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NHRA: Leah Pritchett goes for 3 different wins in this weekend’s Gatornationals

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Typically, drag racers can only go home with one winner’s trophy from a NHRA national event.

But not Top Fuel driver Leah Pritchett. She plans on taking two winner’s trophies – and bragging rights from a third race – back to her Indiana home from this weekend’s Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida.

Pritchett, both the quickest (3.640 seconds at Brainerd, Minn., in 2017) and fastest (334.15 mph last month in Phoenix) woman in NHRA history, came into this weekend’s event ranked seventh in the Top Fuel standings. So there’s one race to win.

Pritchett’s Factory Stock Showdown car.

Next, she will compete in the Factory Stock Showdown, seeking another “Wally” (winner’s trophy), behind the wheel of a Hoonigan-designed Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak. There’s No. 2 race to win.

And last but not least, Pritchett will challenge Papa John’s Pizza founder John Schnatter in the Papa John’s Charity Challenge on Saturday to benefit the Infinite Hero Foundation and Overcome Academy. There’s No. 3 to win.

“I always dig doing things differently, and to their maximum capabilities,” said Pritchett, a five-time Top Fuel event champion. “This weekend is more about three cars and three events.

“It represents three important aspects of my passion for drag racing: Top Fuel competition, grassroots racing, and charity involvement.”

Pritchett, who grew up drag racing in her native Southern California, has competed in several different classes as she climbed the performance and competition ladder.

Now that she’s one of the stars of the sport’s quickest and fastest racing class, Pritchett talked about why she hopes to go 3-for-3 this weekend, particularly since the Gatornationals are one of the sport’s biggest races of the 24-race national event schedule.

“The Top Fuel competition is a passion to be the quickest and the fastest at the ultimate level,” Pritchett said. “Factory Stock Showdown has brought me back to my Sportsman roots.

“The program is ‘heads up’ and delivers the opportunity to make the combination of what is available from the factory faster than anyone else through tuning and ingenuity within set limitations. It’s all about who can make their hot rod faster, which is something everyone can be a part of without having to be at the Top Fuel level.

“The Charity Challenge, for me, represents growth and integration of a partner who loves this sport and can face off for a great cause while telling an All American story and raising money for returning military heroes and their families.”

All told, Pritchett has the potential of making well over a dozen runs through the weekend:

* In Top Fuel, she’ll have two qualifying rounds each on Friday and Saturday, plus up to four elimination rounds on Sunday.

* Then there’s two qualifying rounds Friday and one other qualifying run Saturday for the Factory Stock Showdown. If she gets past that, there’s the potential of a first-round elimination later in the day. If she wins that, there’s two more elimination rounds on Sunday to potentially win the Challenge.

* And if she beats her boss – Papa John’s is her primary sponsor for the Don Schumacher Racing Top Fuel team – that’s one more run. She’s also expected to have one test run.

Add all those rounds up – and in a perfect weekend if she captures all three events – Pritchett has the potential to make either 15 or 16 different runs over the three days.

“I believe my bandwidth of focus has grown to compartmentalize these opportunities at their maximum without robbing from one another,” Pritchett said. “But I can guarantee you, enjoyment will be at an all-time high.

“The constant variable is always the mindset of being the baddest and fastest no matter what; whether it’s a car I dedicate my life and all hours to, or one that I haven’t even touched before.”

In her second full-time season with DSR, Pritchett seeks her fifth Top Fuel win with the team and sixth overall career Top Fuel win.

“I’m a proud Gemini, whereby nature, I’m good at doing multiple things to the max, and this weekend, it’s all about the trifecta.”

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Could Scott Dixon someday break Foyt, Andretti wins and championships records?

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With five races left in the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season, Scott Dixon is in the driver’s seat to potentially earn a fifth career IndyCar championship.

After winning Sunday at Toronto, Dixon now has a 62-point edge over second-ranked and defending series champ Josef Newgarden and a 70-point lead over third-ranked Alexander Rossi.

The triumph north of the border was Dixon’s third there, as well as his 44th career IndyCar win, third-highest in IndyCar annals.

Add in the four IndyCar championships and those are stellar numbers indeed.

What makes things all the more amazing is Dixon has done all that in under 18 full seasons on the IndyCar circuit. Heck, he’s only 37 years old, too (although he turns 38 on July 22).

Dixon’s championships have come in 2003 (his first full season in IndyCar after two prior seasons in CART/Champ Car), 2008, 2013 and most recently in 2015.

The quiet, unassuming New Zealander has been one of the most successful drivers ever not just in IndyCar, but in all forms of motorsports.

When his name is mentioned, it’s typically included with the only two drivers who have more career wins than he does: A.J. Foyt (67 wins and seven championships, both records) and Mario Andretti (52 wins and four titles).

That’s a pretty lofty pair to be part of.

One might think that after all the success he’s had, Dixon could easily walk away from IndyCar and Chip Ganassi Racing and enjoy an early retirement.

But competing in and winning races isn’t really a job for Dixon. He enjoys what he’s doing so much that he easily could keep doing what he’s doing – and at a high level – for another seven or more years, at least.

So, can Dixon catch Mario and A.J.? The former would be easier than the latter, for sure.

Numerically, it’s possible – at least part of it:

* Dixon can easily be competitive into his mid-40s.

* He’s averaged three-plus wins every season since 2007 (37 wins from then through Sunday). That means if he can keep that average going, he could reach 24 more wins – to overtake Foyt – by 2026. Yes, that may be a stretch to even imagine, but if there’s any current driver who potentially could overtake Foyt, it’s Dixon.

* Dixon already has three wins this season, and with five more races still to go, he could easily win another one, two or maybe even three more in 2018 as he continues his road to the championship. And let’s not forget that with each additional win, that’s one win closer to overtaking Andretti and Foyt.

In his usual modest and humble manner, Dixon downplays not just talk comparing him with Andretti and Foyt, but also overtaking one or both.

“I think A.J. is pretty safe,” he said. “He’s a long ways ahead. … Eight (championships) is an infinity away. Takes a long time to get eight.”

But that doesn’t mean Dixon can’t keep working at approaching Foyt’s mark.

“I think for us, we take it race by race,” he said. “We’re in the business of winning races. If we’re not doing that, I won’t have a job for too long. That’s the focus for right now.”

If he wins the championship this year, he’ll pass Andretti’s championship mark. That would be one record down, three to go.

And if he can win nine more races over the next few seasons, he’ll pass Andretti’s 52 career wins, making it two records down and two more to go.

“Right now with 44 wins, next on the list is Mario I think at 52 or something,” Dixon said after Sunday’s win. “We’ll see how it goes. Right now, we’re just trying to get the job done for the team.”

And he’s doing a darn good job at that indeed – with likely even more success still to come.

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