(Photo courtesy NHRA)

NHRA: Brown, Worsham make it 2 in row in Countdown

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Antron Brown and Del Worsham are threatening to make it a runaway in the Nitro classes of the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship.

Both drivers won their second consecutive race in the six-race Countdown in Sunday’s eliminations of the AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Ill.

Brown (3.721 seconds at 325.92 mph) earned his fourth consecutive Top Fuel win at Gateway, his sixth win of the 2015 season and his 37th career win (53rd overall, including his prior tenure as a Pro Stock Motorcycle rider), defeating Dave Connolly (3.753 seconds at 328.94 mph) in the final round.

“There are two words: truly blessed,” Brown said afterward. “When [track owner] Curt Francois and [general manager] Chris Blair brought this track back [in 2011], they brought it back better than ever. You can put a slew of runs together that are quick and fast, because you’re not worried about the track not being there.”

Brown now holds a stout 77 point lead over teammate Tony Schumacher in the Top Fuel standings. But he also knows big leads can be precarious.

“We have to keep marching right now,” Brown said. “We had a 200-point lead in 2012 and almost lost the championship at the end. We’re off to an incredible start (in the Countdown).”

In Funny Car, Worsham had one of the better weekends of his lengthy drag racing career. Worsham (3.964 seconds at 320.13 mph) defeated defending Funny Car champ and No. 1 qualifier Matt Hagan (3.983 at 324.20) in the final round, earning the victory in spectacular fashion when the engine on his Toyota exploded as he crossed the finish line. Worsham was uninjured in the mishap.

“It made a hard dart to the right, I had full input on the wheel to the left, and it went ‘ka-boom’ right before I got to the finish line,” Worsham said. “It blew up, the dash came up, and fire went back there. Luckily, in today’s racing, the chutes deployed themselves and slowed it down right away.

“In my 25 years of racing, I don’t know if I’ve ever driven a Funny Car that made that many good runs. The team assembling it, the tune-up, and what [team owner] Connie Kalitta has given us here has been unreal. When I came back to Funny Car racing [in 2012], this is the dream I had.”

In addition, the Southern California native lowered the NHRA national Funny Car elapsed time record (3.899 seconds during Saturday’s qualifying), which is an automatic 20-point bonus in the standings.

Worsham now leads No. 2-ranked Hagan by 90 points heading into the third race and the midpoint of the Countdown, next weekend’s Keystone Nationals in Reading, Pa.

In Pro Stock, rookie Drew Skillman (6.529 seconds at 211.63 mph) earned his first career win, defeating teammate and defending champ Erica Enders (lost traction).

“This is my fourth time to the finals and I knew that Erica has been insane on the Tree,” said Skillman. “A little luck came our way and we got it done this weekend.

“I lost the first three finals but I don’t know how you can get frustrated when you get to a pro category for the first time and have the kind of year we’re having. This is not normal. I’m just very excited to win this today. I have a great team.”

Despite the loss, Enders increased her lead in the Pro Stock standings to 113 points over No. 2 ranked Greg Anderson.

Lastly, in Pro Stock Motorcycle, Hector Arana Jr. (6.680 seconds at 196.50 mph) earned his second win of the season, defeating his father, Hector Arana (6.932 at 195.03), in the final round.

“This has been a great week; I don’t know if I could ask for anything more,” the younger Arana said. “On Monday, I pulled the trigger and asked my beautiful girlfriend [Nicole Nobile] to marry me and to get this win is just icing on the cake.

“I tell you what, that is a bittersweet win. I watched my dad win in the semis and I said to myself, ‘I have to win’ so we can see which one of us can take home the Wally (winner’s trophy). I want to see him win and of course he wants to see me win, but at the same time I want to beat him. We also needed this to move forward in the points.”

Arana Jr. is now second in the standings, just 34 points behind points leader and defending season champ Andrew Hines.

FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1.  Antron Brown; 2.  Dave Connolly; 3.  Billy Torrence; 4.  Brittany Force; 5.  Steve Torrence; 6.  Shawn Langdon; 7.  Doug Kalitta; 8.  Tony Schumacher; 9.  Larry Dixon; 10.  Clay Millican; 11.  Wayne Newby; 12.  Terry McMillen; 13.  Kyle Wurtzel; 14.  J.R. Todd; 15.  Richie Crampton; 16.  Troy Buff.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Del Worsham; 2.  Matt Hagan; 3.  Cruz Pedregon; 4.  Ron Capps; 5.  Tim Wilkerson; 6.  John Force; 7.  Alexis DeJoria; 8.  Jack Beckman; 9.  Brian Stewart; 10.  John Hale; 11.  Tommy Johnson Jr.; 12.  Tony Pedregon; 13.  Courtney Force; 14.  John Bojec; 15.  Robert Hight; 16.  Chad Head.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Drew Skillman; 2.  Erica Enders; 3.  Bo Butner; 4.  Allen Johnson; 5.  Greg Anderson; 6.  Vincent Nobile; 7.  Deric Kramer; 8.  Larry Morgan; 9.  Jason Line; 10.  Shane Gray; 11.  V. Gaines; 12.  Mark Hogan; 13.  Alex Laughlin; 14.  Jonathan Gray; 15.  Aaron Strong; 16.  Chris McGaha.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1.  Hector Arana Jr; 2.  Hector Arana; 3.  Steve Johnson; 4.  Chip Ellis; 5.  Jerry Savoie; 6.  Andrew Hines; 7.  Karen Stoffer; 8.  Chaz Kennedy; 9.  Mike Berry; 10.  Matt Smith; 11.  Eddie Krawiec; 12.  Adam Arana; 13.  Angie Smith; 14.  Brian Pretzel; 15.  Jim Underdahl; 16.  Scotty Pollacheck.

FINAL ROUND RESULTS:

Top Fuel: Antron Brown, 3.721 seconds, 325.92 mph  def. Dave Connolly, 3.753 seconds, 328.94 mph.

Funny Car: Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 3.964, 320.13  def. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 3.983, 324.20.

Pro Stock: Drew Skillman, Chevy Camaro, 6.529, 211.63  def. Erica Enders, Camaro, 17.947, 46.65.

Pro Stock Motorcycle: Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.860, 196.50  def. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.932, 195.03.

FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Dave Connolly, 3.739, 329.34 def. J.R. Todd, 3.952, 250.00; Tony Schumacher, 3.762, 326.56 def. Clay Millican, 3.763, 321.27; Brittany Force, 3.746, 327.11 def. Troy Buff, 5.899, 107.73; Steve Torrence, 3.756, 324.67 def. Kyle Wurtzel, 3.870, 308.21; Antron Brown, 3.767, 322.19 def. Terry McMillen, 3.846, 322.58; Billy Torrence, 3.746, 329.91 def. Larry Dixon, 3.753, 329.02; Doug Kalitta, 3.777, 328.06 def. Wayne Newby, 3.777, 323.43; Shawn Langdon, 3.753, 329.26 def. Richie Crampton, 4.228, 226.92;

QUARTERFINALS — Brown, 3.727, 324.28 def. Langdon, 3.759, 326.87; Force, 3.773, 325.85 def. Kalitta, 3.762, 323.58; Connolly, 3.724, 329.75 def. S. Torrence, 3.741, 329.42; B. Torrence, 3.739, 328.86 def. Schumacher, 3.762, 321.12;

SEMIFINALS — Brown, 3.733, 322.88 def. B. Torrence, 3.761, 327.11; Connolly, 3.764, 329.99 def. Force, 4.309, 219.15;

FINAL — Brown, 3.721, 325.92 def. Connolly, 3.753, 328.94.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 4.002, 320.74 def. John Hale, Charger, 4.199, 300.26; Jack Beckman, Charger, 5.308, 135.96 def. John Bojec, Toyota Solara, foul; Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 3.945, 325.69 def. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.884, 184.19; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.955, 325.22 def. Brian Stewart, Ford Mustang, 4.132, 303.71; Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 3.966, 292.77 def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.332, 211.49; Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.025, 267.32 def. Chad Head, Camry, 6.863, 90.67; Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.983, 323.12 def. Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 5.263, 187.23; John Force, Camaro, 4.670, 172.85 def. Robert Hight, Camaro, 6.440, 103.15;

QUARTERFINALS — C. Pedregon, 3.992, 311.13 def. Beckman, 11.469, 77.16; Hagan, 3.979, 323.97 def. J. Force, 4.014, 323.43; Worsham, 3.956, 324.36 def. Wilkerson, 3.974, 323.04; Capps, 3.949, 324.67 def. DeJoria, 7.810, 87.23;

SEMIFINALS — Worsham, 3.952, 326.40 def. C. Pedregon, 13.070, 60.74; Hagan, no time def. Capps, DQ;

FINAL — Worsham, 3.964, 320.13 def. Hagan, 3.983, 324.20.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.559, 211.00 def. Shane Gray, Chevy Camaro, foul; Larry Morgan, Camaro, 6.554, 211.59 def. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.526, 211.63; Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.577, 210.24 def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 8.654, 109.87; Deric Kramer, Dart, 6.569, 207.69 def. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.822, 168.60; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.543, 211.39 def. Aaron Strong, Camaro, 7.014, 155.87; Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.530, 211.43 def. V. Gaines, Dart, 6.664, 185.05; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.528, 212.03 def. Mark Hogan, Pontiac GXP, 6.681, 206.92; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.586, 210.87 def. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.819, 200.23;

QUARTERFINALS — Enders, 6.520, 211.66 def. Nobile, 6.561, 210.31; Butner, 6.543, 210.67 def. Morgan, 6.604, 209.39; Skillman, 6.525, 211.39 def. Kramer, foul; Johnson, 6.558, 211.26 def. Anderson, 6.533, 211.49;

SEMIFINALS — Skillman, 6.528, 211.79 def. Johnson, foul; Enders, 6.524, 212.06 def. Butner, 6.520, 212.43;

FINAL — Skillman, 6.529, 211.63 def. Enders, 17.947, 46.65.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: ROUND ONE — Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.980, 193.82 def. Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 7.136, 185.64; Chip Ellis, Buell, 6.897, 193.54 def. Angie Smith, foul; Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.919, 194.41 def. Adam Arana, Buell, 7.009, 191.59; Hector Arana, Buell, 6.907, 194.38 def. Mike Berry, Buell, 6.915, 192.00; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.858, 195.19 def. Brian Pretzel, Buell, foul; Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.867, 194.21 def. Matt Smith, foul; Chaz Kennedy, Buell, 6.974, 191.89 def. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.938, 193.99; Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.870, 196.42 def. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 7.098, 174.28;

QUARTERFINALS — H. Arana, 6.876, 195.22 def. Savoie, 6.866, 194.30; Ellis, 6.886, 193.49 def. Kennedy, 6.966, 190.97; Johnson, 6.919, 194.58 def. Stoffer, foul; Arana Jr, 6.872, 195.73 def. Hines, 6.882, 194.91;

SEMIFINALS — H. Arana, 6.889, 195.00 def. Ellis, 6.925, 193.16; Arana Jr, 6.881, 196.30 def. Johnson, 6.902, 195.42;

FINAL — Arana Jr, 6.860, 196.50 def. H. Arana, 6.932, 195.03.

UPDATED STANDINGS:

Top Fuel: 1.  Antron Brown, 2,320; 2.  Tony Schumacher, 2,243; 3.  Larry Dixon, 2,161; 4.  Brittany Force, 2,157; 5.  J.R. Todd, 2,149; 6.  Doug Kalitta, 2,139; 7.  Richie Crampton, 2,133; 8.  (tie) Dave Connolly, 2,127; Steve Torrence, 2,127; 10.  Shawn Langdon, 2,126.

Funny Car: 1.  Del Worsham, 2,327; 2.  Matt Hagan, 2,237; 3.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,211; 4.  Jack Beckman, 2,208; 5.  John Force, 2,178; 6.  Ron Capps, 2,177; 7.  Alexis DeJoria, 2,123; 8.  Cruz Pedregon, 2,116; 9.  Tim Wilkerson, 2,107; 10.  Robert Hight, 2,099.

Pro Stock: 1.  Erica Enders, 2,331; 2.  Greg Anderson, 2,218; 3.  Allen Johnson, 2,195; 4.  Drew Skillman, 2,171; 5.  Larry Morgan, 2,167; 6.  Chris McGaha, 2,162; 7.  Vincent Nobile, 2,155; 8.  Jason Line, 2,125; 9.  Shane Gray, 2,117; 10.  Jonathan Gray, 2,066.

Pro Stock Motorcycle: 1.  Andrew Hines, 2,259; 2.  Hector Arana Jr, 2,225; 3.  Eddie Krawiec, 2,208; 4.  Jerry Savoie, 2,205; 5.  Matt Smith, 2,167; 6.  Karen Stoffer, 2,146; 7.  Hector Arana, 2,135; 8.  Chip Ellis, 2,131; 9.  Jim Underdahl, 2,094; 10.  Scotty Pollacheck, 2,041.

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Alex Palou fastest as several go off course during IndyCar practice at IMS

IndyCar Harvest GP practice
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Alex Palou paced the opening practice Thursday for the IndyCar Harvest GP at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

The Dale Coyne Racing rookie turned a 1-minute, 10.177-second lap around the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course in his No. 55 Dallara-Honda.

Jack Harvey was second, followed by Colton Herta, points leader Scott Dixon and Max Chilton.

PRACTICE CHART: Click here to see the speed rundown from Thursday’s session

FRIDAY AT IMS: Details for watching Race 1 of the Harvest GP

Qualifying for Friday’s race will be at 6:20 p.m. ET Thursday on NBC Sports Gold.

Will Power, who won the pole position for the July 4 race at the track, spun off course with just more than a minute left in the session after the left rear of his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet made slight contact with the right front of Alexander Rossi’s No. 28 Dallara-Honda.

Power was among several drivers who went off track, but there were no damaged cars during the session. Marcus Ericsson missed the final 5 minutes of the practice after being penalized for causing a red flag with a Turn 8 spin.

Arrow McLaren SP drivers Pato O’Ward and Helio Castroneves, who is driving for Oliver Askew (who is recovering from concussion-like symptoms), also veered off course as did rookie Rinus VeeKay and Santino Ferrucci.

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson was in attendance at the session before racing Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. Johnson will be driving a partial schedule of road and street courses in IndyCar next season for Chip Ganassi Racing.

“Literally, the smallest of details, I can pick up on,” Johnson told NBC Sports pit reporter Kevin Lee. “It’s been really nice today just to see how a session starts and obviously to jump on the radio and listen to how the systems work and then obviously you get into the car and the setup and such. I’m at ground zero right now, a 45-year-old rookie trying to learn my way into a new sport essentially.”

Johnson told Lee his sponsorship hunt to run a Ganassi car “has gone really well. The fact that I’m here today and ingrained so deeply in the team is a great sign of where things are going. Looking forward to getting behind the wheel of a car soon and hopefully having some announcements for the world to see soon, too.”

Fans were in attendance Thursday for the first time this season at IMS, which is allowed a limited crowd of 10,000 for its races this weekend.