Chase Elliott takes 3rd Nationwide win of year in Chicago

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Rookie phenom Chase Elliott led a race-high 85 laps en route to winning his third NASCAR Nationwide Series race of the season tonight at Chicagoland Speedway.

Despite losing the lead to Kyle Larson ahead of the final round of green-flag stops in the EnjoyIllinois.com 300, Elliott was able to reclaim it when the cycle ended and eventually beat Trevor Bayne to the stripe by 1.8 seconds.

“I just try to make the most of the practice laps…The biggest thing is these guys brought me a really fast race car,” Elliott said to ESPN in Victory Lane about his ability to quickly learn the tracks.

“That’s the biggest thing. That gives me time to learn the race track instead of having to work on the car and do it at the same time.”

Elliott also took over the NNS points lead by a margin of seven points over JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith, who endured a rough night and finished 16th.

Sprint Cup regulars Larson and Kasey Kahne finished third and fourth respectively, followed by Ty Dillon in fifth. Pole sitter Brian Scott was able to claim the $100,000 “Dash4Cash” bonus with a sixth-place result, two spots ahead of his closest D4C rival, Chris Buescher.

For next week’s race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it will be Elliott, Scott, Bayne and Dillon that race for the third of four $100,000 prizes.

“It’s really neat and I’m glad that we won it here and we’re locked into it for Indy,” said Scott. “We’ll just keep going and try to take a couple more of these big checks home…I think we just needed a little bit more of an adjustment – or two – to really be able to have a shot at Victory Lane.”

Another notable result tonight was the one from 18-year-old Erik Jones, who finished seventh in his Nationwide Series debut for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Tonight’s race was only seven laps old when Sam Hornish Jr., who had climbed to 21st after starting at the rear of the field for unapproved adjustments post-qualifying, crept to the pits with smoke coming from the back of his car.

As the caution came out for fluid laid down by the car, Hornish then pulled into the garage and exited the race with engine issues.

“We know one thing – there’s a big hole in the oil pan,” the former Indianapolis 500 champ said. “Our car was really good there to start off the race. We had to start at the back with a problem that we had during qualifying, but I felt like we were gonna have a really good day.

“The Monster Energy car was really awesome in practice and I felt like this was going to be a great opportunity to not only lead laps but go out and win the race. It’s unfortunate that it ended so soon, and it’s not what these guys or myself deserve.”

Shortly after the green came back out at Lap 14, Scott came under attack from Elliott for the lead. On Lap 21, Elliott was able to take the lead from Scott in Turn 3, but three laps later, the two started another skirmish that had them swap the point twice before Elliott finally pulled away.

As Elliott pushed his lead over four seconds, Scott fell into the clutches of Blaney, who peeled second off of him at Lap 43. Elliott eventually pitted from P1 at Lap 51, and when the wave of green flag stops ended, he had cycled back to the lead with a gap of 8.1 seconds over second-place Blaney and an 11+ second gap over third-place Scott.

That edge went away, however, on Lap 70 when the second caution of the night came out for debris. Blaney then used the restart on Lap 74 to power past Elliott and take control of the race for the first time.

Blaney held the lead until Lap 105, when Larson got by him to make his own first appearance at the front. Another set of green stops ensued around Lap 110, and the caution came back on Lap 123 just after the cycle came to a close.

On the restart at Lap 128, Blaney was leading but quickly lost the spot to Larson. While Blaney dropped out of the Top 5 with a developing loose condition, Larson briefly got sideways in Turn 2 at Lap 143, enabling Elliott to retake the lead on the inside.

Eventually, Blaney pitted at Lap 154 to get a track bar adjustment but went one lap down. Four laps later, Larson was able to fully recover from his close call on Lap 143 and grabbed the lead back from Elliott ahead of their final green stops with less than 40 to go.

NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES AT CHICAGO
EnjoyIllinois.com 300 – Unofficial Results
1. Chase Elliott, led 85 laps
2. Trevor Bayne, led 14 laps
3. Kyle Larson, led 23 laps
4. Kasey Kahne, led 3 laps
5. Ty Dillon
6. Brian Scott, led 20 laps
7. Erik Jones, led 2 laps
8. Chris Buescher, led one lap
9. Ryan Blaney, led 47 laps
10. Elliott Sadler, led one lap
11. Brendan Gaughan
ONE LAP DOWN
12. Cale Conley
13. Jeremy Clements
TWO LAPS DOWN
14. J.J. Yeley
15. Ryan Reed
16. Regan Smith
17. Dylan Kwasniewski
18. Ryan Sieg
19. Mike Bliss
THREE LAPS DOWN
20. Dakoda Armstrong, led one lap
21. Landon Cassill
22. David Starr
FOUR LAPS DOWN
23. James Buescher, led three laps
24. Jeffrey Earnhardt
25. Eric McClure
SEVEN LAPS DOWN
26. Jamie Dick
27. John Wes Townley
EIGHT LAPS DOWN
28. Chad Boat
29. Tanner Berryhill

30. Derrike Cope, -10 laps down
31. Joey Gase, -12 laps down
32. Richard Harriman, Lap 112, Suspension
33. Josh Reaume, Lap 107, Vibration
34. Matt Dibenedetto, Lap 50, Brakes
35. Carl Long, Lap 15, Overheating
36. Sam Hornish Jr., Lap 7, Engine
37. Ryan Ellis, Lap 6, Vibration
38. Mike Harmon, Lap 6, Fuel Pump
39. Blake Koch, Lap 4, Vibration
40. Kevin Lepage, Lap 3, Electrical

NHRA: Antron Brown takes major step toward team ownership

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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.

Follow @JerryBonkowski