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Brown Closes In On Top Fuel Crown

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 16 2016
Antron Brown all but clinched the Top Fuel championship with his victory at the Texas Motorplex on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series)

Antron Brown all but clinched the Top Fuel championship with his victory at the Texas Motorplex on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series)

ENNIS, Texas – Antron Brown got fitted for a black cowboy hat Sunday afternoon at Texas Motorplex, and it may as well pass for another Top Fuel crown.

Brown trailered nearest point rival Doug Kalitta during the second round of eliminations before dispatching Texan Steve Torrence in the final to win the 31st edition of the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals. Brown, who began the weekend with a 77-point lead over Kalitta, nearly doubled his advantage to 150 points following Round 4 of the six-race Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

Brown’s point lead translates into seven-plus rounds of racing with only eight combined rounds remaining at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Oct. 27-30 and Auto Club Raceway at Pomona (Calif.) Nov. 10-13. If he clinches in Vegas, it will be Brown’s third Top Fuel world championship in the last five years.

Racing in his fifth final-round in the last seven events, Brown and his Matco Tools for the Cause dragster covered the 1,000-foot distance in 3.744-seconds and 321.12 mph. Torrence ran 3.750-seconds at 323.12 mph in his Capco Contractors dragster. The pair’s starting line reaction times were nearly spot-on _ 0.061-seconds for Brown and 0.064-seconds for Torrence. But perhaps the most telling stat exiting The Plex is Brown’s won/lost round record vs. Torrence _ a lopsided 20-1. Is that any way to treat your overnight host?

“Me and Steve go way back, he’s like a brother to me,” said Brown, who earned his seventh win of the season and 61st of his career, including 45 in Top Fuel. “His family is the sweetest family. We do a lot of things together, Bible study and the whole nine yards. I’m going to his house in Kilgore to hang out after this race and he told me on the top end, ‘Brother, you may not get out of Kilgore.’

“Joking aside, there’s a remarkable team. We had a great drag race out there. Could have gone either way. We were close on the (Christmas )Tree, the cars ran within five-thousandts (of a second) and we snuck one out there. That’s how this year has been. The only way you win now is by inches.

“Going into Vegas we’ve got a little bit of a points lead but it’s still anybody’s game. Our main focus is to stay humble, keep our head down and continue the hard work that’s got us here. We’re still not done working yet.”

Meanwhile, Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Drew Skillman (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also emerged with victories in the 22nd of 24 races on the 2016 schedule.

Brown actually may have wrapped up the title with his Round 2 victory over Kalitta and his Mac Tools dragster. Brown’s reaction time again was key _ 0.064-seconds to Kalitta’s 0.076-seconds _ en route to a winning pass of 3.729-seconds at 320.74 mph. Kalitta’s numbers were 3.765-seconds at 327.19 mph.

“When we raced Dougie, man, I put my head down and looked at the tree and the guys gave me a great car,” said Brown, who now has won three of four Countdown races this season via a round-record of 12-1. In addition, he’s won six of the last 10 Top Fuel playoff races.

“That was a monster matchup right there because if we lost that round, that’s 20 points off the lead, it’s under 50 points with two races left,” Brown said. “Now we’ve got a little bit of a cushion.”

Brown began his march to his latest final with victories over Chris “The Greek” Karamesines, followed by that win over Kalitta and J.R. Todd in Round 3. “We never look at the whole race. We take it one step at a time,” said Brown, who has advanced to the semifinals or beyond in 14 of the last 19 races. “We look at all the baby steps that we’ve made to get us to where we need to be.”

Torrence raced past Clay Millican, Phoenix-area winner Leah Pritchett and three-time 2016 winner Shawn Langdon en route to his seventh final round appearance of the season. The runnerup result bumped Torrence up to fifth in points.

In keeping with a recent Motorplex tradition, the winners in all four pro classes were fitted for cowboy hats on-site after receiving their Wally trophies on a stage set up before the crowd. Turns out that two of the four champions _ Brown and Krawiec _ are natives of New Jersey.

”Hey, there ain’t nothing wrong with Jersey, man,” said Brown, whose hometown is Chesterfield, N.J. “But every guy that grew up in Jersey, they always wish they could be a cowboy _ come to Texas and be a cowboy _ and I got a hat that says that right now.”

True enough although Krawiec, of Bayonne, N.J., quickly chimed in, “But I do look good.” That certainly was the case point-wise. Krawiec began the weekend 38 points behind leader Andrew Hines, his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson teammate. Hines, the five-time/reigning world champion, was ousted in Round 2 by 2010 world champ LE Tonglet aboard his Nitro Fish Suzuki. Krawiec eliminated Tonglet in the semifinals before taking on pole-sitter Jerry Savoie in the final.

Krawiec used a hole shot _ 0.031-seconds off the line _ to easily dispatch Savoie and his White Alligator Racing Suzuki via a quarter-mile pass in 6.880-seconds and 196.36 mph. Savoie, who bested Krawiec in the final here last year, ran 6.856-seconds at 196.76 mph after posting a poor reaction time of 0.120-seconds.

The net result was that Krawiec moved past Hines and into first by 13 points (2,425-2,408) heading to Vegas. Krawiec was taken aback to learn that he had moved into P1. “I try not to focus on the points,” said Krawiec, a three-time world champion. “The way that I look at it is you just do your job and win races, win rounds, you can win championships. Just really trying to stay focused, race my own race on Sunday _ four good green lights and have a good consistent motorcycle under me.

“My crew chief, Matt Hines, and Andrew both…Andrew was tuning on it ever since he went out. It’s great to have teammate like that, where you’re fighting for a championship and even though he goes out, he jumps right back into my motorcycle and our program and wants to make mine better.”

Krawiec, who won this event in 2014, said he certainly was aware of the consistency Savoie showed Saturday, when he displaced Hines at the top of the time sheet. “During the semis I was like, ‘It’s a Jersey boy surrounded by a bunch of Cajuns,’^” said Krawiec, referring to Louisianans Savoie, Tonglet and three-time world champ Angelle Sampey. “I got Everybody from Louisiana in the semis, the other three bikes. I’m like, ‘What are my odds here? I’m hoping it’s higher than 25 percent.’ It’s about staying focused on race day.”

Krawiec beat Karen Stoffer, 2009 world champ Hector Arana and Tonglet to advance to his seventh final round of the season and 36th career victory.

The Funny Car final paired point-leader Ron Capps against Don Schumacher Racing teammate Hagan, with the latter prevailing but not exactly pulling a parachute on Capps’ bid for his first world championship. Capps began the weekend with a 24-point/one-round of racing lead over DSR teammate Tommy Johnson Jr., with Hagan in fourth and 110-points out. Sunday’s outcome left Capps with a 64-point lead (2,465-2,401) over Johnson while Hagan advanced one spot to third, 88 points behind the leader.

Hagan covered the 1,000-foot distance in 3.913-seconds at 327.03 mph in his bright yellow Pennzoil Dodge Charger R/T, while Capps posted numbers of 3.906-seconds at 322.19 mph in his NAPA Auto Parts Dodge. Again, Hagan’s reaction time advantage _ 0.038-seconds to Capps’ 0.064-seconds _was the difference.

“That was a huge round,” said Hagan, a two-time world champion who bagged his fourth win of the season and 22nd of his career. “In Reading (Pa.) I had him in the semis and he left on me and spanked me on the tree. I guess this time I got to leave on him and get a little payback. Great guy, great individual. He was one of the guys that took me under his wing when I first came out here. I got lots of respect for him. I know he’s digging deep and working hard but we got a job to do over here for all the folks supporting us. We race heads-up and that’s the way it’s going to be.

“I’ve had a lot of success out here _ in 2010 got my first win out here. This track has shown me some love. Hopefully we can keep this ball rolling in this Countdown.”

Hagan moved to within 24 points of second-place Johnson by defeating John Bojec, Houston-area winner Courtney Force and No. 1 qualifier Robert Hight of John Force Racing in the earlier rounds.

Hagan said Capps _ seeking his first title in a Funny Car career that began in 1997 _ spoke to him briefly after their matchup.

“He shook my hand and said, ‘Congratulations.’ You could tell he was dejected, as anybody would,” Hagan said. “I’ve been there. I’ve been on those championship hunts and we’re still in this hunt but you can see the guy, he can taste it. It’s just a matter of two more races he’s got to do well. This guy’s a champion, he’s just not got the ring yet. He’s a champion at heart. He makes me bring my A-game, like in the final _ I had to beat him on a hole shot. Yeah, you could see when he was sitting on the hood of his Funny Car that he’s dejected. I know how bad that hurts. It feels like someone ripped your heart out and ran it over. But I know he’ll put his helmet on in Vegas and we’ll see what happens.”

Capps, who has five victories in 10 final rounds this year, outlasted two-time 2016 winner Tim Wilkerson, fourth-place “Fast” Jack Beckman and reigning world champion Del Worsham in the earlier rounds. Capps became the 15th driver in NHRA history to appear in 100 final rounds. 

 In Pro Stock, Skillman notched a quarter-mile pass in 6.661-seconds at 209.36 mph in his Ray Skillman Auto Group Chevy Camaro to knock off nearby Granbury resident Alex Laughlin’s 6.708-second effort at 208.30 mph in his Gas Monkey Garage Camaro. Skillman, who won earlier this year in Brainerd, Minn., tallied his third career victory in his first final round appearance at The Plex. Skillman moved to sixth in points after eliminating Texan Chris McGaha, point-leader Jason Line and Shane Gray.

“We have struggled so badly with this race car,” said Skillman, the 2015 Rookie of the Year. “We were lost, and going into the Countdown that’s the worst time of the year to be lost. We had some luck on our side this weekend. I drove decent and the car at least went (straight). We’re going the right direction, I think. We’re going to hit these last two races hard.”

Laughlin, who claimed his first career victory recently at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Ill., near St. Louis, raced past five-time world champion Jeg Coughlin Jr., Shane Tucker and second-place Greg Anderson. Laughlin did not qualify for the Countdown to the Championship.

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 Final finishing order (1-16) at the 31st annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex.  The race is the 22nd of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series:

Top Fuel _ 1.  Antron Brown; 2.  Steve Torrence; 3.  Shawn Langdon; 4.  J.R. Todd; 5.  Tony Schumacher; 6. Doug Kalitta; 7.  Leah Pritchett; 8.  Brittany Force; 9.  Larry Dixon; 10.  Troy Buff; 11.  Terry McMillen; 12.  Kebin Kinsley; 13.  Scott Palmer; 14.  Chris Karamesines; 15.  Richie Crampton; 16. Clay Millican.

Funny Car _1.  Matt Hagan; 2.  Ron Capps; 3.  Del Worsham; 4.  Robert Hight; 5.  Alexis DeJoria; 6.  Jack Beckman; 7.  Tommy Johnson Jr.; 8.  Courtney Force; 9.  Chad Head; 10.  Cruz Pedregon; 11.  Dave Richards; 12.  John Bojec; 13.  John Hale; 14.  Tim Wilkerson; 15.  Brandon Welch; 16.  John Force.

Pro Stock _1.  Drew Skillman; 2.  Alex Laughlin; 3.  Greg Anderson; 4.  Shane Gray; 5.  Jason Line; 6.  Bo Butner; 7.  Shane Tucker; 8.  Allen Johnson; 9.  Jeg Coughlin Jr.; 10.  Deric Kramer; 11.  Aaron Strong; 12.  Vincent Nobile; 13.  Erica Enders; 14.  Kenny Delco; 15.  Chris McGaha; 16.  Alan Prusiensky.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _1.  Eddie Krawiec; 2.  Jerry Savoie; 3.  LE Tonglet; 4.  Angelle Sampey; 5.  Andrew Hines; 6.  Matt Smith; 7.  Hector Arana; 8.  Chip Ellis; 9.  Steve Johnson; 10.  Karen Stoffer; 11.  Cory Reed; 12. Melissa Surber; 13.  Shawn Gann; 14.  Joey Gladstone; 15.  Hector Arana Jr; 16.  Joe DeSantis.

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Sunday’s final results from the 31st annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex:

Top Fuel _ Antron Brown, 3.744-seconds, 321.12 mph  def. Steve Torrence, 3.750 seconds, 323.12 mph.

Funny Car _ Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 3.913, 327.03  def. Ron Capps, Charger, 3.906, 322.19.

Pro Stock _ Drew Skillman, Chevy Camaro, 6.661, 209.36  def. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.708, 208.30.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.880, 196.36  def. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.856, 196.76.

Top Alcohol Dragster _ Bradley Thompson, 5.299, 268.17  def. Shawn Cowie, Foul – Red Light.

Top Alcohol Funny Car _ Sean Bellemeur, Chevy Camaro, 5.527, 236.84  def. John Lombardo Jr., Camaro, 10.104, 98.76.

Competition Eliminator _ Keith Hall, Chevy Cavalier, 8.434, 154.83  def. Dick Maris, Dragster, Foul – Red Light.

Super Stock _ James Caro, Dodge Challenger, 9.847, 133.33  def. Norvell Bowers, Pontiac Firebird, 10.673, 122.77.

Stock Eliminator _ Rusty Hall, Ford Mustang, 10.218, 120.96  def. Bobby Brannon, Chevy Camaro, 10.406, 125.12.

Super Comp _ Jeremy Demers, Dragster, 8.912, 176.44  def. Gary Stinnett, Dragster, 8.917, 177.39.

Super Gas _ Christopher Best, Chevy Nova, 9.927, 155.54  def. Heidi Robison, Chevy Corvette, 9.939, 166.66.

Super Street _ Chase Huffman, Chevy Camaro, 10.979, 120.41  def. Tom Phillips, Pontiac Firebird, 11.050, 140.11.

Top Sportsman presented by RacingRVs.com _ Scooter Hampton, Pontiac GTO, 7.178, 190.75  def. Roger Massey, Chevy Cavalier, Foul/Red Light.

Top Dragster presented by RacingRVs.com _ Jeff Koron, Dragster, 6.398, 200.83  def. Danny Nelson, Dragster, Foul/Red Light.

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Final round-by-round results from the 31st annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex:

TOP FUEL

ROUND ONE _ Doug Kalitta, 3.715, 325.30 def. Richie Crampton, 4.815, 166.31; Brittany Force, 3.721, 325.69 def. Terry McMillen, 3.919, 307.16; Tony Schumacher, 3.720, 327.11 def. Kebin Kinsley, 3.963, 249.12; Antron Brown, 3.709, 325.53 def. Chris Karamesines, 4.705, 162.25; Leah Pritchett, 3.955, 232.55 def. Scott Palmer, 3.967, 307.44; Shawn Langdon, 3.725, 327.98 def. Larry Dixon, 3.786, 319.60; J.R. Todd, 3.723, 324.36 def. Troy Buff, 3.849, 313.58; Steve Torrence, 3.713, 327.43 def. Clay Millican, 6.269, 100.24;

QUARTERFINALS _ Todd, 3.724, 323.12 def. Force, 4.181, 245.00; Langdon, 3.756, 322.65 def. Schumacher, 3.751, 322.73; Torrence, 3.736, 314.61 def. Pritchett, 4.173, 246.93; Brown, 3.729, 320.74 def. Kalitta, 3.765, 327.19;

SEMIFINALS _ Torrence, 3.737, 325.92 def. Langdon, 3.765, 324.90; Brown, 3.731, 319.52 def. Todd, 3.849, 279.90;

FINAL _ Brown, 3.744, 321.12 def. Torrence, 3.750, 323.12.

FUNNY CAR

ROUND ONE _ Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.866, 329.99 def. Brandon Welch, Chevy Monte Carlo, 5.451, 133.33; Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 3.908, 325.92 def. Dave Richards, Ford Mustang, 4.020, 308.21; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.932, 312.57 def. John Hale, Charger, 4.070, 308.64; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.888, 330.63 def. John Bojec, Toyota Camry, 4.023, 288.95; Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.894, 324.20 def. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.959, 322.81; Del Worsham, Camry, 3.909, 328.14 def. Chad Head, Camry, 3.924, 323.74; Ron Capps, Charger, 3.859, 325.92 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 5.278, 147.04; Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 3.922, 324.36 def. John Force, Camaro, Foul/Red Light;

QUARTERFINALS _ Worsham, 3.907, 324.75 def. Johnson Jr., 4.036, 291.82; Capps, 3.964, 300.26 def. Beckman, 3.938, 320.51; Hight, 3.885, 329.83 def. DeJoria, 3.918, 326.00; Hagan, 3.896, 329.34 def. C. Force, Foul – Red Light;

SEMIFINALS _ Capps, 3.904, 321.35 def. Worsham, 3.900, 327.11; Hagan, 3.899, 327.19 def. Hight, 4.686, 171.38;

FINAL _ Hagan, 3.913, 327.03 def. Capps, 3.906, 322.19.

PRO STOCK

ROUND ONE _ Drew Skillman, Chevy Camaro, 6.630, 209.10 def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.743, 204.63; Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.648, 207.66 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.683, 207.08; Shane Tucker, Camaro, 6.675, 207.53 def. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.669, 208.81; Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.608, 209.56 def. Aaron Strong, Camaro, 6.668, 206.80; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.607, 209.46 def. Erica Enders, Dart, Foul/Red Light; Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.620, 209.01 def. Jeg Coughlin Jr., Dart, 6.658, 207.21; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.602, 209.17 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dart, Foul/Red Light; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.622, 208.33 def. Deric Kramer, Dart, 6.658, 208.10;

QUARTERFINALS _ Laughlin, 6.668, 208.39 def. Tucker, 6.709, 207.69; Gray, 6.626, 209.10 def. Butner, 6.691, 207.56; Anderson, 6.623, 208.91 def. Johnson, 7.762, 124.48; Skillman, 6.647, 208.91 def. Line, 6.632, 208.84;

SEMIFINALS _ Skillman, 6.670, 209.04 def. Gray, 6.681, 209.33; Laughlin, 6.637, 208.59 def. Anderson, 6.659, 209.14;

FINAL _ Skillman, 6.661, 209.36 def. Laughlin, 6.708, 208.30.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE

ROUND ONE — Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.854, 194.91 def. Joe DeSantis, Suzuki, Foul/Red Light; Hector Arana, Buell, 6.879, 194.94 def. Hector Arana Jr., Buell, 6.958, 193.85; Chip Ellis, Buell, 7.163, 162.06 def. Melissa Surber, Buell, Foul/Red Light; Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.897, 193.93 def. Shawn Gann, Buell, 6.944, 193.10; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.843, 196.30 def. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.924, 193.46; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.810, 196.36 def. Joey Gladstone, Suzuki, Foul/Red Light; Matt Smith, 6.893, 194.35 def. Cory Reed, Buell, 6.926, 190.43; LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.847, 195.70 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.898, 194.02;

QUARTERFINALS _ Savoie, 6.853, 195.36 def. M. Smith, 6.958, 191.05; Sampey, 6.923, 193.18 def. Ellis, Foul/Red Light; Krawiec, 6.873, 195.62 def. Arana, 6.976, 194.16; Tonglet, 6.877, 195.39 def. Hines, 6.864, 195.59;

SEMIFINALS _ Savoie, 6.892, 195.48 def. Sampey, 6.946, 192.00; Krawiec, 6.905, 194.60 def. Tonglet, 6.944, 192.33;

FINAL _ Krawiec, 6.880, 196.36 def. Savoie, 6.856, 196.76.

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Point standings (top-10) following the 31st annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex:

Top Fuel _1.  Antron Brown, 2,504; 2.  Doug Kalitta, 2,354; 3.  Shawn Langdon, 2,332; 4.  Brittany Force, 2,313; 5.  Steve Torrence, 2,307; 6.  Tony Schumacher, 2,295; 7.  J.R. Todd, 2,260; 8.  Leah Pritchett, 2,250; 9.  Richie Crampton, 2,195; 10.  Clay Millican, 2,168.

Funny Car _ 1.  Ron Capps, 2,465; 2.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,401; 3.  Matt Hagan, 2,377; 4.  Jack Beckman, 2,334; 5.  Del Worsham, 2,320; 6.  Robert Hight, 2,278; 7.  John Force, 2,267; 8.  Courtney Force, 2,238; 9.  Tim Wilkerson, 2,228; 10.  Alexis DeJoria, 2,151.

Pro Stock _ 1.  Jason Line, 2,454; 2.  Greg Anderson, 2,428; 3.  Vincent Nobile, 2,340; 4.  Shane Gray, 2,320; 5.  Bo Butner, 2,314; 6.  Drew Skillman, 2,269; 7.  Chris McGaha, 2,222; 8.  Allen Johnson, 2,213; 9.  Jeg Coughlin Jr., 2,146; 10.  Erica Enders, 2,135.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _1.  Eddie Krawiec, 2,425; 2.  Andrew Hines, 2,408; 3.  Jerry Savoie, 2,376; 4.  Angelle Sampey, 2,365; 5.  Chip Ellis, 2,328; 6.  LE Tonglet, 2,288; 7.  Cory Reed, 2,229; 8.  Hector Arana, 2,211; 9.  Matt Smith, 2,202; 10.  Hector Arana Jr., 2,18.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 16 2016
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