For the second time in her career, Top Fuel driver Leah Pritchett ended her day holding the Lucas Oil Nationals Walley Trophy Sunday, Aug. 18, at Brainerd International Raceway.

Running in the left lane on a sun-splashed afternoon, Pritchett defeated Mike Salinas in the final elimination round to claim her first win of the season.

“This is a perfect time to be able to gain momentum for a season,” Pritchett said. “I feel like looking at the scorecard and the timesheets you see that we made four incredible runs and that is something that the crew chiefs have worked hard on and it is coming in to play at the perfect time.”

Salinas and Pritchett faced each other in an elimination round earlier season at Charlotte, with Prichett scoring that win as well.

On Sunday, Pritchett was quicker off the tree, but Salinas regained the lead at 60 feet. Salinas smoked his tires at the 660-foot mark allowing Pritchett to secure the win with an ET of 3.732, running at 321.04 mph.

Pritchett qualified fourth to start the day and faced Kyle Wurtzel in the first round. Wurtzel fell back early in the run and Pritchett ran an ET of 3.744, running at 327.43 mph to move to the second round.

A matchup against 2018 BIR champion Billy Torrence awaited Pritchett in the second round, but Torrence was late off the starting tree and Pritchett notched an ET of 3.764 en route to the second-round win.

Austin Prock was Pritchett’s opponent in the third round. Prock eliminated Pritchett in the final two stops on the Western Swing at Sonoma and Seattle. Prock beat Pritchett at the start by a margin of .045 to .047, but Pritchett took the lead at 60 feet and pulled away for the win by .0277 to move to the final round against Salinas.

Top Fuel driver Leah Pritchett holds her trophy high after winning the Top Fuel Championship Sunday, August 18, at the NHRA Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
Top Fuel driver Leah Pritchett holds her trophy high after winning the Top Fuel Championship Sunday, August 18, at the NHRA Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Salinas entered the weekend with wins at Las Vegas and at Bristol and was in the No. 3 spot after qualifying. He ran an ET of 3.723 to 4.030 against Luigi Novelli to advance to the second round. That brought a No.3 - No. 6 matchup against Clay Millican.

Running at a speed of 316.67 miles per hour, Salinas led the full run and defeated Millican 3.729 to 3.964.

Two weeks ago, Salinas defeated Doug Kalitta in the second round at Seattle and it was the same result Sunday with Salinas winning by .266 to land a spot in the finals.

“When we won here two years ago it was throw-down central,” Pritchett said.” Everyone is excited. It was cold and world setting conditions and that is what you get excited about. That ‘s what this sport stands for is being the fastest and accelerating and most extreme and you have to race with that mindset and I haven’t been able to race from that mindset. I have been racing out of fear of losing sponsors and what the future holds instead of without fear.”

As a former Lucas Oil champion, Pritchett feels the responsibility and the energy that comes from the fans that support her.

“When you win somewhere there is a certain aura about coming somewhere you have been successful and for this national event this is what people save up for and come for vacation and bring their families,” she said. ”This is a huge event and a big deal for them. And when you see a car go rounds and you are the people’s champion when you race here.

“I am looking at the scenery and the stands are packed. The layout of this track just seems fast. This place is just set up and it gives the feeling of fast and that was the feeling that I had on Friday and hopefully we are fixing to go upwards in the points.”