Tony Stewart Racing (TSR) Top Fuel pilot Leah Pruett followed up last weekend’s win at the Dodge Power Brokers Mile-High Nationals near Denver by rolling into the 34th annual National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Sonoma Nationals and immediately taking the Rayce Rudeen Foundation Dodge//SRT Top Fuel dragster to her first No. 1 qualifier position of the season and then driving to a quarterfinal appearance in eliminations.
Pruett took the top spot on the eliminations ladder by recording a 3.689-second elapsed time pass @ 327.59 mph on the first of three qualifying laps to earn TSR’s first Top Fuel pole position and the 12th of her career. After advancing to the final round at Sonoma Raceway last year, Pruett was looking to repeat that journey and kicked off eliminations with a great 0.047-second reaction time and strong 3.729 sec. @ 328.86 mph pass against No. 16 seed Jim Maroney.
In the quarterfinals against No. 9 seed Shawn Langdon, Pruett had another solid 3.758 sec. @ 323.97 mph run, but it wasn’t quite enough to defeat her opponent’s 3.734 sec. @ 330.96 mph pass. Despite the shortened day, Pruett remains sixth in the Top Fuel championship standings tied with Langdon at 601 points.
“I think our takeaway this weekend was that we were able to continue the momentum from Denver. We have a thorough understanding of our power level, and that started Friday night,” Pruett stated. “We went up with a semi-conservative setup that actually ended up locking us into the No. 1 spot, so it shows we have more power [as] we thought. As we moved into race day, you can’t take anyone lightly. I used to race Jim Maroney 10 to 15 years ago and I know how great of a racer he is. We put down a solid .72 and had a nice, clean run. Ultimately, we missed it for the second round. Our momentum will continue as our baseline grows and, most importantly, we were able to make a lot of connections with people about sharing the Rayce Rudeen Foundation’s mission of fighting the stigma of addiction and the support of the communities they’re building.”
With three wins this season and sitting second in the Funny Car points coming into the second of three consecutive western-swing events, TSR driver Matt Hagan started off the weekend by taking the DieHard Batteries Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat for a 4.018-sec. @ 314.02 mph pass to sit in the provisional eighth spot on Friday. In Q2, he recorded the second quickest run of the session with a 4.023 sec. @ 315.12 mph pass but ended up 11th on the eliminations ladder after hazing the tires and saving the engine on the final run.
“It was great to be able to run the DieHard Batteries car again this weekend and bring the scheme back,“ Hagan said after the race. “We struggled a bit this weekend and got behind the eight-ball. I think (Crew Chief) Dickie (Venables) really got a handle on the car in Round 1, but we had a tough run against Cruz (Pedregon). They’re a strong team over there and they qualified well. It was two good drag races but, unfortunately, it didn’t turn out in our favor. Sonoma is one of the only tracks I haven’t won at. I look forward to checking it off the list next year. It doesn’t mean we’ll keep our heads down. For now, we’ll focus on Seattle and what we have coming up next week. We’ll take the information we learned here and transfer it over. The [Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat] is driving good and responding well, so we just have to be a bit more aggressive with it and we’ll be fine.”
That set up an opening round match against fellow Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat driver and No. 6 seed Cruz Pedregon. Pedregon had a slight advantage at the hit of the throttle as they raced side-by-side down the lane, and despite Hagan recording his quickest pass of the weekend, it wasn’t enough to catch the Snap-on Tools Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat. Even with the early exit, Hagan retains his second place position in the Funny Car standings behind rival Robert Hight.
Pedregon continued on to the quarterfinals and lined up against No. 3 qualifier Alexis DeJoria against whom he had a stellar light with a 0.033-second reaction time, but soon lost traction and had to shut it down. The Cruz Pedregon Racing HEMI®-powered entry remains sixth in the Funny Car standings as the regular season begins to wind down with four events remaining before the “Countdown to the Championship” playoffs series begins.
“After qualifying with a great 3.90 seconds @ over 323 miles per hour, we went up against none other than Matt Hagan who’s second in points and one of the great drivers and great teams of our time,“ Pedregon said Sunday night. “It was a tough contest at 3.91 for our car to 3.93. Matt was right there in the hunt all the way down the track, but it was great to get that first-round win against them. Unfortunately, we lost to Alexis DeJoria in the next round after we lost traction about 300 feet out. So that was the end of our weekend but overall a good points race for us. I think we’re going to maintain the number six spot into Seattle, a race that I’ve been looking forward to winning for several years, even going back to the late eighties. Through the years we brought some good cars up there but haven’t been able to punch it through so we’re going to look forward to getting it into the winner’s circle up there.”
The NHRA will close out the three-event western swing next weekend with the Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways near Seattle, Washington, from July 29th through the 31st.
NHRA CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS STANDINGS:
Following the Denso NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma Raceway
FUNNY CAR (season wins in parentheses)
1. Robert Hight 1133 (5)
2. Matt Hagan (Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat): 989 (3)
3. Ron Capps: 923 (2)
4. John Force: 827
5. Bob Tasca III: 733 (1)
6. Cruz Pedregon (Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat): 647
7. J.R. Todd: 615
8. Alexis DeJoria: 600
9. Tim Wilkerson: 522
10. Chad Green: 440
TOP FUEL (season wins in parentheses)
1. Brittany Force: 982 (4)
2. Mike Salinas: 976 (3)
3. Justin Ashley: 842 (2)
4. Steve Torrence: 804
5. Josh Hart: 636
6. Leah Pruett (Dodge Power Brokers): 601
6. Shawn Langdon: 601
8. Austin Prock: 570
9. Doug Kalitta: 566
10. Clay Millican: 551