After Brittany Force set a track record 3.659 Friday night, few doubted that it would hold through Saturday. Don’t tell that to Leah Pritchett, crew chief Todd Okuhara, and their Mopar/Pennzoil team. After having the third-best runs of Q1 and Q2, the team put it all together to knock Force from the top spot with a 3.654 on their final qualifying run.
Pritchett’s team had been showing signs of improvement, qualifying No. 2 at the two most recent events, in Charlotte and Dallas, then earned their first No. 1 of the season and the 12th of Pritchett’s career. The team, which was as high as second in points early in the year and fellas far as 8th, is now back in the No. 5 spot and looking for more entering Sunday.
“It was a phenomenal pass, and it started with the attitude and plan we had coming into the weekend, which was about execution,” said Pritchett. “We made three consistent runs and knowing what we had in the car, and then putting everything on the line to get the No. 1 and the small point was a bit of a gamble. I knew when I hit 330 feet that we were going to be on a run. The front end was light and it skated around or maybe it could have been a 3.652 or something. To be No. 1 at the Dodge Nationals presented by Pennzoil is phenomenal because we have all of the support and this is a hometown-ish kind of race for our crew chiefs Todd and Scott [Okuhara] so our pit area is pretty crowded this weekend.”
Force, who was the No. 1 qualifier two weeks ago in Dallas, had to settle for the No. 2 spot. She got her chance to take back the pole with her final run but fell a but short with a 3.660 that nonetheless makes her a Sunday favorite.
Dallas winner Billy Torrence is slotted fourth with his Friday 3.662 but made solid passes on all four qualifying attempts.
His son, points leader Steve Torrence, and the other Capco Contractors team finally found their stride with a 3.69 that improved them from the No. 8 the potential of being bumped down a spot and not even having first-round lane choice into the No. 5 position.
Mike Salinas is third with a 3.682 from Friday that he backed up Saturday with a 3.684. It was a quick field with the top half of the field being anchored by Shawn Reed with a 3.709.
Q4 was make-or-break it time for several drivers, including rookie Justin Ashley, who entered the final session outside the show after reaching the semifinals in his Charlotte debut a few weeks ago. The team fired off a 3.78 to go from No. 18 into the field while veteran Pat Dakin, shaking down the new Beal Racing dragster, went from No. 19 to a Sunday spot with a last-ditch 3.84.
Cameron Ferre and team owner Terry Haddock held onto their spot in the field with their opening pass of 3.942, surviving the attempts of five other cars trying to bump them out. His reward? A first-round date with low qualifier Leah Pritchett.