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Pritchett Leads Field Into Brainerd Eliminations

| , RacinToday.com Sunday, August 20 2017

Leah Pritchett earned the Top Fuel pole with a record-setting run at Brainerd.(File photo courtesy of the NHRA)

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Leah Pritchett’s quickest run in NHRA history withstood two rounds of qualifying Saturday and secured pole position in Top Fuel during the 36th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway. 

Record-smashing Robert Hight (Funny Car), Tanner Gray (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also earned No. 1 positions in their respective categories at the famed Minnesota facility during the 17th of 24 events on the 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Pritchett’s 1,000-foot pass in 3.640-seconds at 330.63 mph in her Don Schumacher Racing dragster from Friday night secured her sixth No. 1 of the season and seventh of her career. Pritchett will face Rob Passey in Sunday’s opening round of eliminations.

“Brainerd is the epitome of ‘throw-down central,’ so that’s what we did (Friday) night,” said Pritchett, a three-time national event winner this season. “Today was about getting ready for Sunday. Obviously, our national record gave us, delivered us, blessed us with a green hat but Q4 today was looking pretty good for us. We threw down last night and today was just about race day. Tomorrow is going to be as close to this as possible.”

Pritchett, whose car is tuned by crew chief Todd Okuhara and assistant Joe Barlam, now has qualified on-pole in three of the last four races. Third in points, Pritchett has compiled a 35-13 win/loss record this season.

Defending event winner Brittany Force of John Force Racing qualified second with a run of 3.685-seconds at 333.16 mph in her Monster Energy dragster, and will face Steve Chrisman in Round 1. Force has gone to the BIR final round for two consecutive seasons, falling in the 2015 finale to Richie Crampton. But she beat reigning/three-time world champion Antron Brown of DSR in the final to win last summer.

Force completed four solid runs in qualifying, with her speed of 333.16 mph in the second session on Friday night matching the third-best all-time.

“We had a great pass,” Force said. “Actually, we’ve made great passes all weekend long in qualifying. It’s gone down there every single run. We’ve put great numbers on the board, especially our run in Q2 last night when it was a little cooler. But the really important run was this afternoon when we made a killer pass down the race track in Q3 and put a great number on the board.”

Doug Kalitta ran the quickest time in the final qualifying session and placed third overall to lead Toyota’s entries. Kalitta earned bonus points by running in the top three in three of the weekend’s four sessions. Saturday’s showing marked the fourth consecutive race and the 12th time in 16 events this season that he has qualified in the top three.

“What a great way to end qualifying for the Mac Tools Toyota team,” said Kalitta, who drives for uncle and NHRA pioneer Conrad “Connie” Kalitta. “I could not be more excited about our chances after the strong runs we made in qualifying. The goal is to come out tomorrow, go four rounds and get the first win of the season.” Kalitta will race Terry Haddock in Round 1.

Hight remained at the top of the Funny Car field after setting the elapsed-time national record for 1,000-feet of 3.793-seconds at 338.00 mph in his Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro SS during Friday’s qualifying. Hight earned his third consecutive pole, fifth of the season, 54th of his career and first at Brainerd.

“It’s the first time I’ve been No. 1 here?” Hight said during his post-race interview. “Oh, wow, I didn’t know that. We’ve won here but it did take a long time. When I started my career, Brainerd was not my favorite race. We just did not do well here. But then we got a win with Mike Neff two years ago, so I like Brainerd now. And especially after last night, with a 3.79, I love Brainerd.”

No car/driver came close to matching Hight’s record-setting pass on Saturday. Hight’s third No. 1 in a row matched JFR teammate Courtney Force’s streak of three straight poles earlier this year (Baytown, Texas, Concord, N.C., and Atlanta).

“I woke up in the middle of the night and wondered if that was really a dream,” said Hight, whose car is tuned by crew chief Jimmy Prock and co-crew chief Chris Cunningham. “Did it really happen? It was a pretty exciting day. Everybody was so jazzed with our team. It’s a milestone. Two years ago, the first 3.80 Funny Car run was right here. I promise you it’s going to take a lot longer than two years to go to the 3.60s; 3.70 is a big deal. Luckily, we could get it done here.”

Hight’s 54th pole moved him to 11th in NHRA history. Hight has qualified third or better in 10 consecutive races and has earned a No. 1 qualifier at 20 of the 21 tracks on the current NHRA schedule (Bristol Dragway is the outlier).

Hight overpowered the track in Q3 before making a solid pass in the final session, setting him up with a first-round match vs. No. 16 qualifier Dale Creasy Jr. Hight vs. Creasy Jr. will mark the fifth time the two will compete against each other and second time this season. Hight holds the advantage at 4-0, with all matchups coming in the first round. This will be their first meeting at Brainerd. Should Hight get past Creasy, it would mark another milestone in his career _ his 400th round win.

“We smoked the tires in Q3 for the first time in 11 runs, that’s impressive,” said Hight, the 2009 world champion. “I think sometimes it’s a good thing to push a little on Saturday so you know your limitations for Sunday. We need to make four good runs here tomorrow and get back to the winners circle. First round is going to be killer _ the track will still be cool and you’ll see 3.80s in Funny Car.” 

Two-time world champion Matt Hagan qualified second in his Pennzoil /Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T with a 3.807-second pass at 336.57 mph. Hagan, of DSR, will face two-time world champ Cruz Pedregon in Round 1. Sixteen-time world champion John Force is third and will be matched up against Jim Campbell. 

Rookie Gray leads the Pro Stock category with a quarter-mile pass of 6.607-seconds at 208.17 mph in his Gray Motorsports /Valvoline Chevrolet Camaro from Friday. Gray posted his third No. 1 qualifier. 

“All my guys have given me great equipment,” Gray said. “In racing it’s not so much about the driver any more, it’s about the equipment you have behind you. I’ve been blessed to be put in some awesome equipment. I’ve done a small part _ just let go when you see the light and push or pull. The guys have given me a fast race car. Hats off to them, they’re the reason behind all the success.” Gray will have a bye-run in Round 1 due to a shortened field of 15 Factory Hot Rods.

Point-leader Bo Butner of Ken Black Racing is in the No. 2 spot with his pass of 6.617-seconds at 207.69 mph in his Jim Butner’s Auto Camaro and will face David River in Round 1. Veteran Mopar campaigner and 2012 world champion Allen Johnson is third and will race against Mark Hogan and his Pontiac GXP.

Arana Jr. raced to his first Pro Stock Motorcycle pole of the season with a quarter-mile pass in 6.879-seconds at 194.24 mph aboard his Lucas Oil Buell from Friday. It is the 19th No. 1 of his career. Arana Jr. will race James Underdahl in the opening round of eliminations.

“This means a lot to me, not only me but everybody back at the shop, everybody on the crew,” Arana Jr. said. “Everybody worked so hard for this and it’s nice to finally get the results that we’re getting. It’s really awesome. It’s so awesome to get the No. 1. It really does mean a lot.” 

Reigning PSM world champion Jerry Savoie qualified his Suzuki second at 6.882-seconds and 193.57 mph from Saturday and will meet Mike Berry and his Buell in the opening round. Two-time world champ Matt Smith is third aboard his Victory and will line up opposite Freddie Camarena and his Suzuki in Round 1. 

Eliminations are scheduled to begin Sunday at noon (EDT). FOX Sports 1 (FS1) will air three hours of live coverage beginning at 2 p.m. 

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Sunday’s first-round pairings for eliminations at the 36th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway, the 17th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Pairings based upon results in qualifying, which ended Saturday. DNQs listed below pairings:

Top Fuel _ 1. Leah Pritchett, 3.640-seconds, 331.53 mph vs. 16. Rob Passey, 8.808, 60.51; 2. Brittany Force, 3.685, 333.16 vs. 15. Steven Chrisman, 4.845, 156.88; 3. Doug Kalitta, 3.694, 330.31 vs. 14. Terry Haddock, 4.581, 182.87; 4. Tony Schumacher, 3.695, 329.42 vs. 13. Troy Coughlin Jr., 4.359, 179.44; 5. Clay Millican, 3.706, 326.48 vs. 12. Chris Karamesines, 4.261, 264.80; 6. Steve Torrence, 3.709, 330.15 vs. 11. Luigi Novelli, 3.987, 261.37; 7. Antron Brown, 3.723, 325.06 vs. 10. Shawn Langdon, 3.859, 265.43; 8. Scott Palmer, 3.768, 328.22 vs. 9. Terry McMillen, 3.814, 312.64.

Funny Car _ 1. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.793, 338.00 vs. 16. Dale Creasy Jr., Dodge Charger, 4.188, 297.29; 2. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.807, 336.57 vs. 15. Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 4.118, 306.19; 3. John Force, Camaro, 3.852, 334.15 vs. 14. Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.079, 306.88; 4. Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.863, 335.98 vs. 13. Del Worsham, Camry, 3.979, 323.27; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.880, 330.96 vs. 12. Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 3.962, 326.63; 6. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.886, 333.25 vs. 11. Brian Stewart, Ford Mustang, 3.961, 303.37; 7. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.898, 329.58 vs. 10. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 3.941, 330.31; 8. Ron Capps, Charger, 3.928, 325.61 vs. 9. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.937, 327.98. 

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Bob Bode, 4.731, 216.51.

Pro Stock _ 1. Tanner Gray, Chevy Camaro, 6.607, 208.17 vs. Bye; 2. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.617, 207.69 vs. 15. Dave River, Chevy Cobalt, 6.969, 197.28; 3. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.622, 207.18 vs. 14. Mark Hogan, Pontiac GXP, 6.838, 201.49; 4. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.627, 207.59 vs. 13. John Gaydosh Jr., Camaro, 6.745, 205.47; 5. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.628, 208.65 vs. 12. Alan Prusiensky, Dart, 6.716, 205.60; 6. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.631, 207.59 vs. 11. Deric Kramer, Dart, 6.705, 205.51; 7. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.637, 207.50 vs. 10. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.670, 207.02; 8. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.665, 208.10 vs. 9. Jeg Coughlin Jr., Camaro, 6.669, 208.30.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 1. Hector Arana Jr., Buell, 6.879, 194.38 vs. 16. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 7.091, 189.02; 2. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.882, 193.57 vs. 15. Mike Berry, Buell, 7.058, 188.96; 3. Matt Smith, Victory, 6.884, 195.22 vs. 14. Freddie Camarena, Suzuki, 7.056, 191.81; 4. Scotty Pollacheck, Suzuki, 6.908, 193.54 vs. 13. Cory Reed, Victory, 6.978, 187.18; 5. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.912, 194.10 vs. 12. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.975, 191.32; 6. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.920, 195.56 vs. 11. Joey Gladstone, Suzuki, 6.965, 192.85; 7. Angie Smith, Buell, 6.944, 192.25 vs. 10. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.959, 192.08; 8. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.946, 195.25 vs. 9. Angelle Sampey, Victory, 6.959, 191.78. 

Did Not Qualify _ 17. David Hope, 7.107, 186.64; 18. Andie Rawlings, 8.217, 160.37. 

 

| , RacinToday.com Sunday, August 20 2017
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