The bottom half of Brazil’s top 10 still drove worthy races

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Beyond the top five, the results of Sunday’s Sao Paulo Indy 300 still were jumbled. When all was said and done, E.J. Viso, Dario Franchitti, Simona de Silvestro, Simon Pagenaud and Charlie Kimball completed the bottom half of the top 10 in Brazil.

Viso put together one of his best ever weekends in six seasons of IndyCar. The Venezuelan, in the Team Venezuela/Andretti/HVM entry, qualified on the front row, consistently ran in the top 10 and just missed his first top five finish of the season. That said, being disappointed with sixth is a good omen for team and driver the rest of the year.

“Finishing sixth is not really what we expected,” said Viso (right). “It was a race full of surprises, and unfortunately that last stop was not for us. Luck was not on our side; we pitted right before the yellow came out and it didn’t play in our favor. Going from ninth after that to come to sixth after passing some cars, we knew we had the pace, and we are here to win races.”

Franchitti and de Silvestro ran fairly nondescript races en route to their second and third top-10 result of the year, respectively. De Silvestro has never finished a season with more than three top-10s before, but should eclipse that mark fairly soon in 2013.

Pagenaud’s race was anything but normal. The Schmidt Hamilton driver made no fewer than six pit stops on the day, and was caught up in a five-car track blockage at one point. Still, strategy as led by SHM general manager Rob Edwards propelled him forward.

“We had a good recovery from qualifying to finish in the top 10, which is hard to do when you start at the back of the field,” said Pagenaud. “The team did a fantastic job at the strategy to put our car as high as third. Our recovery was good, but it was a really difficult race.

Kimball posted his second top-10 of the year despite his worst qualifying effort of the year, 17th. On a day with seven cautions, staying out of trouble was the key to success.

“These guys in pit lane were rock solid,” he said of the Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing crew. “We had great pace; we were able to get quicker all-day long, pass cars and move forward. We were able to take advantage of a pretty aggressive strategy.”

NHRA: Antron Brown on verge of earning 50th career Top Fuel win this weekend at Phoenix

Photo courtesy Toyota Racing
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When you’re used to winning championships – like three in the previous five seasons – any other season finish is disappointing.

That’s kind of how NHRA Top Fuel dragster driver Antron Brown looked at his fourth-place showing in the 2017 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

“At the end of the day, we had a very competitive season last year and made it to 10 final rounds,” Brown said. “But we got into the Countdown (NHRA’s six-race playoffs) and our timing was off.

“We struggled with a lot of problems we don’t usually have. Now it’s time for a new chapter for this team and time to get better. This is a new beginning for us and it’s going to be fun and exciting and we’re coming after them.”

Antron Brown hugs the NHRA Top Fuel championship trophy after winning it in 2016. (Photo by David Allio/Icon Sportswire)

Brown had a good start to 2018, reaching the semifinals before losing to Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tony Schumacher in the season-opening Lucas Oil Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California.

“We had a great performance at Pomona and I couldn’t be more proud of what our Matco/Toyota guys did,” Brown said. “Now we are going to Phoenix where we’ve won three times (2009, 2012 and 2014, and was runner-up in 2011) and we’ll just try to hit it hard and get a fourth.”

Next up on the NHRA 24-race national event circuit is the second race of the season, this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix (Chandler, Arizona).

Brown has definite plans to make it four wins in Phoenix. And if he does that Sunday, he’ll set a significant career milestone: it would be his 50th career win driving a Top Fueler and the 66th win overall (he won 16 races in Pro Stock Motorcycle before shifting from two to four wheels).

In so doing, Brown would become only the fourth Top Fuel driver in NHRA history to hit the 50-win mark. The others are Tony Schumacher (83), Larry Dixon (62) and Joe Amato (52).

This will be the second time Brown has been racing in Phoenix this month. He was part of the preseason test there for Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock cars a week before the season began.

“Testing went really well there,” said Brown, leaving him optimistic that he can reach victory circle once again. “I love going back to Phoenix.”

Brown has been the most dominant driver in NHRA Top Fuel competition since 2012, winning more than twice the number of races (34) than the next most successful Top Fuel driver (16 by Schumacher) in that time period.

He also has a 71 percent overall win percentage, which exceeds both eight-time Top Fuel champ Schumacher and 16-time Funny Car champ John Force.

“I’m just pumped up, feeling like we’ve got some unfinished business from last year,” Brown said. “We had a good outing but didn’t close the deal, so this year, we’re looking forward to getting back there and getting off to a great start.”

NOTES: Brown will serve as honorary pace car driver for the March 4th Pennzoil 400 NASCAR Cup race at Las Vegas. He’ll be joined by teammates Matt Hagan and Leah Pritchett in a weekend full of activities that they’ll all be involved in.

“I’m really excited,” Brown said. “It’s going to be my first experience as a pace car driver, and I’m just super stoked to go out there and drive the Camry pace car for Pennzoil and start those NASCAR boys off the right way. Throttle down, pedal to the metal. I just want them to get off to a great start.”

Brown has won four times at The Strip, the drag strip adjacent to Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I couldn’t be more excited to have the opportunity,” he said. “It’s an honor to be out there with such talented drivers, and I know I’m going to really enjoy watching our NASCAR counterparts.”

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