Chase Elliott roars from 6th to the win in final 2 laps at Darlington (VIDEO)

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After his final pit stop of the night saw him drop from second to sixth, it appeared Chase Elliott’s bid for victory in his first race at Darlington Raceway was over.

But the 18-year-old dynamo was far from finished.

Coming off a restart with two laps to go in the VFW/Sport Clips Help A Hero 200, the Nationwide Series rookie raced all the way to second heading for the white flag and then overtook Elliott Sadler on the final lap to earn a stunning win on one of NASCAR’s most difficult tracks.

Sadler got loose off of Turn 2 and saved it, but that opened the door for Elliott to get next to him down the backstretch before pulling off the race-winning pass in Turn 3.

“That last restart was crazy,” said Elliott, who claimed his inaugural Nationwide win just last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. “I didn’t know what to expect starting sixth and I knew those guys on two tires were going to be a little slow than those on four.

“But it happened to work out. Our lane went and [Sadler] got a little loose on 2. I was able to get to the outside and that was where I wanted to be anyways. Unbelievable. I can’t thank these guys enough…”

Starting second, he ran behind pole sitter Kyle Busch for the first 33 laps before hunting him down for the point. He would then dominate the middle stanza of the race until a caution came out for a spinning Regan Smith on Lap 88.

The subsequent pit stops saw Busch, coming from the first stall out of the pits, leap from fifth to the lead while Elliott did the reverse and fell from the lead to fifth.

Off a restart with 48 laps left, Elliott rose up to challenge Kyle Larson for second and the two young lions made contact with one another in the process. They were able to somehow avoid crashing, but the battle enabled Busch to pull away.

Elliott finally took second with 39 to go after Larson had another brush with the wall, but now had to cut into a gap of almost three seconds to Busch.

The deficit dwindled a bit as Busch fought with a loose condition and lapped traffic, but Elliott was still about a second and a half behind until Tanner Berryhill was spun out by Larson with seven laps left to trigger the caution.

Busch brought the leaders to the pits, where he dropped to third after taking four tires while Sadler and Larson took just two to gain first and second on the track.

As for Elliott, he took four tires in what appeared to be an ill-fated stop. But as it turned out, he had one more surge left in him.

When it was all over, Elliott had once again turned the heads of the Sprint Cup elite. While racing for JR Motorsports, he is a Hendrick Motorsports development driver – and the Hendrick gang was definitely impressed.

His car owner, Dale Earnhardt Jr., praised Elliott and his work in post-race:

And Earnhardt’s HMS teammates also chimed in as well:

Matt Kenseth took third behind Sadler, with Busch fading to fourth and Joey Logano coming home fifth.

Elliott also extended his lead in the Nationwide Series championship to an unofficial margin of 13 points over Smith, who recovered from his earlier spin to finish eighth.

NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES – DARLINGTON RACEWAY
Unofficial Results
1. Chase Elliott, led 52 laps
2. Elliott Sadler, led 3 laps
3. Matt Kenseth
4. Kyle Busch, led 84 laps
5. Joey Logano
6. Kyle Larson, led 2 laps
7. Kevin Harvick, led 5 laps
8. Regan Smith
9. Trevor Bayne
10. Ty Dillon
11. Brian Scott
12. Landon Cassill
13. Ryan Reed
14. J.J. Yeley
15. Josh Wise
16. Mike Bliss
17. Mike Wallace
18. Dakoda Armstorng
19. Kevin Lepage
20. Jeffrey Earnhardt
21. Eric McClure
ONE LAP DOWN
22. Brendan Gaughan
23. Dylan Kwasniewski
TWO LAPS DOWN
24. Carlos Contreras
THREE LAPS DOWN
25. James Buescher
26. Joey Gase
27. Tanner Berryhill
FOUR LAPS DOWN
28. Todd Bodine
SIX LAPS DOWN
29. Derrike Cope
30. Tommy Joe Martins
31. Jeremy Clements, 10 laps down
32. Cale Conley, 11 laps down
33. Mike Harmon, 11 laps down
34. Chris Buescher, 28 laps down

35. David Starr, Lap 67, Accident
36. Matt Carter, Lap 30, Rear Gear
37. Ryan Sieg, Lap 16, Accident
38. Matt Dibenedetto, Lap 7, Overheating
39. Jeff Green, Lap 6, Brakes
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.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

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.

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