Defending DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals Funny Car champ DeJoria arriving at LVMS determined, focused
If anything, Alexis DeJoria knows how to overcome adversity, which is why she is not about to let a slow start to her 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season bring her down.
DeJoria has suffered three straight first-round losses to open 2017 in her 10,000-horsepower Tequila Patron Toyota Camry, but there are a number of signs pointing to a turnaround. DeJoria has showed strong consistency following last season's injuries, a fractured pelvis and then a late-season concussion caused the Funny Car standout to miss three events at the end of 2016.
She also enters this weekend's 18th annual DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway as the defending event champion, giving her added momentum.
"We've been trying to build consistency more than anything," DeJoria said. "No, we haven't won any races or even rounds as of yet, but we're building on something greater and that's a consistent race car. We can set it up to go fast, but we want to get to that point where we're able to be the quickest at any moment.
"Testing has gone really well, and I believe right now we're on the brink of doing something very great. What gives me great confidence is the fact that my car is going down the race track every time. That kind of confidence for a driver is priceless."
Antron Brown (Top Fuel) and Jason Line (Pro Stock) were also last year's winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including three hours of live finals coverage starting at 3 p.m. Pacific Time on Sunday. It is the fourth of 24 races during the 2017 and the first of two annual stops in Las Vegas, where DeJoria has performed well at the spring event in recent years.
She also won the 2014 race, giving DeJoria half of her career victories at the first-class facility. Even after last year's unfortunate turn of events, where she suffered a concussion after her struck a retaining wall during qualifying at the fall race, DeJoria feels comfortable in Vegas.
"We know that we've had success at this track before," said DeJoria, who finished 10th in Funny Car points a season ago and qualified for her third straight Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship. "It seems to be our track, regardless of what happened in the fall during the Toyota Nationals. We have really good history here. We'll build on that.
"There's a comfort level going back to a track where you know you've done well."
DeJoria and her team, led by crew chiefs Tommy DeLago and Nicky Boninfante, will face off against a host of Funny Car standouts, including points leader Matt Hagan, who has two wins in 2017, Gainesville winner John Force and defending World Champion Ron Capps. But DeJoria's confidence comes from being part of a Kalitta Motorsports team that includes J.R. Todd, who is making his Funny Car debut in 2017, rookie Troy Coughlin Jr. and veteran standout Doug Kalitta.
"We truly are a family and a huge support system for each other," DeJoria said. "When one of our teams goes out early, everyone from that team is on the starting line supporting the other Kalitta cars. We're all there for each other, supporting each other every step of the way, especially this year with J.R. starting his Funny Car career and Troy Jr. in a Top Fuel dragster for the first time.
"J.R.'s got me and Del (Worsham). Even though he's no longer part of Kalitta Motorsports, we still consider Del a teammate. J.R. has done an incredible job so far, and the transition has been great."
Antron Brown's second straight Top Fuel world championship included a victory in Vegas last year, but he'll have to deal with teammates Leah Pritchett, who has two wins and the points lead this season, and Gainesville winner Tony Schumacher.
Jason Line's dominant start to last season in Pro Stock included a victory and ended with a world title. The event also features the highly-anticipated K&N Horsepower Challenge for eight top Pro Stock drivers.
Greg Anderson is the defending winner, earning a $50,000 paycheck last year.
The event also features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series. After Nitro qualifying, fans can watch the spectacular Muy Caliente Racing jet dragsters sponsored by Lucas Oil. Jet cars are thrust driven vehicles propelled by jet engines with exciting pre-run flame shows.
As always, fans can interact with their favorite drivers with an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA's popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 2 and 4:30 p.m. on Friday, March 31, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, April 1, at 1:40 and 4:05 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for noon on Sunday, April 2.