of sponsorship.

Pato found a new home with Carlin, and despite missing preseason testing, he proved to be competitive from the get go and pressured some of IndyCar’s more tenured drivers, including Graham Rahal.

In what was undoubtedly the most daring move of the race, O’Ward ended a great battle with Rahal by hitting a superb outside pass on Lap 15.

O’Ward may have likely earned a better result on Sunday, if he didn’t have to save fuel in order to make the finish.

But with only two IndyCar starts to his credit, he is already racing like a seasoned veteran. Sunday’s IndyCar Classic may be the first of many successful outings for him this year.

After the race, he tweeted to his team: “Well done gentlemen … This is only the beginning.”

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