Alexis DeJoria eager for NHRA Funny Car return in 2020 after 2-year hiatus

NHRA
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You might say Alexis DeJoria is unretiring from being unretired.

The first female Funny Car driver to break the four-second barrier walked away from NHRA drag racing after the 2017 season. She didn’t call it a retirement, saying her hiatus would be open-ended, meaning she’d be back someday.

That someday is now at hand, as DeJoria will return full-time to the NHRA national event circuit in 2020, campaigning a self-owned Funny Car with veterans Del Worsham and Nicky Bonifante as co-crew chiefs.

“It didn’t really seem like I was never going to come back,” DeJoria told NBC Sports in an exclusive interview Wednesday. “I was planning on coming back at some point, it was just a matter of when.

“I didn’t retire. People kept asking why was I quitting. I’m not quitting, I’m just taking time to be with my family. I just felt like I missed out so much.”

But with her daughter now 17 and husband Jesse James’ daughter soon to be 16, it was time for DeJoria to get back behind the wheel of her 330 mph Funny Car.

“I just thought I’m not getting any younger,” the 42-year-old DeJoria said with a laugh. “So now’s really a good time and I think I have a really good opportunity to work with people that I started in the industry with, Del Worsham and Nicky Bonifante. “We talked about the possibility of us having our own team one day and it just seemed like it was heading in that direction and now is the proper time to execute that.”

DeJoria recently completed three days of testing in Bakersfield, California, and it was like she had never left the sport.

“When we went testing to knock the dust off in Bakersfield a few weeks ago, I went out with Del and half of the team we’ll be running in the next year and made a ton of runs. We just went for it.

“I won’t say I was worried, but I was a little concerned about how it would be, having been out of the car for two years. I was a little concerned what it was going to be like, if I was going to remember everything.

“But everything went really well. I tried not to overthink it, just went by feel and there really wasn’t any dust. We were all really impressed how it all went. It just felt like right back in the saddle, it just felt like home.”

Her return in 2020 will mark DeJoria’s seventh full-time season in Funny Car. But there will be a significant difference: she won’t be able to look alongside her race car into the opposite lane and see longtime friend and friendly rival Courtney Force.

Force, the daughter of 16-time Funny Car champ John Force, shocked the NHRA and its fans when she went on a hiatus just before the 2019 season began.

DeJoria will now be the only full-time female driver in Funny Car. When asked if perhaps her own return may spark Force to come back soon, DeJoria demurred.

“If and when she comes back, it’s definitely not going to be any time soon,” DeJoria said of Force. “She’s still very much a part of John Force Racing, but as far as her getting back in the seat, I don’t think that’s going to happen soon, no.”

DeJoria will announce her primary sponsor just before Christmas, a company brand new to NHRA drag racing.

From there, DeJoria will have two more test sessions, one in mid-January and the other in the annual NHRA preseason test for Top Fuel and Funny Car in suburban Phoenix just before the 2020 season kicks off at Pomona, California.

When the new season begins, DeJoria will be looking to add to her five career wins, including capturing the prestigious U.S. Nationals in 2014.

“I know exactly what I want to accomplish,” DeJoria told NBC Sports. “I have a very different feeling now going into the next season. The vibe is very different. This is an opportunity I really just couldn’t pass up and I’m really excited to do this.

“I’m not going to put too many expectations on myself with it being a new team, new car and everything. Obviously, we’re all well-versed and have spent a lot of time out there, Nicky, Del, myself, the guys on the crew, but it’s a new team so it’ll take time.

“We’ll do okay the first year. If we win a race, I’ll be totally excited. But with a new team, everything getting together, I’m not going to put too much pressure on myself, we’re just going to do everything the right way and kind of creep up on it.”

In addition to getting back behind the wheel, DeJoria is looking forward to also getting back among her large fan base.

“I’m just so appreciative of the loyal fans that I had when I was racing with Kalitta (Motorsports) and Patron Tequila and how they’ve held the flame for me,” she said. “I’m very grateful for that and excited to get back out there. It’s really a family and I’ve missed my family the last two years. The day I stepped away, I really started missing them.

“I’m excited to get back out there, the camaraderie and the level of competition in Funny Car. Right now, everyone is kicking ass and doing well and I can’t wait to be a part of that again.”

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X44 Racing win 2022 Extreme E championship as Abt Cupra score first race victory

2022 Extreme E Uruguay
Extreme E
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Abt Cupra Racing’s Nasser Al-Attiyah and Klara Andersson scored their first win in the Extreme E Energy X Prix in the 2022 finale in Uruguay as Lewis Hamilton’s X44 Vida Carbon Racing drivers Sebastien Loeb and Cristina Gutierrez survived a chaotic finale to edge the 2021 champion Rosberg X Prix team of Johan Kristoffersson and Mikhaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky, by two points.

“There are so many emotions,” Andersson said in Extreme E’s coverage. “I’ve been waiting for this for so long. In my second race, first full weekend to be at the top of the podium: it’s big.”

Andersson was behind the wheel at the finish.

Rosberg Racing entered the event with a 17-point advantage over X44, but the standings were close enough that four teams remained in contention in Round 5.

“It’s a crucial weekend for us,” Loeb said in Extreme E’s coverage prior to the race. “We are not in the best position to win the championship, but the only thing we can do is try to win the race and score as many points as possible.”

The top two title contenders each crashed in qualification and were relegated to the Crazy Race, Extreme E’s version of the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ). For the moment, they had the steepest hill to climb, but then the other two championship contending teams, Chip Ganassi Racing and Acciona Sainz Racing failed to advance from their heats.

Only one team advances from the Crazy Race, so the X44 drivers were in a must-win situation to simply keep hope alive.

More: Extreme E 2023 schedule

Ahlin-Kottulinsky and Gutierrez ran wheel to wheel into the first turn at the start of the LCQ.

The Rosberg racer experienced crash damage in that turn that damaged her front steering, but managed to limp back to the pits at the end of her two-lap stint. The team attempted to fix the steering, but incurred a penalty for having too many mechanics in the pit area.

Meanwhile, Gutierrez took the early lead, but knew she would need to sit through a five-second penalty for an incident earlier in the weekend. The female half of the gender equal pair erased the penalty by entering the Switch Zone with a five-second lead before turning the car over to Loeb.

That was all the nine-time World Rally Championship titlist needed to give him the advantage needed to win the Crazy Race.

But the championship was not over yet. X44 Racing needed to finish third or better in the five-car finale to earn enough points for the title and after advancing from the LCQ, they were forced to take the worst grid position.

A chaotic start to the Finale saw Loeb run as high the lead and low as fourth after getting pushed off course during his first lap. And that is how he entered to Switch Zone.

On her first lap, Gutierrez slammed into Molly Taylor. With one lap remaining, X44 and Gutierrez were still in fourth and the title hope was quickly evaporating, but it was announced halfway through the lap that the third-running Andretti United team would suffer a penalty for a Switch Zone infraction. The seven-second deduction for Timmy Hansen braking too late in the zone made the difference in the title.

Coming off a disappointing Copper X Prix when Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour crossed under the checkers first, but were relegated to fifth by penalty, the McLaren pair scored their first podium of the season in second.