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Pritchett & Capps Peaking At The Perfect Time Following Brainerd Sweep

Leah Pritchett and Ron Capps earned Don Schumacher Racing an NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series double-up with Top Fuel and Funny Car wins, respectively, at Brainerd International Raceway on Sunday. It was the 161st Top Fuel win, and 156th Funny Car victory for DSR, bringing the winningest team in NHRA history’s total win count to an unprecedented 341 triumphs.

For Pritchett, the win Sunday was her first in 2019, and first since winning the 2018 Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals, snapping a 26-race win drought. She scored her eighth career victory by defeating Kyle Wurtzel, Billy Torrence, Austin Prock, and Mike Salinas.

It’s been a challenging season for Pritchett, and Sunday she and her MOPAR Dodge Top Fuel team were the last ones standing after starting the day from the fourth position on the eliminations ladder. After being knocked out in the first round the previous two races, the first hurdle was cleared when she defeated Wurtzel by posting a lap of 3.744 seconds at 327.43 mph. She followed that win by defeating the last two event winners in consecutive rounds, first beating Billy Torrence in the second round and then avenging two consecutive first-round losses to Austin Prock in the semifinals. By defeating Prock, she reached the final round for the 15th time in her career and officially clinched her spot in the Countdown to the Championship. In the final, Pritchett left first and smoothly drove away to score her 130th career round win and second race win at Brainerd.

“It feels so good to finally get that win, not only for myself and my team but for Don Schumacher and Dodge,” said the California native, who currently occupies the seventh spot in the Top Fuel standings. “I’m proud to be the one to put on that final round Top Fuel win light. This is the perfect time to be able to gain momentum heading into the playoffs. We made four incredible runs, and that’s something that (crew chiefs) Todd Okuhara and Neal Strausbaugh have worked hard to do consistently, and now it’s coming into play at a perfect time.

“We’ve made some chassis improvements, and you have to race with that extreme mindset where instead of playing it safe and being conservative, you have to race intensely, and we’ve gotten that mindset back. I’m excited because when I hear the crew chiefs talk about what they’re putting into the car and it’s finally reacting and doing what they want it to do, that’s great communication between the race car and the team. Putting all of the pieces of the puzzle together, we could see internally that we were moving in the right direction, but now everyone could finally see it this weekend.”

In Funny Car, Ron Capps drove the NAPA AUTO PARTS Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat to his sixth Brainerd International Raceway victory. It was the 2016 Funny Car world champion’s third triumph of the season and 64th win overall.

Capps’ run to the Brainerd winner’s circle was loaded with Countdown contenders, including three former world champions. After qualifying seventh, Capps drew reigning Funny Car champ J.R. Todd in the opening session. Capps’ 3.920-second pass outran Todd’s 4.635 E.T. and set up a quarterfinal contest with stablemate and defending event champion, Jack Beckman. Capps posted a solid 3.918 E.T. to dispatch his teammate’s strong 3.945-second effort and advance to the semifinals for the sixth time in 2019. With the round win, the fan-favorite faced Shawn Langdon in the semifinals where his smooth 3.938-second pass ousted his opponent’s tire-smoking effort. By capturing his 740th round win, Capps was headed to his second consecutive final round, and fourth of the season.

In his ninth Brainerd final round appearance, Capps lined up opposite teammate Tommy Johnson Jr. Capps and his Rahn Tobler-guided team knew they were going to have turn up the wick against their teammates who currently rank second in the point standings and are enjoying a career-best season. The veteran drivers ran nearly identical elapsed times, but it was Capps’ significant starting line advantage that propelled him to victory.

“Every time I race Tommy Johnson’s car, I feel like I’m racing a mirror of myself,” said Capps of the added pressure of racing his teammate in the final. “(Johnson’s crew chief) John Collins is a chip off the old block, he spent so many years working under Tobler; his approach is the same, and their car is set up almost identical to ours.

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“The list of teams we beat today are teams you’re going to have to beat to win a world championship in those six Countdown races, there’s no doubt about it,” added Capps, who currently ranks fourth in the Funny Car standings.

With one race left before the Countdown standings are set, Capps is confident his team is peaking at the right time, and they’re in a good position to have a strong U.S. Nationals and playoff run.

“This is the time of year where you have to be at your best,” said the second-winningest Funny Car pilot of all-time. “You don’t want to go into Indy and have to worry about maneuvering yourself position-wise or worrying about getting into the Top 10. You want to race this race and put the finishing touches on your tune-up because Indy is our biggest race of the season and you want to go there just focused on winning the race. You really want to have your act together by Brainerd, so I’m so happy we had so much success today, and we have a great running car.”

This story was originally published on August 20, 2019. Drag Illustrated

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