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NHRA Top Fuel Playoffs Could Be A Free-For-All

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, September 13 2011

Antron Brown leads a crowded field of Top Fuel contenders into the NHRA's Countdown this weekend. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA)

In a way, watching the NHRA Top Fuelers the last decade or so has been kind of fun. You got to see Tony Schumacher make history as he stacked Wallys like cord wood, and then you got to witness the classic Schumacher vs. Larry Dixon head-to-headers.

But missing from Top Fuel has been the kind of buzz that only a crowded, wide-open, free-for-all cage match, gang rumble can produce.

The kind that occurred in eliminations this season in Top Fuel. The kind that many think will continue on through the six-race Countdown playoff, which begins this weekend at zMax Dragway in Concord, N.C.

The kind that Antron Brown, the winner of this month’s Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, was referring to when he said, “This has definitely been the most competition Top Fuel has ever seen.”

Five drivers scored event victories in the pre-playoff portion of the 2011 Top Fuel schedule. Five others made it to the final round of eliminations.

And Schumacher and Dixon? The had one victory between them, that by Dixon at Bristol, but that does

Antron Brown won his first Mac Tools U.S. Nationals Wally as a Top Fueler two weeks ago.

not mean that either had lost their touch or speed.

The only thing about Top Fuel that has been predictable this year has been that Sundays were up for grabs every week for 16 weeks.

Brown thinks that is good for the sport and great for Top Fuel.

“The class that everybody loved watching was Funny Car because they had some really serious, serious competition, like the top 10 cars were incredible,” Brown said. “Now you’re seeing that in Top Fuel with Del Worsham coming over, Spencer Massey coming back in the game on our race team. You see Brandon Bernstein stepping up.  Bernstein and Kalitta cars, both of them are in the top 10 also.

“When you look at the group of people that are in our class right now, you see the five cars right now with Dixon, Worsham, our three DSR cars, those five cars right now have been on fire. I mean, one race, you have one good race, you could go from fifth to second.”

Worsham, in his first year in a Al-Anabi Racing Top Fuel car after spending years in Funny Cars, has the most victories. He has a healthy six of them. And he had been able to pile up an equally healthy points lead pre-Countdown.

But, Brown insists, things have been closer than those numbers indicate.

“Del has come over in Dixon’s car from last year, has been putting on a clinic lately,” the Don Schumacher Racing driver said. “He has a 130-point lead, 110 over the last race over me in second. We’ve been nipping away at him slowly. He had almost a 300-point lead on us at one time.

“With that being said, you go into the semifinals, you go into the second round like this last race (the U.S. Nationals), first round, I raced Shawn Langdon first round, he could have beat 70 percent of the other drivers first round, he was the 17th qualifier, we snuck by him. Second round, match up with (Doug) Kalitta.  We snuck by him, beat by 9/1000ths of a second. Dixon, got by him.  We race his teammate Del Worsham in the final.

“Competition right now in Top Fuel has really heated up.  I think this has been the most competition in Top Fuel in its history for sure looking back from all the days till now.”

While a lot of teams had good pre-playoff seasons, only one Top Fuel team will start the Countdown with the most momentum. Thanks to its victory in the Big Go two weeks ago, that would be Brown’s DSR team.

And gaining momentum and strength has been the plan for the team – which has five victories – the entire season.

“We started off, our car was strong in testing in West Palm, and we were growing and growing, but we had to get used to our combination, just everything we did this year that we changed on the car,” Brown said. “We went through our bumps and bruises.”

We just lost some close drags races at the beginning of the season.  Right now our car has been running consistent and the races have been falling our way.  We’ve been winning some close, close, close drag races.”

Brown, a former world-class track star and converted Pro Stock Motorcycle rider, thinks, yes, this could be the year he does the big celebration at Pomona in the fall.

Just follow the season-tested plan, he said.

“In the Countdown,” he said, “you have to go there and be poised, be in that zone, medium zone, not too high, not too low, treat it like every other race we have this year where we have nothing to lose.”

Problem is, nine other drivers have much the same plan.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, September 13 2011
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