In this sport, timing is everything.

From reaction times to elapsed times, timing things just right can be the difference between wins, losses, and even championships.

For Leah Pruett, sitting atop the championship standings in the Top Fuel category is not a new feat, but doing so in the waning stages of the season is. Now she hopes she can use that timing to propel her team to a first championship in the sport’s premier class.

Pruett leapt into first place in the Top Fuel standings for the first time since June 2017 with a win Sunday at the Texas NHRA FallNationals at the Texas Motorplex. She doubled up in the class alongside her Tony Stewart Racing teammate Matt Hagan, who was victorious in Funny Car.

The win was her second of the season as she used back-to-back final-round appearances to inch ahead of Doug Kalitta and Steve Torrence with two races remaining.

“This surpasses my very first Top Fuel win,” Pruett said. “The accomplishment of both Matt and I winning today and what it means for Tony Stewart Racing, what it means for the position we are in for the Countdown. Both of our teams worked so well together. And when I say worked together, they were in the ditches together. This is going to be on my top memory list forever.”

Pruett defeated a red-hot Steve Torrence in the final round Sunday to earn her 12th career Top Fuel victory and her first since Norwalk earlier in the year. In a tremendous drag race, Pruett produced a 3.684-second lap at 330.47 mph in the final to win on a holeshot against the top qualifier and the weekend’s quickest team.

Despite running career-best numbers earlier in the weekend and being quicker and faster in the final, Torrence came up just shy of his second win of the season with a 3.662 at 333.09 mph.

After the race, Pruett credited an 'aha' moment midway through qualifying that helped the team refocus and set itself up for another strong run. Her team has won seven of its last eight competitive rounds.

“Our entire issue was horsepower,” Pruett said. “We were way over-tuned. We were super eager to have our best qualifying run and we got three rounds in and we were like, ‘Where’s that 2x4 that hits us upside the head that says we can’t be making these fine-tune adjustments? We’ve got to completely de-tune.’ And then, once we de-tuned, we had our quickest E.T. that this team has ever had, and that set us up for race day.”




Pruett reached her fifth final round of the year with a string of competitive passes on race day, dispatching of Shawn Langdon, Doug Kalitta and Clay Millican with runs of 3.678, 3.697 and 3.681, respectively. All three of her early round opponents ran into issues during their runs and were unable to make full pulls.

“I don’t think that there’s been any time that we’ve run those consecutive numbers,” Pruett said. “Maybe in testing, but never taking it to the finish line being this consistent. I believe that we have been one of the most consistent racecars throughout this entire season, but we have been struggling to find consistency in these extreme conditions. Accomplishing that with these four runs today is going to set us up for the end of the year.”

Torrence reached his sixth final round of the year with wins over Buddy Hall, Antron Brown, and his father, Billy Torrence.

Pruett has now faced both Torrence and Millican in the late stages of competition at the past two races, notching a semifinal win over Torrence two weeks ago in St. Louis before losing to Millican in the final.

“The position at the back of the pack is so tight,” Pruett said. “I think we’re four points ahead and we were four points ahead coming in, so we kind of gathered that right back up. We’re proud of where we stand right now. Our top four [drivers] are incredible and Neal Strausbaugh has been absolutely incredible for us. Second year as our lead crew chief, he is really rising to the occasion when it matters most.

“We came into this race second in points. We came into [Sunday] third in points by the qualifying points that Torrence had gathered. It’s just that tight. The pressure we had on our last qualifying session and the pressure that we had today just strengthened us. They are the teams to beat, we just happen to be a coupla qualifying points ahead.”

Pruett now takes a four-point lead over Kalitta and a 13-point advantage over Torrence into Vegas in two weeks. Despite the pressure that brings, Pruett has found comfort in her team owner and husband Tony Stewart as she seeks a first championship, both personally and for her TSR team.

“I told [Tony] my concerns and I’ve been doing everything I absolutely can to become a better driver,” Pruett said. “I was disappointed in qualifying, and he didn’t have a lot of words except for, ‘I know you’ll find it.’ That’s the type of team owner and leadership we have.”