The Dodge//SRT NHRA Nationals featured an all-Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat final elimination round at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway where Cruz Pedregon earned his second Wally trophy of the year with a victory over Funny Car championship points leader Ron Capps. The win moved the event winner into third place in the battle for the crown with one event remaining on the 2021 National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Camping World series schedule to determine who’ll earn the coveted Funny Car world championship title.
“Congratulations to Cruz Pedregon on his fourth career win at the Dodge//SRT Nationals,” said Tim Kuniskis, Dodge brand CEO. “It’s been great to watch Cruz and his team demonstrate what Dodge//SRT performance looks like by taking their Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car to the winner’s circle.”
Pedregon’s drive began from the No. 7 starting position from which he was able to wheel his Snap-on Tools HEMI®-powered machine past Tony Jurado and Chris Morel to a semifinal match-up with No. 6 seed Bob Tasca. The Cruz Pedregon Racing team saw their driver hit the throttle with a 0.004-second reaction time against Tasca, and turn on win lights with a 3.924-second pass @ 325.92 mph to advance to their fourth final round appearance of the year.
As Pedregon and his team prepared for the Dodge//SRT Nationals final showdown against Capps, they found themselves solidly back in the hunt of the Funny Car crown after fellow top-five contenders Matt Hagan, J.R. Todd, and John Force were all upset in the opening round.
With both Pedregon and Capps looking to make valuable gains in “Countdown to the Championship”, their crew chiefs both elected to push the performance of their Dodge racecars to the limit. The result was a good launch by both competitors with the slight starting advantage going to Pedregon, but just as Capps began to move past him, too much horsepower resulted in an explosion. Pedregon got a little bit further down the track before also losing power, but was able to coast his machine to the finish for the victory, marking the first time since 2013 that he has recorded multiple wins in a season.
“We had a couple of good breaks with three of the top-five contenders dropped out in the first round but to be in this position (to be battling for a championship with one event remaining) is great,” said Pedregon who moves into third place behind the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Cars of Capps and Hagan. “Coming into the race I think (our championship chances) were pretty dim because I just didn’t feel like the breaks were coming our way. We were just losing some close races. And I thought, ‘Man, well, if we could just finish in the top five, I felt that was good. But after winning today, yeah, hey, we’re, back in it.”
Capps, who is seeking a second Funny Car world championship after earning the 2016 title, arrived at the Dodge//SRT Nationals with a single-point advantage over teammate Hagan. From his eighth-place starting position, Capps collected round wins over Tim Wilkerson, Alexis DeJoria, and Robert Hight on his way to the runner-up finish; a result that extended his lead over No. 2 ranked Hagan by 58 points.
Hagan, who was looking to take over the lead and defend his back-to-back 2019 and 2020 win at the Las Vegas dragstrip, qualified his Direct Connection Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat fourth on the eliminations ladder for a first-round meeting with No. 13-seed Chad Green. While Hagan had the quicker start, a dropped cylinder right at the hit of the throttle resulted in a 4.087-second pass @ 316.15 mph that wasn’t quite enough to beat Green’s 4.009 sec. @ 321.12 mph winning run and meant a disappointing early exit for the championship contender for a second consecutive event.
Despite the setback and thanks to other contenders failing to advance, Hagan maintained his second-place standing with less than two rounds separating him from Capps heading into the Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona in two weeks for the conclusion of the NHRA “Countdown to the Championship”.
In Top fuel action, after qualifying her Direct Connection dragster ninth Leah Pruett began eliminations with a starting line advantage over No. 8 seed DSR teammate Antron Brown and went on to record her quickest and fastest pass of the weekend with a 3.752 seconds @ 318.32 mph run for a first-round win. Pruett was fired up for her next meeting against No. 1 qualifier Brittany Force and hoping to take her new Direct Connection livery through a few more rounds, but her anticipation got the best of her as she hit the throttle too early and the red light foul ended her race before it had even begun.
While her nitro run was done for the day, Pruett still had some work to do; After four years of competing in both Top Fuel and Constant Aviation Factory Stock Showdown (FSS), Pruett continued her final “double-duty” race day with the 2021 Direct Connection Dodge Challenger Mopar Drag Pak. From the No. 4 spot on the eliminations ladder and working to close out the FSS season with a Wally, the 2018 FSS champion began her final day of competition aboard her DSR-prepared Drag Pak with a first-round win over No. 13-seed Ryan Priddy.4
In the quarterfinals against No. 5 seed Mark Pawuk and his Empaco Equipment Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak, Pruett had a quick start and recorded a 7.981-second run @ 173.94 mph to beat her DSR teammate’s 7.998 sec. @ 177.44 mph pass. Pawuk quarterfinal finish brought his 2021 FSS campaign to an end with an eight-place ranking in the final standings.
Pruett continued on to a semifinal battle against No. 8 qualifier Stephen Bell where she put in another stout effort at 7.934 sec. @ 174.53 mph to turn on win lights and advance to her third final round appearance in eight FSS events this year.
Pruett readied herself for the final showdown against the No. 2 qualifier and 2021 FSS Champion Aaron Stanfield in the opposite lane and used another quick launch (0.036 seconds to 0.045 seconds) to give the Direct Connection Drag Pak an early lead. Despite a solid performance at 7.944 seconds @ 174.30 mph, her hard-charging opponent made the pass at half-track and edged her at the finish with a 7.903 sec. @ 173.49 pass. With the runner-up result, Pruett closes out her FSS career with a third-place finish in the category.
The NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series now heads west to crown their world champions at the Auto Club NHRA Finals which will feature a unique points-and-a-half format, setting the stage for an exciting conclusion to the 2021 season at Auto Club Raceway on November 11th to 14th in Pomona, California.
NHRA Championship Points Standings:
Following qualifying at the Dodge//SRT NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway
FUNNY CAR (season wins in parentheses)
1. Ron Capps (Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat) – 2,585 (2)
2. Matt Hagan (Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat) – 2,527 (3/1-Tommy Johnson Jr.)
3. Cruz Pedregon (Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat) – 2,502 (2)
4. J.R. Todd – 2,447 (1)
5. John Force – 2,430 (3)
6. Bob Tasca III – 2,417 (2)
7. Robert Hight – 2,412 (2)
8. Alexis DeJoria – 2,380 (1)
9. Tim Wilkerson– 2,282 (1)
10. Blake Alexander– 2,184
TOP FUEL (season wins in parentheses)
1. Steve Torrance – 2694 (10)
2. Brittany Force – 2,589 (1)
3. Mike Salinas – 2,522 (1)
4. Justin Ashley – 2,506 (2)
5. Billy Torrence – 2,411 (2)
6. Leah Pruett (Mopar Dodge//SRT) – 2,343 (1)
7. Clay Millican – 2,302
8. Antron Brown – 2,285 (1)
9. Shawn Langdon – 2,260
10. Doug Kalitta – 2,211
Constant Aviation Factory Stock Showdown
1. Aaron Stanfield – 768
2. David Barton – 484
3. Leah Pruett (Mopar Drag Pak) – 461
4. Jesse Alexandra – 456
5. John Cerbone – 441
6. Stephen Bell – 412
7. David Janac – 377
8. Mark Pawuk (Mopar Drag Pak) – 358
9. Leonard Lottig – 315
10. Doug Hamp – 312