NHRA: Antron Brown looks to make Top Fuel fireworks this weekend

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With five races coming up in the next six weeks – starting with this weekend’s Summit Racing Equipment Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio – Top Fuel driver Antron Brown knows how crucial this stretch of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing season will be.

“This time of the year is when you need to be getting on your Ps and Qs, so you want to be polishing your combination and trying to find your combination,” Brown said in an NHRA media release. “That’s what makes this time so crucial.”

Brown has led the Top Fuel point standings for the last five races, but heading into Norwalk holds a razor-thin, two-point edge over Don Schumacher Racing teammate and defending series champion Tony Schumacher.

Brown, who earned his 50th career win earlier this month at Englishtown, N.J. (see video below),  hopes to earn his fourth victory of the season at Norwalk, which can be an unpredictable racetrack.

“At Norwalk you get some nighttime qualifying sessions where the track will be good and you get some daytime sessions where it can be hot and humid and you have to work hard to get down the racetrack,” Brown said.

With the race being held on the July 4th weekend, Brown – who is the defending Top Fuel winner at Norwalk – is looking to not only watch fireworks, but also shoot off some fireworks of his own on the dragstrip.

“I’m always excited to go to Norwalk because out of all our races there is no other show like what the Bader family (track owners) puts on,” Brown said. “When you go there you know you’re not just there for the pure excitement our sport brings, but you’re going to be entertained from start to finish.

“The firework shows are just phenomenal for kids and adults of all ages.”

With 11 races in the 2015 record book, Norwalk kicks off the middle stretch of the 24-race NHRA season. From there, the series goes to Joliet, Ill. (July 9-12), followed by the annual “western swing” in Denver (July 24-26), Sonoma, Calif. (July 31-Aug. 2) and Seattle (Aug. 7-9).

Once that stretch is over, eight races will remain on the schedule, including the biggest race of the season, the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis (Sept. 2-7), followed by the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

Brown is coming off a rare first-round exit last week at Bristol (Tenn.) and is looking to bounce back with a strong run at Norwalk, particularly with what the race means as the kickoff to the five-race stretch.

“Everything is crucial,” Brown said. “You have to go out and be consistent and grow with each and every run. That’s been our focus: to grow. Even if we’re struggling and don’t get the results we want we can learn from that to be better at the next race.

“For this upcoming series of races our main focus is to grow. You have to grow each and every race, and that has to continue through the Countdown so you keep working to get to a higher level.”

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Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.