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DSR opens Countdown playoff with dismal day near Charlotte, ready to head to Dodge Nationals

CONCORD, N.C. (Sept. 17, 2017) – It couldn’t have happened at a worse time for each of Don Schumacher Racing’s seven teams to have their race day end after the second round of eliminations.

Three lost in the opening round and the other four were eliminated in the next round on Sunday of the 10th annual NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway near Charlotte.

There certainly never is a good time for that to happen, but it’s hard to fathom there being a worse time than the first event of the six-race Countdown to the Championship.

And it is something that hadn’t happened to DSR in the first 18 events of this year. And not since the second race of the 2016 season.

The uplifting news, however, is the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series heads north to begin the NHRA Dodge Nationals on Friday at Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pa., a rebound can happen in a hurry.

Another bright spot that shines on the chances is DSR will win its 17th and/or 18th world championship this year is that NHRA will increase the value of points by one-and-half times at the season-finale in November at Pomona, Calif. 

The dismal day started when No. 3 ranked driver Leah Pritchett in Top Fuel, and teammates Matt Hagan and Jack Beckman third and fourth, respectively, lost in the opening round of eliminations.

Pritchett and her team led by crew chief Todd Okuhara and assistant Joe Barlam qualified third for the Carolina Nationals after starting the Countdown ranked third with four event titles and six No. 1 qualifying performances and owning the NHRA Top Fuel elapsed time world record.

 “If there’s a time lose in the first round for only the second of the entire season, this was not the time to do it,” she said.

In the first round, she was upset by No. 14-seed Wayne Newby, a part-time racer from Australia. Newby’s time of 3.827 seconds at 313.66 mph certainly was beatable but Pritchett’s dragster lost traction early in the run and finished with a time of 4.172 at 300.06. 

Pritchett dropped from third to seventh but is only 65 points behind new leader Doug Kalitta heading to Round 2 of the Countdown. In the second round, three-time and defending Top Fuel champion Antron Brown and eight-time world champ Tony Schumacher lost; Brown fell from No. 2 to No. 3 and Schumacher dropped from No. 4 to No. 5. 

“The next race is only a few days away so we don’t have to wait long to get back on this horse,” said Brown, the Carolina Nationals winner the past two years. “And our main focus is to go out there and qualify well and to race well on Sunday. That’s not going to change. We’re getting better. We all know we lost a close, close race. And we know where we need to be. We know how important and crucial these next couple of weeks are.”

However, the DSR trio didn’t fall too far off the pace as former points leader Steve Torrence also lost in the second round that allowed Kalitta to take the points lead.

In Funny Car, Hagan and the Freightliner Dodge Charger R/T team that started the day third in points, but lost a key early match-up to second-seed Robert Hight of John Force Racing. Hight, won the event title, took over the points lead when DSR’s Ron Capps and the reigning world championship NAPA AUTO PARTS team lost in the second round.

It marks the first time since in the Four-Wide Nationals near Charlotte in April – that Capps and the NAPA team were not atop the standings.

“All things considered, this was one of those weekends where we had to grind it out,” Capps said. “We didn’t qualify where we wanted but again, that shows what our team can do. No lane choice, up against one of the toughest guys Tim Wilkerson and we were able to win first round.

“Then to go up and run a 3.96 in the next round when no Funny Cars even went down the track made it a great run. So, it hurts and it hurts us in points but we will definitely bounce back from it. It’s just good to know that we have a good hot rod.”

The Carolina Nationals is the first of six events in the Countdown to the Championship playoff that will determine NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world champions. The Countdown continues next week with the NHRA Dodge Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pa.