Leah Pritchett is the early Top Fuel No. 1 qualifier. Photo courtesy NHRA

NHRA Pomona: Pritchett, Johnson Jr., Coughlin Jr., Smith early No. 1 qualifiers

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NHRA media release

POMONA, Calif. – Leah Pritchett lit the candles on her Top Fuel dragster Friday evening and piloted to the top of the category for both qualifying sessions at the 54th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway.

Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were also preliminary qualifiers in their respective categories at the final event of the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.

Southern California native Pritchett raced to the top of the Top Fuel class with her 3.649-second pass at 329.34 mph in her Mopar Dodge dragster during the second session. She is seeking to secure her fourth No. 1 qualifying position of the season and 11th of her career.

“When you have this horsepower weather and this time of day you can just feel the energy,” Pritchett stated. “The reason why there’s a smile on our faces is that we were able to execute what we wanted to do. Tomorrow we’re not going to have these same conditions so that’s why we’re excited we were able to capitalize on it tonight.”

Clay Millican is qualified second with his pass of 3.702 at 327.19 in his Great Clips / Parts Plus dragster and three-time world champion Antron Brown is third with his run of 3.704 at 329.50. 2018 Top Fuel world champion Steve Torrence is qualified fourth as he seeks to make history by sweeping the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship events.

Two-time defending event champion Johnson Jr.’s second qualifying run of 3.881 at 328.54 in his Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T locked-in the top spot. He is seeking to secure his fourth consecutive No. 1 qualifying position this season.

“It’s incredible they have had such a handle on the car,” said Johnson. “I wish we could get that handle on Sunday but we are pretty close. I’m disappointed we didn’t get it done quick enough in the Countdown but at the same time I’m excited because it is such a good car now. If we can carry that on to next year I would love it.”

Teammate Jack Beckman is in the second spot with his pass of 3.901 at 323.35 while reigning Funny Car world champion Robert Hight sits in the third position. Current points leader J.R. Todd is in the No. 11 spot.

Coughlin Jr., who is currently No. 2 in the Pro Stock points standings, raced his JEGS.com/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro to a 6.527 pass at 211.39 in the second round of qualifying.

“We made two really nice runs today,” Coughlin Jr. stated. “After Q1 we were on the poll and seeing some of our competitors bettering that mark ahead of us during the last three pair of Pro Stock were lower in the boom. I was concerned with the right lane because a lot of cars were getting loose out there and thought it was going to be tough to improve. When I let the clutch out the car just went singing down the track and it felt great.”

Teammate Erica Enders is currently in the second spot after racing a 6.530 at 211.39 in her Melling Performance/Elite Performance Chevrolet Camaro. Championship points leader Tanner Gray is currently qualified fourth.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Smith rode to a track record speed at 200.65 at 6.774 to lead the field on his Elite Motorsports DENSO Auto Parts EBR. Smith was the quickest in both qualifying sessions. Smith is the current category points leader and seeking to extend his lead.

“All in all, it was a good day for us,” Smith said. “We made two passes and were No. 1 for both runs. I got eight bonus points. We just have to go and win the race now and win the championship; no matter what anybody else tell us.”

Hector Arana Jr. qualified second with his pass of 6.824 at 198.96 on his Lucas Oil TV EBR and LE Tonglet is third with his run of 6.828 at 196.39.

Qualifying at the 54th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals continues Saturday at 12:00 p.m. 

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FRIDAY’S RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Leah Pritchett, 3.649 seconds, 329.34 mph; 2. Clay Millican, 3.702, 327.19; 3. Antron Brown, 3.704, 329.50; 4. Steve Torrence, 3.704, 327.35; 5. Blake Alexander, 3.711, 330.88; 6. Billy Torrence, 3.711, 328.86; 7. Doug Kalitta, 3.740, 319.29; 8. Richie Crampton, 3.756, 319.52; 9. Scott Palmer, 3.767, 328.38; 10. Brittany Force, 3.772, 324.28; 11. Tony Schumacher, 3.792, 326.24; 12. Terry McMillen, 3.794, 325.61; 13. Shawn Reed, 3.858, 312.35; 14. Mike Salinas, 4.211, 208.20; 15. Cameron Ferre, 4.946, 144.75; 16. Audrey Worm, 7.731, 92.70.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 3.881, 328.54; 2. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.901, 323.35; 3. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.936, 325.69; 4. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.936, 305.29; 5. Ron Capps, Charger, 3.948, 320.66; 6. Shawn Langdon, Toyota Camry, 3.950, 320.97; 7. Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.965, 316.15; 8. Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.029, 307.30; 9. Ray Martin, Camry, 4.183, 259.31; 10. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.217, 230.06; 11. J.R. Todd, Camry, 4.220, 310.13; 12. Terry Haddock, Mustang, 4.253, 260.56; 13. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.256, 214.62; 14. Jeff Arend, Chevy Monte Carlo, 4.276, 255.15; 15. Bob Bode, Mustang, 4.346, 205.76; 16. John Force, Camaro, 4.386, 206.54. Not Qualified: 17. Cruz Pedregon, 4.396, 204.14; 18. Jeff Diehl, 4.632, 190.35; 19. Jonnie Lindberg, 5.639, 122.74.

PRO STOCK: 1. Jeg Coughlin, Chevy Camaro, 6.527, 211.39; 2. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.530, 211.39; 3. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.531, 211.56; 4. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.537, 209.59; 5. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.550, 211.39; 6. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.550, 210.18; 7. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.557, 212.09; 8. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.558, 211.03; 9. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.560, 211.89; 10. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.562, 211.43; 11. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.570, 210.50; 12. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.590, 209.20; 13. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.612, 208.55; 14. Fernando Cuadra, Camaro, 6.615, 209.88; 15. Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.697, 207.27; 16. Joey Grose, Camaro, 6.738, 196.36. Not Qualified: 17. Steve Graham, 7.091, 157.19; 18. Tom Huggins, 7.481, 142.03; 19. Vincent Nobile, 12.494, 71.25.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Matt Smith, EBR, 6.774, 200.65; 2. Hector Arana Jr, EBR, 6.824, 198.96; 3. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.828, 196.39; 4. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.848, 194.74; 5. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.864, 197.77; 6. Joey Gladstone, Buell, 6.880, 196.30; 7. Chip Ellis, Harley-Davidson, 6.880, 194.80; 8. Hector Arana, EBR, 6.885, 197.57; 9. Scotty Pollacheck, Suzuki, 6.885, 194.49; 10. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.886, 194.60; 11. Ryan Oehler, Buell, 6.893, 196.64; 12. Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.895, 193.40; 13. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.898, 191.29; 14. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.952, 191.40; 15. Freddie Camarena, Suzuki, 6.953, 194.86; 16. Katie Sullivan, Suzuki, 6.978, 193.99. Not Qualified: 17. Kelly Clontz, 7.013, 191.57; 18. Anthony Vanetti, 7.074, 188.94; 19. Angie Smith, 7.081, 163.63; 20. Maurice Allen, 7.114, 186.64; 21. Melissa Surber, broke.

Scott McLaughlin will make IndyCar debut for Team Penske at St. Pete

Scott McLaughlin IndyCar debut
Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images
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Two-time defending Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin will make his NTT IndyCar Series debut with Team Penske in the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida.

McLaughlin, 27, drove for Penske in preseason IndyCar testing at Circuit of the Americas, Sebring International Raceway (in a rookie evaluation) and Texas Motor Speedway, and he was announced Feb. 5 as making his debut with the team at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course before the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic delayed the start of the season.

Travel restrictions also made it difficult for the New Zealand native to leave Australia, where he leads the points for DJR Team Penske in the Virgin Australia Supercars series with three races remaining. He set a Supercars record last season with 18 victories.

The Supercars season will conclude Oct. 18 with the prestigious 24 Hours of Bathurst. McLaughlin then will head directly to the States to drive the No. 3 Dallara-Chevrolet at St. Pete as a teammate of Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud.

“This is something I haven’t stopped thinking about, but I wanted to ensure my focus was on winning our third-straight Supercars championship for DJR Team Penske and all our partners in Australia,” McLaughlin, who also has won at Barber and Indianapolis while unofficially finishing first in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge, said in a release. “We are still laser-focused on that and have three more rounds to get it done, but I’m equally as excited to finally get the chance and make my IndyCar debut.”

McLaughlin, whose wife, Karly, is from New York, said he has discussed racing in America with car owner Roger Penske since he was hired by the team for the 2017 season.

“I’ve always said I’d love to have a crack at something else,” McLaughlin told reporters in February during the preseason test at Austin, Texas. “My goal was always to win the championship in Bathurst and Australia. I ticked those boxes, and then opportunities arise over time. The conversation between me and Roger was pretty short. ‘Would you be interested in IndyCar?’ I’d literally drive a wheelbarrow with a Team Penske sticker on it. I’d race anything that comes with the opportunity.

“I’ve always intended I’d love to get America one day potentially if I’ve done my goals in Australia. I’ve always said whether it’s now or 30 years down the track, I’d love to finish up (in America). I’ve promised Karly that we would come back here eventually. She’s not pushing me by any means, but I’ve always had a passion for American motorsport and certainly would love the opportunity.”

McLaughlin also has indicated a desire to try racing in NASCAR for Team Penske. He discussed his comfort with stock cars during a 2017 episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast (click on the link below to hear it).

Here’s the release from Team Penske:

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (September 17, 2020) – Team Penske announced today that Scott McLaughlin, the current Virgin Australia Supercars Championship points leader, is scheduled to make his long-awaited NTT INDYCAR SERIES debut in the series’ 2020 season finale on the Streets of St. Petersburg on Sunday, October 25.

The two-time and defending Supercars Champion for DJR Team Penske (DJRTP) was set to compete in his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES race earlier this year on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course before the COVID-19 global pandemic forced several delays and postponements on racing schedules, along with international travel restrictions. Before the pandemic shutdown, McLaughlin participated in the INDYCAR SERIES preseason open test at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas, where he ran consistently well and posted the third-fastest time of the test session. The 27-year-old native of New Zealand also competed in separate tests at the Sebring International Raceway road course and the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway oval.

“This is something I haven’t stopped thinking about, but I wanted to ensure my focus was on winning our third-straight Supercars championship for DJR Team Penske and all our partners in Australia,” said McLaughlin. “We are still laser-focused on that and have three more rounds to get it done, but I’m equally as excited to finally get the chance and make my INDYCAR debut. I’ve been doing everything I can to keep up with the series this year, from watching as many races as I can on TV to even talking to the drivers and some of the engineers back at the Team Penske shop. I never knew if I would be able to get behind the wheel of one of these cars this year due to all the COVID-19 restrictions, but I wanted to be ready if it became an opportunity.”

McLaughlin currently leads the Supercars point standings with just three rounds of competition remaining on the 2020 schedule. McLaughlin has produced a series-best 10 wins and 10 poles and holds a 143-point lead over Jamie Whincup entering this weekend’s race at The Bend. Over the course of his Supercars career, McLaughlin has won an impressive 53 races and 71 poles, while helping DJRTP claim team championships in 2017 and 2019 and winning the driver’s title in each of the last two seasons. He also earned his first win in the legendary Bathurst 1000 race in 2019 with co-driver Alex Premat. Though he is in just his fourth season competing for Team Penske, McLaughlin already ranks third on the organization’s all-time wins list, trailing only Brad Keselowski and Mark Donohue.

Earlier this year, McLaughlin made his “virtual” INDYCAR debut, competing in the series’ iRacing Challenge and winning two races among the full field of current NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers that were competing against each other while traditional racing was put on hold.

“Our plan has always been for Scott to run a race in the INDYCAR SERIES this season, but we never wanted to take the focus away from the main goal, which is winning another Supercars Championship,” said Team Penske President Tim Cindric. “COVID-19 certainly altered those plans early on, but with the way the schedules have lined up at the end of this season, St. Pete became an available option and we remain committed to getting him some INDYCAR seat time. We know Scott is ready for this challenge and this should add even more excitement to the 2020 season finale in St. Petersburg.”

McLaughlin will pilot the No. 3 Shell V-Power Nitro+ Dallara/Chevrolet at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, which was postponed from its original date in March and will now take place on Sunday, October 25. The race on the 1.8-mile street circuit will be seen live at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, with radio coverage on the Pennzoil INDYCAR Radio Network and SIRIUS XM.