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Brown Closes In On Championship

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 30 2016
Antron Brown could lock up the NHRA Top Fuel championship Sunday in Las Vegas.

Antron Brown could lock up the NHRA Top Fuel championship Sunday in Las Vegas.

With all the enthusiasm of a self-described “little kid,” Antron Brown could be crowned a three-time NHRA Top Fuel world champion Sunday.

Brown will open eliminations at the 16th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with a 148-point lead over runnerup Doug Kalitta, who outscored the two-time/reigning champion in qualifying points, 3-2, to slice the gap from 150. Still, Kalitta will need to go one round further than Brown to extend the title chase to the season-finale at Pomona (Calif.) Raceway.

Brown and Kalitta have run 1-2 in the point race since mid-May, with Antron holding the series lead since the national event in Joliet, Ill., outside Chicago in July. Kalitta will open with Scott Palmer Sunday while Brown will race Terry McMillen in Round 1.

“We made some great, quality laps today and that sets us up really good for tomorrow,” said Brown, who can clinch his third championship in five years if he leaves Las Vegas with a 130-point lead over Kalitta. “We would’ve loved to have gained some more points. We were shooting to go up there and be No. 1 qualifier, of course. The track’s just really, really tight. That being said, we had some great laps this weekend. We literally ran four, great, quality laps. We’re just going to keep working like normal.”

Clay Millican qualified on-pole in Top Fuel while Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle) earned No. 1 starts in their respective categories at the 23rd race of 24 on the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule. The Toyota Nats is Round 5 of the six-race NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship. Saturday’s qualifying will be televised on Fox Sports 1 from 10 to 11 a.m. (EDT) Sunday, with eliminations to be shown live on FS1 beginning at 4 p.m.

The Top Fuel world champ in 2012 and 2015, Brown and his Don Schumacher Racing team are eager to clinch during the penultimate round of the playoffs. Brown’s 148-point lead equates to seven-plus rounds of racing (at 20 points per round) with only eight rounds remaining between Vegas and the season-finale at Pomona Nov. 10-13.

“You have to perform at a high level if you plan on being out here competing for a championship. That’s what we’re ready for,” said Brown, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army dragster. “We’re poised, we’re ready for the challenge and we just got to go out there and execute. That’s the deal, if we can execute on race day because that’s where all the points are earned.”

Brown made the successful transition from Pro Stock Motorcycle to Top Fuel in 2008 with two wins and three poles. The 40-year-old native of Chesterfield, N.J., remains the only competitor in NHRA history to win races in Top Fuel and Pro Stock Bike.

“I tell you what, my whole career in this sport is just a dream,” said Brown, who has logged 45 Top Fuel wins in 210 starts. “It’s totally a dream for me because I was on the outside looking in as a kid, a fan of the sport _ still a fan of the sport. I watch every class out there from Stock to Super Comp to Top Dragster, Alcohol cars all the way through Pro Stock Motorcycles and Funny Car and to our class.

“I love this sport and for me to be able to do what I’m doing and to have the success that we have had over the last eight years in Top Fuel with the team that I have _ being with (crew chiefs) Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald, (assistant) Brad Mason and all of our guys with Don Schumacher Racing _ to have all that knowledge and lean back on and be a part of it, I pinch myself every day because it is a true blessing to be out here being competitive and going for championships. It’s what everybody wants to do _ not talking about it but be about it. That’s just a really, really dream for me as a little kid come true for sure.”

Meanwhile, team-owner Don Schumacher and Tim Gilmore, Matco Tools president, announced that their 16-year marketing partnership is being extended via a new, multiyear agreement that will include Brown continuing as driver. Matco was an associate sponsor for Brown on a DSR Pro Stock Motorcycle in the summer of 2003, and expanded to primary branding when he moved to Top Fuel in ‘08.

“Matco took a really big chance on me, and they caught a lot of flak for doing that,” Brown said. “But they knew my determination. Matco always makes family come first, and they believe in helping make people better. I love that because Matco is a life-changer whether you are the driver of their Top Fuel dragster or a Matco Tools distributor.”

Brown will start Sunday’s racing in Vegas having already matched career-bests for wins (seven) and final rounds (11). He won his third Las Vegas title in the spring. His team is in the midst of a five-year run that includes 30 wins, 47 final rounds and winning 40 percent of his elimination rounds over 117 events.

Millican raced to a 1,000-foot track elapsed time record pass of 3.689-secods at 327.87 mph in his Parts Plus/Great Clips dragster during the fourth qualifying session to secure his second pole of the season and fourth of his career. Millican will line up against Terry Haddock in the first round of eliminations.

“We know we’re capable of running with anyone and we simply have to put together four good runs on Sunday,” said Millican, who also was No. 1 qualifier at the U.S. Nationals. “We’ve made good runs and we’ll continue to make more good runs. For the little, single-car team that we are, I’m unbelievably happy with everything. It’s just going to keep getting better. It really is. I truly believe that.”

DSR’s Leah Pritchett qualified in the No. 2 spot and will face Shawn Reed in Round 1.

Beckman secured his fifth Funny Car pole of the season and 20th of his career with a 1,000-foot track E.T. record run of 3.871-seconds at 327.43 mph in his Infinite Hero Dodge Charger R/T during the fourth session. “Fast Jack” will race Jeff Arend in Round 1.

”We got our act together with that .871,” said Beckman, the 2012 world champion for DSR. “It was a sigh of relief. I told the guys when they picked me up at the top end in the tow vehicle, ‘That should at least keep us in the top four.’ No way I would have bet that would have stayed No. 1. It’s pretty gratifying to leave with the green hat for being No. 1.”

Two-time world champion Matt Hagan of DSR has the No. 2 spot and a matchup with John Hale, while 16-time champ John Force of John Force Racing is third and will face John Bojec for the first time in his career. Point-leader Ron Capps of DSR qualified fourth and will race Paul Lee in the first round.

In Pro Stock, four-time world champion Anderson took over the No. 1 position with a quarter-mile pass in 6.677-seconds and 205.72 mph in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaro during the third qualifying session. Anderson, who earned his seventh pole of the season and 87th of his career, will take on Seattle winner Aaron Strong in the first round.

“We made some adjustments overnight and came out this morning and hit the bullseye,” said Anderson, of Ken Black Racing. “My car made two great runs today and I think it’s ready for race day. Great recovery after yesterday. We grabbed some of those small points and those are very important this time of year. So I feel great. I feel great on Saturday night.”

Drew Skillman, winner of the most recent national event at Texas Motorplex in Ennis, is in the No. 2 spot and will face Shane Tucker. Texan Alex Laughlin, who qualified third, will race five-time world champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. Point-leader Jason Line of KBR holds the No. 6 spot and will race veteran Allen Johnson.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Savoie improved to a quarter-mile pass of 6.880-seconds at 193.96 mph aboard his Savoie’s Alligator Farm Suzuki in the third session to secure his second successive pole of the season and seventh of his career. Savoie will face Scotty Pollacheck in the first round. 

“Every year this time of the year we usually step-up,” said Savoie, who earned P1 at Texas Motorplex two weekends ago. “Hopefully this year we can give them a run for their money. The points are collecting. We qualified No. 1 all four rounds. I said (Friday) we should have run an .88 and today we came back and ran an .88. It’s exciting, it really is. ”

Point-leader Eddie Krawiec, a three-time world champion, is in the No. 2 spot aboard his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson and will race rookie Melissa Surber in Round 1. Five-time/reigning world champion Andrew Hines is third aboard his Harley V-Rod and will race Joey Gladstone in Round 1.

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NHRA and The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway officials announced a sellout for Saturday’s racing at the 16th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals. This marked the fifth sellout of the 2016 season and the first time in a decade the NHRA has enjoyed sellout crowds at events across the country.

“We want to thank all the great fans here in Las Vegas this weekend that came to see the NHRA Toyota Nationals,’’ said Terry Blount, NHRA vice president of communications and public relations. “Fans love this fantastic facility at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. This is another indication that our fans are noticing the great racing we’ve had this season and they want to come be a part of the excitement. Our fifth sellout this year shows again NHRA is the fastest growing motorsport in America.” 

The NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Concord, N.C.; the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, Ga., and the NHRA New England Nationals in Epping, N.H., were sold-out on Saturday during race weekend. The Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals in Sonoma, Calif., was sold-out for Sunday’s eliminations.

Sunday’s first-round elimination pairings for the 16th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the 23rd of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.  Pairings based on results in qualifying, which ended Saturday. DNQs listed below pairings:

Top Fuel _ 1. Clay Millican, 3.689-seconds, 327.27 mph  vs. 16. Terry Haddock, 4.009, 286.92; 2. Leah Pritchett, 3.700, 328.70  vs. 15. Shawn Reed, 3.952, 311.85; 3. Doug Kalitta, 3.709, 326.95  vs. 14. Scott Palmer, 3.951, 302.28; 4. Antron Brown, 3.723, 324.59  vs. 13. Terry McMillen, 3.923, 308.21; 5. Tony Schumacher, 3.727, 326.00  vs. 12. Wayne Newby, 3.817, 323.12; 6. Steve Torrence, 3.728, 323.89  vs. 11. Richie Crampton, 3.772, 312.64; 7. Brittany Force, 3.728, 323.89  vs. 10. Tripp Tatum, 3.771, 326.71; 8. Shawn Langdon, 3.741, 326.79  vs. 9. J.R. Todd, 3.751, 321.81.

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Troy Buff, 4.010, 308.92; 18. Morgan Lucas, 4.456, 170.00.

Funny Car _ 1. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 3.871, 327.43  vs. 16. Jeff Arend, Charger, 4.045, 302.55; 2. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.872, 329.18  vs. 15. John Hale, Charger, 4.031, 318.62; 3. John Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.876, 331.94  vs. 14. John Bojec, Toyota Camry, 3.990, 316.23; 4. Ron Capps, Charger, 3.881, 326.71  vs. 13. Paul Lee, Camry, 3.986, 322.04; 5. Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.885, 323.81  vs. 12. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.952, 318.99; 6. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.888, 324.36  vs. 11. Chad Head, Camry, 3.923, 326.24; 7. Del Worsham, Camry, 3.895, 325.69  vs. 10. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.917, 321.88; 8. Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.905, 325.69  vs. 9. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 3.909, 326.32.

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Dave Richards, 4.121, 305.91; 18. Bob Bode, 4.146, 298.40; 19. Brandon Welch, 4.204, 292.58; 20. Jim Campbell, 4.348, 293.28; 21. Jon Capps, 4.491, 206.42; 22. Gary Densham, 5.024, 308.50; 23. Anthony Begley, 5.183, 164.35; 24. Phil Burkart, 8.750, 285.77.

Pro Stock _ 1. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.677, 205.72  vs. 16. Aaron Strong, Camaro, 6.752, 203.65; 2. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.679, 205.98  vs. 15. Shane Tucker, Camaro, 6.745, 204.23; 3. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.683, 206.16  vs. 14. Jeg Coughlin Jr., Dodge Dart, 6.737, 204.32; 4. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.683, 205.51  vs. 13. Deric Kramer, Dart, 6.732, 203.52; 5. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.684, 205.54  vs. 12. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.731, 204.05; 6. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.690, 205.82  vs. 11. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.730, 204.51; 7. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.697, 205.91  vs. 10. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.726, 204.94; 8. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.712, 204.88  vs. 9. Erica Enders, Dart, 6.718, 204.42.

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Alan Prusiensky, 6.793, 202.30.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 1. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.880, 193.96  vs. 16. Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 7.032, 188.70; 2. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.939, 192.82  vs. 15. Melissa Surber, Buell, 7.014, 188.86; 3. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.947, 192.14  vs. 14. Joey Gladstone, Suzuki, 7.012, 190.86; 4. Matt Smith, Victory, 6.965, 191.21  vs. 13. Chip Ellis, Buell, 7.006, 191.76; 5. Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.967, 192.06  vs. 12. Cory Reed, Buell, 7.005, 188.86; 6. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.974, 192.22  vs. 11. Angie Smith, Victory, 7.003, 188.60; 7. Hector Arana Jr., Buell, 6.979, 191.67  vs. 10. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.991, 191.67; 8. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.985, 191.16  vs. 9. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.987, 191.43.

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Jim Underdahl, 7.041, 189.84; 18. Freddie Camarena, 7.054, 189.58; 19. Chaz Kennedy, 7.116, 188.23; 20. Mike Berry, 7.145, 182.62; 21. Joe DeSantis, 7.183, 183.29; 22. John Hall, 7.187, 185.66; 23. David Hope, 7.189, 182.43; 24. Gunner Courtney, 7.196, 182.80; 25. Lance Bonham, 7.260, 183.92; 26. Brian Bognuda, 7.358, 178.50; 27. Kristen Ashby, 7.417, 280.19.

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 30 2016
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