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Pritchett Makes It Two Straight

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, February 27 2017

Top Fuel driver Leah Pritchett has opened the 2017 NHRA season with two straight victories. The latest came Sunday in Arizona.

Leah Pritchett repeated as Top Fuel winner at the 33rd annual NHRA Arizona Nationals on Sunday, stirring what could prove to be prophetic comparisons to Gary Scelzi in the process.

Pritchett, of Don Schumacher Racing, defeated Brittany Force in the final at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz., for the second consecutive year. Winner of the season-opening Circle K NHRA Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., two weekends ago, Pritchett is the first Top Fuel driver to have won the first two races of the season since fellow-Californian Scelzi in 1997.

Driving for Alan Johnson’s family-owned team, Scelzi went on to win the first of his three Top Fuel titles in ‘97 as a rookie after replacing Blaine Johnson, who was killed during the 1996 U.S. Nationals while leading the point standings.

“I’m learning to do what it takes to get into that extreme, severe mindset of what it takes to do what we’re doing,” said Pritchett, who qualified on-pole by setting the national elapsed-time record at 3.658-seconds on Friday. “Honestly, I’m trying to keep up with my team for how well they’re doing and make them proud of me as a driver and do the job that is expected of a Don Schumacher Racing team. I think we’re doing pretty OK with that.

“We’re blessed with the equipment and the talent capabilities of the people and everyone that it takes to make it. I’m happy I can hold up my end of the bargain.”

Pritchett covered the 1,000-foot distance in 3.705-seconds at 328.22 mph to earn the third victory of her career, second of the season and second at the NHRA Arizona Nationals. Force, of John Force Racing, ran 3.704-seconds at 330.39 mph in her Monster Energy dragster but lost to Pritchett on a hole shot. Pritchett’s quicker move at the starting line enabled her 3.705 to overcome Force’s quicker 3.704 in only the third all-female Top Fuel final round in NHRA history. The first pitted Shirley Muldowney vs. Lucille Lee in 1982 and the second was at Wild Horse Pass last year between Force and Pritchett.

Matt Hagan (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) also emerged winners in their respective categories at the second of 24 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series events.

After a first-round bye, Pritchett outran Clay Millican and Shawn Reed en route to the win. Force trailered Terry McMillen, three-time/reigning world champion Antron Brown of DSR and eight-time world champ and DSR teammate Tony Schumacher before falling to Pritchett in the final.

“I’d like to be capped-off on a confidence level because this sport is extremely humbling and it can turn at any moment,” said Pritchett, whose car is tuned by crew chief Todd Okuhara and assistant Joe Barlam. “So I like the confidence that we have right now because it’s not too high. We’re double-checking each other’s work in a very positive way. The thing I’m most impressed about is how well our team is working together and how much we enjoy working together.”

Force, who also advanced to the Wild Horse Pass final in 2014 and 2016, took some consolation in the fact her Alan Johnson-tuned car has gone to the final round in three of the last four national events.

“Obviously, the nerves are there, but they’re there every single run,” said Force, who moved to third in the point standings. “I was feeling good, feeling confident. I have a great team behind me, but it just wasn’t our day. I was slow on the light and she happened to get us.

“It’s easy to get down on yourself when you go out on the final _ and the same setup as last year. It’s pretty ironic how it worked out. But if you look at the bigger picture, we went to the final, we moved up quite a bit in points. We struggled coming in here, so to turn it around and have a great car and move up to third in points, that’s something to be proud of. I’ll just have to pick up the pieces, go into Gainesville and hopefully we can find some luck and do it again there.”

Round 3 of the season is the 48th annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla., March 16-19.

In Funny Car, DSR’s Hagan won his second consecutive race to remain undefeated in 2017. Hagan’s 1,000-foot pass in 3.878-seconds at 330.88 mph in his Sandvik Coromat Dodge Charger R/T bettered reigning world champion/DSR teammate Ron Capps’ 3.883-second run at 330.88 mph in the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge.

“This is just great, man. We got ourselves a hot rod right now,” said Hagan, a two-time world champion.  “The car is running strong. My lights are on-point right now. I’m just feeling it, feeling this race car, this race team. We’re just digging. Everybody is working hard. The car is going down the racetrack every lap. How much more could you ask for? It’s a great feeling to crawl in the car knowing that you have the confidence that it’s going to run strong and then when your lights are good it’s a real hard combination to beat.”

Hagan now has two wins at the NHRA Arizona Nationals, the first coming in 2015. He defeated two-time world champion Cruz Pedregon, 2016 race-winner Tim Wilkerson and No. 1 qualifier Tommy Johnson Jr., also of DSR. Capps defeated Jeff Arend, Gary Densham and Jim Campbell.

“Dickie Venables is killing it out there and the car’s just going down the racetrack every lap,” Hagan said of his crew chief. “He is putting a real car underneath me.”

In Pro Stock, Anderson drove his Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaro to a quarter-mile pass in 6.547-seconds at 211.43 mph to defeat Drew Skillman and his Ray Skillman Auto Group Camaro’s 6.565-second pass at 210.50 mph. Anderson, of Ken Black Racing, earned his 87th career victory and second at Wild Horse Pass in his 140th final round.

“It was a brutal day, but I knew it was going to be,” said Anderson, a finalist for the third consecutive event, including the 2016 NHRA Finals and this season’s Winternationals. “This class is awesome and as strong as it ever was. I think every race I had today was decided by less than a foot _ you just can’t get better racing out there. It’s a battle royal every time you stage the car, and anybody can win.”

After defeating veteran independent campaigner Kenny Delco in the first round, Anderson was victorious in one of the closest races of the day. Anderson had lane choice over Shane Gray in the second round and made the first move at the starting line, leaving ahead of his challenger by 0.007-seconds and parlaying the advantage into a hole shot win, 6.559/210.97 to 6.556/210.97. The numbers were insanely close, and the margin of victory was just 0.004-seconds.

Skillman upset three-time/reigning world champion Jason Line _ Anderson’s teammate _ as well as five-time world champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. en route to the final.

“The bottom line is that we had a very slim advantage today, and if we would have made even a small mistake, we would have gone home,” said Anderson, a four-time world champion who took the point lead from Line with the win. “We didn’t make that small mistake, and Rob Downing, my crew chief, did a fantastic job with the race cars. We don’t have the advantage like we had last year, we’re just out-racing them with decisions on race day.

“It’s a 100 percent team effort and my hat’s off to the entire crew starting with Ken Black, who hand-picked all these people. He’s got the best, and they do a great job. To some people, it looks easy. It’s not easy. You’re always scared you won’t win again and that it might be your last one. There is nothing you can take for granted, and that’s how I think about this deal. I try as hard as I can every week because you just never know when it’s going to be your last.”

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Final finishing order (1-16) at the 33rd annual NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.  The race is the second of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series:

Top Fuel _ 1.  Leah Pritchett; 2.  Brittany Force; 3.  Shawn Reed; 4.  Tony Schumacher; 5.  Scott Palmer; 6.  Steve Torrence; 7.  Clay Millican; 8.  Antron Brown; 9.  Terry McMillen; 10.  Troy Buff; 11.  Troy Coughlin Jr.; 12.  Terry Haddock; 13.  Doug Kalitta; 14.  Steve Faria; 15.  Steven Chrisman.

Funny Car _ 1.  Matt Hagan; 2.  Ron Capps; 3.  Tommy Johnson Jr.; 4.  Jim Campbell; 5.  Tim Wilkerson; 6.  Gary Densham; 7.  Robert Hight; 8.  J.R. Todd; 9.  Del Worsham; 10.  Alexis DeJoria; 11.  Courtney Force; 12.  John Force; 13.  Cruz Pedregon; 14.  Jeff Arend; 15.  Phil Burkart Jr.; 16.  Jack Beckman.

Pro Stock _ 1.  Greg Anderson; 2.  Drew Skillman; 3.  Jeg Coughlin Jr.; 4.  Tanner Gray; 5.  Shane Gray; 6.  Jason Line; 7.  Vincent Nobile; 8.  Bo Butner; 9.  Deric Kramer; 10.  Matt Hartford; 11.  Chris McGaha; 12.  Alan Prusiensky; 13.  Allen Johnson; 14.  Val Smeland; 15.  Erica Enders; 16.  Kenny Delco.

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Sunday’s final results from the 33rd annual NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park:

Top Fuel _ Leah Pritchett, 3.705-seconds, 328.22 mph  def. Brittany Force, 3.704 seconds, 330.39 mph.

Funny Car _ Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 3.878, 330.88  def. Ron Capps, Charger, 3.883, 330.88.

Pro Stock _ Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.547, 211.43  def. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.565, 210.50.

Top Fuel Harley _ Rickey House, VTS, 8.802, 111.28  def. Bob Malloy, Morris, Foul/Red Light.

Super Stock _ George Stassi, Chevy Camaro, 10.622, 119.91  def. Jody Lang, Chevy Malibu, 11.021, 117.82.

Stock Eliminator _ Kyle Rizzoli, Chevy Camaro, 10.498, 118.52  def. Justin Lamb, Camaro, 10.966, 116.90.

Super Comp _ Val Torres, Dragster, 8.869, 172.83  def. Marko Perivolaris, Dragster, 8.865, 184.65.

Super Gas — Aaron Kinard, Chevy Corvette, 9.909, 157.43  def. Ed Olpin, Corvette, Foul/Red Light.

Top Dragster presented by RacingRVs.com _ Grant Durie, Dragster, 6.824, 194.27  def. Tom Koenen, Dragster, Foul/Red Light.

Top Sportsman presented by RacingRVs.com _ Mike Ferderer, Pontiac Grand Am, 7.254, 187.83  def. Richard Okerman, Chevy Beretta, Foul/Red Light.

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Final round-by-round results from the 33rd annual NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park:

TOP FUEL

ROUND ONE _ Clay Millican, 3.763, 322.58 def. Troy Buff, 3.814, 308.57; Brittany Force, 3.676, 328.94 def. Terry McMillen, 3.760, 321.58; Leah Pritchett, 3.694, 326.48 was unopposed; Antron Brown, 3.711, 324.28 def. Steven Chrisman, 4.245, 206.35; Tony Schumacher, 3.684, 329.91 def. Terry Haddock, 3.929, 304.46; Steve Torrence, 3.717, 326.71 def. Steve Faria, 4.095, 243.94: Shawn Reed, 3.929, 276.35 def. Doug Kalitta, 3.971, 270.10; Scott Palmer, 3.833, 317.42 def. Troy Coughlin Jr., 3.872, 266.21;

QUARTERFINALS _ Reed, 3.822, 315.86 def. Torrence, 4.516, 180.33; Pritchett, 3.692, 328.94 def. Millican, 4.929, 148.20; Schumacher, 3.697, 326.95 def. Palmer, 3.845, 310.84; Force, 3.707, 327.90 def. Brown, 5.732, 103.26;

SEMIFINALS _ Force, 3.701, 329.26 def. Schumacher, 4.722, 154.21; Pritchett, 3.729, 324.20 def. Reed, 3.944, 263.00;

FINAL _ Pritchett, 3.705, 328.22 def. Force, 3.704, 330.39.

FUNNY CAR

ROUND ONE _ Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 3.891, 327.43 def. Phil Burkart Jr., Charger, 19.397, 84.48; Ron Capps, Charger, 3.883, 326.56 def. Jeff Arend, Chevrolet Impala, 11.548, 83.99; Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.182, 273.50 def. Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 6.362, 104.58; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.839, 332.92 def. Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 9.244, 81.01; Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.844, 331.94 def. John Force, Camaro, 6.551, 103.40; Gary Densham, Mustang, 6.715, 106.55 def. Jack Beckman, Charger, Broke; J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.887, 330.07 def. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 5.829, 119.55; Robert Hight, Camaro, 4.699, 205.82 def. Del Worsham, Camry, 5.188, 154.16;

QUARTERFINALS _ Capps, 3.856, 327.03 def. Densham, 3.944, 320.20; Johnson Jr., 3.874, 328.22 def. Hight, 5.419, 137.34; Campbell, 4.848, 165.84 def. Todd, Broke; Hagan, 3.883, 331.61 def. Wilkerson, 3.871, 332.59;

SEMIFINALS _ Capps, 3.883, 324.59 def. Campbell, 4.890, 164.07; Hagan, 3.867, 331.45 def. Johnson Jr., 3.887, 326.56;

FINAL _ Hagan, 3.878, 330.88 def. Capps, 3.883, 330.88.

PRO STOCK

ROUND ONE _ Drew Skillman, Chevy Camaro, 6.557, 210.41 def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.601, 209.79; Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.559, 211.23 def. Erica Enders, Camaro, 7.961, 132.18; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.554, 210.31 def. Deric Kramer, Dodge Dart, 6.590, 208.75; Jeg Coughlin Jr., Camaro, 6.535, 211.06 def. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.624, 208.42; Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.571, 211.20 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dart, 6.613, 208.91; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.544, 211.00 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 9.557, 97.08; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.540, 210.87 def. Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.752, 204.05; Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.560, 210.90 def. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.594, 209.75;

QUARTERFINALS  _ T. Gray, 6.578, 210.87 def. Butner, 6.629, 210.01; Anderson, 6.559, 210.97 def. S. Gray, 6.556, 210.97; Skillman, 6.578, 210.11 def. Line, 6.564, 210.67; Coughlin Jr., 6.569, 210.80 def. Nobile, 6.603, 210.41;

SEMIFINALS _ Skillman, 6.582, 210.05 def. Coughlin Jr., 6.581, 210.28; Anderson, 6.564, 210.47 def. T. Gray, 6.590, 210.64;

FINAL _ Anderson, 6.547, 211.43 def. Skillman, 6.565, 210.50.

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Point standings (top-10) following the 33rd annual NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park:

Top Fuel _ 1.  Leah Pritchett, 245; 2.  Tony Schumacher, 153; 3.  Brittany Force, 151; 4.  Antron Brown, 143; 5.  Doug Kalitta, 140; 6.  Steve Torrence, 110; 7.  Shawn Reed, 99; 8.  (tie) Troy Coughlin Jr., 84; Scott Palmer, 84; 10.  (tie) Terry McMillen, 80; Clay Millican, 80.

Funny Car _1.  Matt Hagan, 240; 2.  Ron Capps, 178; 3.  Courtney Force, 140; 4.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 134; 5.  John Force, 112; 6.  J.R. Todd, 105; 7.  Jim Campbell, 102; 8.  (tie) Jack Beckman, 90; Tim Wilkerson, 90; 10.  Robert Hight, 88.

Pro Stock _ 1.  Greg Anderson, 225; 2.  Jason Line, 195; 3.  Jeg Coughlin Jr., 132; 4.  Bo Butner, 131; 5.  Tanner Gray, 129; 6.  Drew Skillman, 124; 7.  Vincent Nobile, 117; 8.  Shane Gray, 110; 9.  Erica Enders, 107; 10.  Chris McGaha, 66.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, February 27 2017
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