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

(Photo courtesy NHRA)
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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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Jack Miller wins the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his downward points’ slide

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Jack Miller ran away with the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi as Fabio Quartararo stopped his downward slide in the championship when a last-lap accident from his closest rival in the standings caused Francesco Bagnaia to score zero points.

Starting seventh, Miller quickly made his way forward. He was second at the end of two laps. One lap later, he grabbed the lead from Jorge Martin. Once in the lead, Miller posted three consecutive fastest laps and was never seriously challenged. It was Australian native Miller’s first race win of the season and his sixth podium finish.

The proximity to his home turf was not lost.

“I can ride a motorcycle sometimes,” Miller said in NBC Sports’ post-race coverage. “I felt amazing all weekend since I rolled out on the first practice. It feels so awesome to be racing on this side of the world.

“What an amazing day. It’s awesome; we have the home Grand Prix coming up shortly. Wedding coming up in a couple of weeks. I’m over the moon; can’t thank everyone enough.”

Miller beat Brad Binder to the line by 3.4 seconds with third-place Jorge Martin finishing about one second behind.

But the center of the storm was located just inside the top 10 as both Quartararo and Bagnaia started deep in the field.

Quartararo was on the outside of row three in ninth with Bagnaia one row behind in 12th. Neither rider moved up significantly, but the championship continued to be of primary importance as Bagnaia put in a patented late-race charge to settle onto Quartararo’s back tire, which would have allowed the championship leader to gain only a single point.

On the final lap, Bagnaia charged just a little too hard and crashed under heavy braking, throwing away the seven points he would have earned for a ninth-place finish.

The day was even more dramatic for the rider who entered the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix third in the standings. On the sighting lap, Aleix Espargaro had an alarm sound, so he peeled off into the pits, dropped his primary bike and jumped aboard the backup. Starting from pit lane, he trailed the field and was never able to climb into the points. An undisclosed electronic problem was the culprit.

For Quartararo, gaining eight points on the competition was more than a moral victory. This was a track on which he expected to run moderately, and he did, but the problems for his rivals gives him renewed focus with four rounds remaining.

Next week, the series heads to Thailand and then Miller’s home track of Phillip Island in Australia. They will close out the Pacific Rim portion of the schedule before heading to Spain for the finale in early November.

It would appear team orders are not in play among the Ducati riders. Last week’s winner Enea Bastianini made an aggressive early move on Bagnaia for position before the championship contender wrestled the spot back.

In his second race back following arm surgery, Marc Marquez won the pole. His last pole was more than 1,000 days ago on this same track in 2019, the last time the series competed at Motegi. Marquez slipped to fifth in the middle stages of the race, before regaining a position to finish just off the podium.

In Moto2 competition, Ai Ogura beat Augusto Fernandez to close the gap in that championship to two points. Fernandez holds the scant lead. Alonso Lopez rounded out the podium.

Both American riders, Cameron Beaubier and Joe Roberts finished just outside the top 10 in 11th and 12th respectively.