Leah Pruett, driver of the Dodge Direct Connection Top Fuel Dragster:
Leah Pruett, Driver of the Dodge Direct Connection Top Fuel Dragster:
You always love coming into race day from the No. 1 qualifying position. But we had some issues in Saturday’s qualifying. And we started race day off stressful. Kyle (Wurtzel) had a red light in round one and that threw off my timing. We didn’t have a great run going, so I shut it off when I knew he red-lit. In round two against Mike Salinas, we hadn’t beat him yet. So, it was a big race for us. Then, in the semi-finals, Austin Prock brings out the best in me and I cut a great light (0.046). I have gotten my best reaction times against him. Going into the final round we thought we had all of the systems going well. However, then we had new issues that we hadn’t seen before. And we had 30 minutes to address the problem. Neal (Strausbaugh, crew chief) and the guys kinda rolled the dice and it worked great. It was a full team effort going against Justin Ashley. My favorite thing about racing is celebrating with the crew after a win. They worked so hard to give us a great race car. I had a good feeling about today’s race. Over my 27 years of racing, I’ve had a lot of superstitions and this year I’ve tried to push those away. Fans say ‘Good Luck’ each race and you really need luck at times for a NHRA national victory. We have been concentrating on what it takes to win. And today we did that. Justin (Ashley) is one of the most polite people I know, but, inside the race car, he is definitely not polite. And he has been winning so much that we wanted to do it now. It’s great to have Matt (Hagan) get to the final today too. As a team, we work together, and we actually get emotional as we win rounds. You get emotional because there are so many ups and downs in this sport. It’s a great camaraderie with both teams (TSR Top Fuel and Funny Car) and Tony (Stewart, team owner) has been a very consistent leader. He doesn’t play favorites. There is no A team or B team. We have the same mindset with the team and that is what we enjoy. It’s so great to win here and then we move to the Dodge Power Brokers Mile-High Nationals where I’m the defending champion. Bandimere Speedway is my favorite track dating back to my start in Junior Dragsters at age eight. We are anxious to go to Denver for Dodge, Mopar, Bandimere Speedway and the Bandimere family. That place means so much to me.
The Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals marks Pruett’s first win of the season and the 11th of her Top Fuel career. It is her first win at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park in eight starts. The victory gives Pruett 200 round wins in her Top Fuel career (200-184). It is her first win from the No. 1 qualifying position since 2018 and fifth overall.
Hagan and Pruett both advanced their Dodge Direct Connection machines to the Finals for the first time this season.
Pruett’s final-round appearance marked the 32nd of her career and her first at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park.
Pruett’s Semifinal win against Mike Salinas marked her first victory against him since the inception of Tony Stewart Racing.
Pruett earned her second consecutive No. 1 qualifier of the season, which marked the 15th of her career. It was also her first No. 1 qualifier at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park. Friday’s provisional No. 1 qualifier was the third of the season, following a provisional No. 1 qualifier at the NHRA New England Nationals and in the last event, the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals.
By advancing to the Semifinals, both Pruett and Hagan qualified to participate in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge at the next NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series event, the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA Mile-High Nationals.
Team owner Tony Stewart earned his second No. 1 qualifier of the season (previous No. 1 qualifier came in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series North Central Division Race) in the McPhillips Racing Top Alcohol Dragster. After running the fastest ET (elapsed time) of the weekend with a 5.190 ET at 278.81 mph defeating Jeff Chatterson in Round 1 (5.359 ET at 268.97 mph), he lost to teammate Matt Cummings in Round 2 (Stewart: 6.267 ET at 166.37 mph, Cummings: 5.299 ET at 266.58).
Tony Stewart, Team Owner:
I’m excited about the whole weekend. Both teams performed really well. For Leah to be low ET in qualifying and finish it off with the win today is spectacular. I’m super proud of the fact that both of our teams made the Final. It shows the depth of our program and how hard everyone works. We were really close to a double-up and something historic for our organization, but for Matt (Hagan) to make the Final, you can’t ask for much more than that.
Neal Strausbaugh, Crew Chief for Leah Pruett:
From the outside going into the Final, it looked like we were taking a knife to a gun fight with (Justin) Ashley. We have had a good race car all weekend and it hasn’t been the quickest car. We fought a few things on Saturday in qualifying. We knew we could step up our setup if we needed to. But the track temperature jumped up to 122 (degrees) for the Final. It was 111 to 113 in the Semifinals, so we felt pretty confident about the changes we made going to the final round. We ran the same engine all day. It is just a tune-up each round. Running one of these cars has a lot to do with the balance of the engine with clutch load. And how the car is accelerating. Our qualifying efforts have been good lately. So, overall, it’s just extremely hard to win one of these NHRA national events, especially in Top Fuel right now. It’s very difficult to put four runs together on a weekend. I’m very happy for our TSR team and Matt (Hagan) to the final as well.