Chase Elliott breaks through for first Nationwide Series win

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Another member of NASCAR’s new generation has arrived.

Two weeks after Kyle Larson held off Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick to earn his inaugural Nationwide Series win at Auto Club Speedway, 18-year-old Chase Elliott has shown that he too will be a star to watch for years to come with a win tonight in the O’Reilly 300 at Texas Motor Speedway.

After running up and toward the front all night, Elliott got an outside run on Harvick and passed the Sprint Cup veteran for the lead with 16 laps to go.

He went on to take the checkered flag by 2.66 seconds over Kyle Busch, who was forced to start from the back after inspection issues kept him from setting a qualifying time.

Larson followed up his Fontana triumph with a third-place result. Harvick faded back to fourth, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. completed the Top 5.

“Unbelievable, man. I just – I can’t believe it,” a flabbergasted Elliott said to ESPN in Victory Lane. “Just to have the opportunity to come and race with these guys with JR Motorsports…To have this opportunity is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for any racer that wants to try and make it to the top.

“It means the world for me to be here.”

In attendance for Elliott’s breakthrough were his parents, 1988 Sprint Cup champ Bill and Cindy, who were thrilled with their son’s performance.

“I felt like Chase could do it,” Bill said. “I’ve watched him run a Late Model car too much – I know. I feel like I know how good the kid really is, and I tell you what, to come here – I keep saying it – for never having been to some of these places like [Las Vegas], [Auto Club Speedway], and now here at Texas and come out and beat the kind of guys you’ve beat – I tell you what, you’ve done a heck of a job.”

Cindy, a longtime NASCAR photographer, said that she knew tonight belonged to her son.

“I can’t even describe it,” she said on pit road. “This is just a night to remember.”

Additionally, Elliott has taken a two-point lead in the Nationwide points standings over teammate Regan Smith, who finished seventh to ensure that JR Motorsports got all four of its cars in the Top 10.

Starting on pole, Harvick withstood several restarts to lead the first 87 laps of the night before Busch completed his charge by taking the point on Lap 88 shortly before a cycle of green flag stops.

Busch would regain the lead after the cycle ended. A caution at Lap 121 bunched the field up, however, and shortly after the restart with 75 laps to go, Elliott put on an impressive display to go to the front.

On Lap 133, Elliott was able to complete a pass of teammate/boss Earnhardt on the outside for second. Then, two laps later, he hunted down Busch on the inside of Turn 3 to become the new leader.

Around 50 laps to go however, Earnhardt began to reel in Elliott and was eventually able to pass him for P1 with 46 laps to go, showing his strength on the long runs.

But after falling back in the middle stages due to a “plowing” car, Harvick re-inserted himself into the battle for the win after a caution for a multi-car crash on Lap 169.

The subsequent pit stops under yellow brought the leaders to the pits, and benefiting from having the first stall out of pit road, Harvick leaped three spots to the lead by beating out Elliott, Earnhardt, Larson, and Busch.

With 23 laps to go, the green emerged again with Busch jumping to third position behind Harvick and Elliott with a great inside move.

He would peel second off of Harvick shortly after he gave up the lead to Elliott, but that would be as far as he got.

NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES
O’REILLY 300 – TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY
Unofficial Results
1. Chase Elliott, led 38 laps
2. Kyle Busch, led 38 laps
3. Kyle Larson, led 1 lap
4. Kevin Harvick, led 101 laps
5. Dale Earnhardt Jr., led 15 laps
6. Matt Kenseth, led one lap
7. Regan Smith
8. Ryan Blaney
9. Ty Dillon
10. Elliott Sadler
11. Brendan Gaughan
12. Brian Scott
13. James Buescher
14. Dylan Kwasniewski
15. David Starr, one lap down, led 2 laps
16. JJ Yeley, one lap down, led 2 laps
17. Ryan Sieg, one lap down, led 2 laps
18. Jeremy Clements, two laps down
19. Jeffrey Earnhardt, two laps down
20. Ryan Reed, four laps down
21. Josh Wise, five laps down
22. Dakoda Armstrong, five laps down
23. Trevor Bayne, five laps down
24. Eric McClure, six laps down
25. Kevin Lepage, six laps down
26. Joey Gase, nine laps down
27. Chris Buescher, Lap 167, Accident
28. Jamie Dick, Lap 164, Accident
29. Mike Harmon, Lap 131, Suspension
30. Tanner Berryhill, Lap 120, Wheel
31. Chad Boat, Lap 119, Accident
32. Mike Bliss, 81 laps down
33. Landon Cassill, Lap 66, Vibration
34. Robert Richardson Jr., Lap 52, Accident
35. Tommy Joe Martins, Lap 34, Brakes
36. Derek White, Lap 29, Transmission
37. Mike Wallace, Lap 23, Electrical
38. Derrike Cope, Lap 6, Engine
39. Matt Dibenedetto, Lap 5, Vibration
40. Blake Koch, Lap 2, Vibration

NHRA: Antron Brown takes major step toward team ownership

NHRA
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There will come a day that when three-time NHRA Top Fuel champion Antron Brown wants to talk to his boss, he’ll need to look no further than in the mirror.

The New Jersey native announced Tuesday that he has begun to lay the groundwork to own his Top Fuel team, eventually branching out from Don Schumacher Racing.

“It’s definitely exciting, but at the same time, it’s also nerve-wracking because the buck stops here right now,” Brown told NBC Sports. “Now the coolest part is you get to help and drive and motivate and push the team forward, to make decisions and leave a legacy behind for my family.”

Brown will continue racing for DSR this season while beginning the transition to eventual sole ownership of the new AB Motorsports in the future. Even when he officially leaves the DSR camp as a hired driver, Brown and his new team will retain a technical partnership with the Schumacher organization.

Moving toward team ownership is just a natural evolution for Brown, who previously ran his own Pro Stock Motorcycle team from 1998 until joining DSR in 2002. It’s also a move that potentially may lead other current drivers to start thinking about their own futures.

It’s no secret that many of the biggest names in drag racing – both drivers and owners – are getting up in years. John Force will soon turn 72, while Schumacher is 75. They’re among several others in the sport who are making contingency plans for their teams to continue to operate once they’re gone – and Brown wants to do his part to help the sport grow and flourish.

“When you’re able to have ownership, you’re looking at the talent coming up,” Brown said. “You’re able to reach down and see and give other people opportunities that you had. When I came to race for Don Schumacher at DSR, he’s given all these people at his place this opportunity to drive.

“But what happens when the Don Schumachers, the John Forces, the Connie Kalittas go? You lose all the owners of our series, so who’s next in line to take over that lineage or carry that torch? It’s a necessary means for the future for the upcoming people.

Antron Brown’s plans to become a team owner were embraced by his current team owner, Don Schumacher. (Getty Images)

“I’ve been in this sport for over 20 years. This is the next evolution of my chapter, the next page of my book. What am I going to do when I decide to hang the helmet up one day? I want to be there to bring that new crop of drivers and talent up and help mold them to be the best version of themselves to carry the sport forward and to share with them what was shared with me over all my years in the sport, from Kenny Bernstein, John Force, Big Daddy Don Garlits, Mark Oswald and Don “Snake” Prudhomme, all the people I looked up to.”

While Brown will start as a single-car team once he transitions to ownership, he hopes to eventually build AB Motorsports into at least a two-car operation, with his Top Fuel dragster and a Funny Car.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The path to eventual ownership began nearly a year ago when Brown and Schumacher discussed the future.

“Me and Don had a heart-to-heart talk,” Brown said. “When I told him what I wanted to do, Don said, ‘Antron, I know this is what you want to do. I’ll support you in this.’

“That’s a cool experience when you have a gentleman that has done everything in this sport, from over 350 national event wins, 17 world championships – and I’ve done three with him – and is in every motorsports hall of fame there is.

“What is he going to do next? He’s making the sport better by pushing people like myself to do what I’m doing now. No matter how long it takes, I know I have him on my backside, pushing me to get to that point.”

Like father, like son: Antron Brown and son Anson, who is following in his father’s drag racing footsteps. Photo: Antron Brown’s official Facebook page.

His family’s future also figured into Brown’s decision. His oldest son, Anson, soon turns 16 years old and is heavily involved in NHRA’s Jr. Dragster program, as are Brown’s other children. It’s likely his son some day will follow in his father’s footsteps.

But don’t think that the elder Brown, who turns 44 in March, is ready to hang up his firesuit just yet.

“I’ll stop driving when I feel I’m not capable to drive no more and I’m not having fun no more,” he said. “That’s nowhere in the near future. I know I’m going to drive for at least another 15 years.”

Heading into this season, Brown will retain current sponsorship from Mac Tools and Toyota, as well as associate sponsorship from Hangsterfer’s on his 11,000-horsepower dragster. Global Electronic Technology also has signed on as a new associate sponsor in a multiyear deal.

“It’s no secret this has been a goal of Antron’s for a while now, and I’m happy to be able to provide the tools and resources needed for him to be able to successfully branch out on his own,” Schumacher said in a team media release. “It’s important for me to see my team members grow.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

Brown burst upon the NHRA scene atop a Pro Stock Motorcycle in 1998, earning 16 wins over the next 10 seasons. He joined DSR in 2002 and made the switch to Top Fuel in 2008.

Since then, Brown – who now resides in suburban Indianapolis – has gone on to become one of the winningest drivers in Top Fuel history with 50 national event victories, as well as three championships between 2012 and 2015.

That performance recently earned him AutoWeek magazine’s Top Fuel Driver of the Decade.

Brown also announced Tuesday he is reuniting with former crew chief Brian Corradi, who returns to the team after spending the last two seasons as co-crew chief for 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force. Corradi will share crew chief duties for Brown with NHRA veteran Mark Oswald.

* * * * * * * * * * *

When he won his first title in 2012, Brown became the first African-American world champion in Top Fuel history. He hopes his move to ownership will continue to grow NHRA’s already significant focus on opportunities for minorities and females in the sport.

“I think it’s important across all spectrums, period,” Brown said. “I think a lot of fans see me, and they can relate to me because I am them. I came from a good, hard-working family in Chesterfield, New Jersey, which is right next door to Trenton.

“Everybody in my family from my great uncles to my grandpop made their own way, had their own businesses, from swimming pool to paving to septic tank businesses.

“One thing my grandpop said to me is the world is wide open. He said, ‘Son, you can have anything you want in this world, as long as you put the effort and put the work towards it.’ If people can resonate with my story from where I came from and where I’m heading, I hope it gives them this energy, this ray of hope that ‘if Antron Brown can do this, so can I.’

“That’s the only way for motorsports to grow. It’s for the young ones to get interested in it and I want them to know the opportunity is there. All they have to do is take it.”

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Brown will be among more than 30 Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers who will take part in this weekend’s annual preseason “spring training” test at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, in preparation for the season-opening Lucas Oil Winternationals Feb. 6-9 in Pomona, California.

Follow @JerryBonkowski