Route 66 has always been the place to get your kicks. Dodge//SRT® Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) drivers Leah Pritchett and Ron Capps got theirs with runner-up finishes in the Top Fuel and Funny Car classes, respectively, during final eliminations at the Route 66 NHRA Nationals in Joliet, Illinois.
The final-round appearance was the second in the last three events for Pritchett in her Papa John’s Pizza/Mopar® Dodge Top Fuel dragster, including a victory in the NHRA Atlanta event in May, and the tenth overall of Pritchett’s career. Capps, the defending race winner, advanced to his third consecutive final at Route 66 Raceway in his Mopar-powered NAPA Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car, his first of the season and the 113th of his career.
Starting tenth and from the bottom half of the field for just the second time this year, Pritchett opened Sunday in strong fashion by defeating higher-qualified teammate Antron Brown with her quickest pass of race weekend, a 3.769-second elapsed time at 329.67 mph. The Mopar Dodge Top Fuel driver next took out Kyle Wurtzel, leading from start to finish on a 3.929/298.93 pass that was quickest of the quarterfinals.
Pritchett trailed opponent Blake Alexander just slightly at the start in the semifinals but quickly charged ahead with a 3.832/326.16 run that advanced her to a first-ever final at Route 66 Raceway. She was unable to score the event win against Clay Millican in the money round after smoking the tires and slowing near the 330-foot mark, but the runner-up performance boosted the DSR driver from fifth to third in the overall Top Fuel point standings.
Capps, the No. 2 qualifier, began his campaign for a third Joliet trophy with a round one matchup against Justin Schriefer, who lost traction early in the run, enabling Capps to drive around for the win. In the quarterfinals, Capps faced Shawn Langdon and was quick on the throttle, leaving the line first and never trailing for the win.
In his 93rd meeting with John Force in the semifinals, the second most head-to-head matchups of any two drivers in the pro classes, Capps once again had the advantage at the tree. He powered the Mopar Dodge to his best pass of the day, activating the win light with a 4.058 E.T.
Next up for the 2016 Funny Car world champion was a final round battle with the reigning world champ, Robert Hight, who pulled away first and was able to seize the victory over Capps’ tire-smoking effort. The solid Route 66 Raceway showing enabled Capps and his team to bank nearly 100 points over the course of the weekend, and bumped Capps up from seventh to sixth in the NHRA Mello Yello Funny Car points ranking.
Matt Hagan spearheaded the dominant 1-2-3 Dodge qualifying performance by the DSR team at Joliet, racing his Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car to the No. 1 spot, the sixth of the season for a Mopar-powered NHRA Dodge Funny Car or Top Fuel driver. The two-time Funny Car world champ had the early advantage in round one with a .081 reaction time against opponent Jonnie Lindbergh and never looked back with a winning 4.017/320.74 run that earned him lane choice over Bob Tasca III in the quarterfinals.
Hagan, a three-time winner at Route 66 Raceway, and Tasca both left the starting line with identical .074 marks. The two were locked together neck-and-neck for much of the race, but Tasca began to slowly edge ahead and was able to outrun Hagan’s 4.149/282.95 pass.
Mopar-powered Infinite Hero Dodge Charger R/T driver Jack Beckman started race day from the top half of the field and with the advantage of lane choice versus his first-round competitor, Dale Creasy Jr. Beckman held a 4-0 lead over Creasy in previous matchups and was able to extend his undefeated record on Sunday. During their round one meeting, Beckman was out of the gate first and had the immediate lead over Creasy, whose parachutes deployed early into the run, allowing Beckman to drive away with the round win.
The quarterfinals found the 2016 Route 66 NHRA Nationals Funny Car champion lined up opposite of John Force. Beckman once again had the starting line advantage and held the lead early in the run before losing traction near the 330-foot mark. He finessed the throttle, but Force, who dropped a cylinder later in the run, was able to pull away for the win.
Steady improvement during qualifying provided Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car driver and No. 10 qualifier Tommy Johnson Jr. with encouragement heading into a first-round eliminations fight with Shawn Langdon. Gunning for his second career win at Joliet, Johnson left first with a .076 reaction time to Langdon’s slower .097. That promising start ended with a boom under the hood near the 300-foot mark that cracked Johnson’s Funny Car body nearly in half, with the vehicle slowing to a stop and Johnson emerging quickly and safely. The DSR driver will look to rebound at Richmond as he seeks his first win of the season.
Mopar HEMI®-powered U.S. Army Top Fuel driver Tony Schumacher was looking to add to his five career wins at Route 66 Raceway, most all time for the class. Unfortunately, the No. 3 qualifier smoked the tires at halftrack and watched Billy Torrence pull away for the round win. Schumacher leaves Joliet fourth in the point standings.