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Leah Pruett Moving On After Topeka With Momentum

Leah Pruett, driving the Rayce Rudeen Foundation Top Fuel Dragster, showcased determination at the Menards NHRA Nationals presented by PetArmor, despite enduring the hottest track conditions of the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season at the Heartland Motorsports Park.

Pruett claimed the No. 4 provisional qualifying position, clocking in at 3.834 ET at a speed of 293.41 mph on Friday night. Then on Saturday, during round two of qualifying, she maintained her No. 4 spot with a 4.102 ET at 243.68 mph. It was during round three of qualifying that Pruett excelled, securing the No. 2 qualifying position with an impressive 3.768 ET at 325.77 mph, earning her two bonus points for the second-quickest run of the session.

On race day, Pruett demonstrated her racing prowess with a 3.821 ET at 324.05 mph, overpowering Lex Joon, who completed his run at 3.986 ET at 304.87 mph in round one. Then in round two, it was an intense face-off against Justin Ashley; Pruett ran a close 3.794 ET at 325.92 mph but was narrowly defeated by Ashley’s 3.752 ET at 327.35 mph.

Pruett now stands fifth in the Top Fuel championship standings, 275 points behind the leader, Justin Ashley.

“Going into Topeka, we were fifth in points, and we’re leaving fifth in points,” said Pruett. “It just shows how strong this entire field is. Most importantly, for us coming off of the (Western) Swing, we wanted to regroup and get our performance package together. Qualifying number two was very strong and what we were aiming for. When you have a full field of cars versus 13 or 14 cars, that first round is important and we made our own luck by qualifying number two and getting a lucky break racing Lex Joon. We had a power level deficiency in the first round from start to finish. For us to still get the win light was a testament to proper positioning in qualifying.”

This weekend was especially challenging for all competitors, with track conditions reaching a scorching 138°F on Saturday and escalating to 145°F at 1,000 feet down the track during Q2.

“To turn around and run Justin Ashley in round two always brings out the best in me,” she continued. “Our best wasn’t quite enough to get around him, but it all comes back to qualifying and where you start and the momentum you have. Momentum is not something magical. It takes a lot of work and persistence. We learned a lot from the mishap in qualifying and the mishap in the first round. It’s your fault if you don’t learn something from them. It exposed things with our car and setup, which excites us. It creates a bigger window for moving on. Everything happens for a reason. Unfortunately, we didn’t go the rounds we were wanting to, but we are in the thick of things and in the thick of the points. We have a very strong race car and an even stronger team coming out of this. We were happy to make a solid presence for the Rayce Rudeen Foundation this weekend.”

This story was originally published on August 14, 2023. Drag Illustrated

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