BROWNSBURG, Ind. - A 10th-place qualifying position is never pleasing to Leah Pritchett.
That was until Monday in the 62nd annual NHRA U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway Park near Indianapolis.
Pritchett and Don Schumacher Racing's Papa John's Pizza Top Fuel team started the year's biggest drag race and last of 18 in the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series regular season tied with Terry McMillen for the 10th and final spot in the six-race Countdown to the Championship that begins in two weeks near Charlotte.
But she qualified for Monday's championship eliminations in the 10th spot to earn two qualifying points while McMillen was 16th and only earned one point.
That narrowest of margins ended up being the difference to advance her to her first Countdown after McMillen was disqualified for leaving the starting line too early and the red light came on causing an automatic disqualification.
"I've never been a bigger Clay Millican fan," she said. "Terry and I are friends but this is business, and I wanted Clay to win big. After his red-light, I said, 'Ok, he's out but we still have a job to do.' "
Unfortunately, her dream of winning a U.S. Nationals title ended several minutes later when a mechanical issue with her dragster shut it off not far off the starting line.
"We tried to win that round but most importantly we had to do it cleanly without an oil down to lose points that could have let Terry back in it.
"We were late leaving our pit because of adjustments we had to make, and that led to the engine shutting off automatically and the parachutes coming out not far from the starting line."
Her season has gone through more ups and downs than a piston in her 11,000-horsepower Mopar engine, and the driver of the Papa John's Pizza Top Fuel dragster added another "up" Monday.
"In the big picture, it's bittersweet that we won't be able to win the U.S. Nationals, but we have moved our focus on to a championship, now that we're in the Countdown. I can't tell you how incredible that feels.
"It's a weight off not only my shoulders but everyone who has helped me get to this point."
Pritchett and crew chief Todd Okuhara will start the Countdown 110-points out of first when racing resumes in two weeks at zMAX Dragway.
Winner: Tony Schumacher (Don Schumacher Racing)
No. 1 qualifier: Clay Millican (Great Clips Racing) 3.692 sec.-track record, 316.82 mph
LEAH PRITCHETT, Papa John's Pizza
QUALIFIED: No. 10
MONDAY'S CHAMPIONSHIP ELIMINATIONS
First round: Shawn Langdon (3.737 sec., 330.31) def. PRITCHETT (6.130, 97.03)
FRIDAY: 3.792 sec., 311.77 mph, (Session 1)
SATURDAY: 3.781, 329.75-career best, (Session 2); 3.738, 317.05, (Session 3)
SUNDAY: 5.953, 114.07, (Session 4); , (Session 5)
2016 NHRA Countdown to the Championship Standings
(Unofficial after Indy; DSR drivers in CAPS)
DRIVER POINTS BEHIND
1. ANTRON BROWN 2,110 ---
2. Steve Torrence 2,080 -30
3. Doug Kalitta 2,070 -40
4. TONY SCHUMACHER 2,060 -50
5. Brittney Force 2,050 -60
6. J.R. Todd 2,040 -70
7. SHAWN LANGDON 2,030 -80
8. Richie Crampton 2,020 -90
9. Clay Millican 2,010 -100
10. LEAH PRITCHETT 2,000 -110
FINAL 2016 MELLO YELLO REGULAR SEASON STANDINGS
1. ANTRON BROWN (4) 1504
2. Steve Torrence (2) 1367
3. Doug Kalitta (3) 1340
4. TONY SCHUMACHER (2) 1290
5. Brittany Force (3) 1247
6. J,R. Todd (1) 1105
7. SHAWN LANGDON (2) 1049
8. Richie Crampton 889
9. Clay Millican 908
10. LEAH PRITCHETT (1) 684
SATURDAY'S TRAXXAS TOP FUEL NITRO SHOOTOUT
First round of Shootout concurrently with second qualifying session, and final round of Shootout is part of the third session. (DSR drivers in CAPS)
TONY SCHUMACHER (3.777 sec., 330.30 mph) def. Brittany Force (4.021, 270.64)
SHAWN LANGDON (3.755, 324.30) def. Steve Torrence (3.756, 327.19)
LEAH PRITCHETT (3.781, 329.75-career best) def. Doug Kalitta (3.837, 314.09)
ANTRON BROWN (3.776, 324.59) def. Terry McMillen (5.917, 114.16)
SCHUMACHER (3.727, 323.04) def. BROWN (3.738, 322.65)
PRITCHETT (3.749, 322.81) def. LANGDON (3.773, 326.24)
SCHUMACHER (3.717, 328.86) def. PRITCHETT (3.738, 317.05)
ABOUT PAPA JOHN'S
Headquartered in Louisville, Ky., Papa John's International Inc. (NASDAQ: PZZA) is the world's third-largest pizza delivery company. For 15 of the past 17 years, consumers have rated Papa John's No. 1 in customer satisfaction among all national pizza chains in the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). Papa John's is the Official Pizza Sponsor of the National Football League and Official Pizza of Major League Baseball.
For more information about the company or to order pizza online, visit Papa John's at www.papajohns.com. Also visit us on Facebook at Facebook.com/PapaJohns, Twitter at @PapaJohns, YouTube at YouTube.com/user/papajohns, Instagram at instagram.com/papajohns, Pinterest at pinterest.com/papajohnspizza, and Vine at vine.co/papajohns. Looking to be a part of something Better? Learn more about franchising with Papa John's at papajohns.com/franchise.