In a sense, The Sarge has been temporarily busted down in rank.
A year ago, U.S. Army-sponsored and eight-time NHRA Top Fuel champ Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and teammate Antron Brown were both ranked near the top of the point standings heading into the annual spring race in Las Vegas.
Things continued to go right for Brown, who went on to win the 2015 Top Fuel championship, following Schumacher’s 2014 crown.
But 2016 hasn’t exactly started out the way the two Don Schumacher Racing drivers had hoped for. Brown enters this weekend’s Denso Spark Plus NHRA Nationals ranked 10th in the standings, while Schumacher is two places higher in eighth.
They’ve both struggled during the first three races on the 24-race NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, leaving Brown 102 points behind series leader Brittany Force and Schumacher 96 points back.
But if there was ever a good place for both drivers to get back on track and rally their troops, it’s definitely this weekend at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Schumacher has won eight different times at The Strip in his Top Fuel career, while Brown has won twice there. In total, the pair have reached the final round in Sin City 17 different times and have combined to earn the No. 1 qualifier spot 13 times (nine for Schumacher and four for Brown, who was the last No. 1 at Las Vegas in last fall’s return race there.).
“We always seem to have a great racecar for Vegas,” Schumacher said. “This is a great team and we certainly know how to knuckle down and get the job done there.
“It’s a great race to go to for a lot of reasons. It’s different than most other places we go to, and my crew chiefs seem to find the handle on that track better than others. We don’t have a ton of momentum going for us this year, so far, so we’re just looking forward to a bone-crushing weekend on the racetrack there once again.”
All told, neither Schumacher nor Brown have advanced past the second round in any of the first three races of 2016 and have a combined 4-6 won-loss record in Sunday final elimination rounds.
But that’s not a big concern for Brown, who clinched his second career Top Fuel title in the fall race at Las Vegas.
“We’re not where we want to be in the standings at the moment, but there’s certainly a long way to go and absolutely no cause for alarm,” Brown said. “Our main focus this year is to keep working to constantly improve and get better at every race. We’re still a work in progress, as is the case every new season. We’re always building. Our main focus is to be No. 1 at the end of the season.”
Still, there are 21 races remaining on the 24-race NHRA national event schedule, giving both drivers plenty of time to get back into the upper echelon of their class. To that end, they even stayed an extra day after the Gatornationals two weeks ago in Gainesville, Florida, to try and work out the kinks.
Schumacher isn’t letting the slow start rile him.
“If you look back at my championship seasons, it seemed more often than not that we always struggled in the early part of the year, except for ’08, when we were just awesome from beginning to end,” Schumacher said in a team media release. “Last year, we were so strong at the beginning and then ended up struggling at the end of the season when it matters the most.
“What we have going on right now is just a slight case of adversity on Sundays and it’s really no big deal. … To have the kind of luck we’ve had on Sundays so far this year and still be sitting in eighth place – heck, we’ve only won two rounds and we’ve had a car that was capable of winning all three events – speaks to the fact just about everyone has been struggling to at least some degree.
“Hey, anybody who’s watched us closely for the last 20 years knows they have never seen panic in me or my team. Even if we finish dead last, it’s still the greatest job in the world and I get to wake up every day and represent the U.S. Army. We’re doing everything at the racetrack the way the Army preaches – overcome adversity by adapting and adjusting. We will come out on the winning end of this.”
DENSO SPARK PLUGS NHRA NATIONALS FACT SHEET
WHAT: 17th annual DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals, the fourth of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Drivers in three categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock – earn points leading to 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships. The race also will feature competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series.
WHERE: The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas. Track is located approximately 15 miles north of downtown Las Vegas off Interstate 15.
WHEN: Friday through Sunday, April 1-3
FRIDAY, April 1 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 1:30 and 4:30 p.m.
SATURDAY, April 2– LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 1:10 and 4:05 p.m.
K&N HORSEPOWER CHALLENGE at 1, 4 and 5 p.m.
SUNDAY, April 3 – Pre-race ceremonies, 11:15 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at noon
SATURDAY, April 2, FOX Sports 1 (FS1) will televise one hour of qualifying highlights at 11 p.m. (ET)
SUNDAY, April 3, FS1 will televise one hour of qualifying highlights at 9 p.m. (ET)
SUNDAY, April 3, FS1 will televise three hours of live finals coverage at 5 p.m. (ET)
2015 EVENT WINNERS: Richie Crampton, Top Fuel; John Force, Funny Car; Erica Enders, Pro Stock; Enders, K&N Horsepower Challenge.
MOST VICTORIES: Larry Dixon, 4, TF; Tony Schumacher, 4, TF; Robert Hight, 3, FC; Greg Anderson, 3, PS; Jeg Coughlin, 3, PS; Kenny Bernstein, 2, TF; John Force, 2, FC; Cruz Pedregon, 2, FC; Mike Edwards, 2, PS; Erica Enders, 2, PS; Allen Johnson, 2, PS.
MOST K&N HORSEPOWER CHALLENGE VICTORIES: Greg Anderson, 4; Kurt Johnson, 4; Jeg Coughlin, 3; Bob Glidden, 3; Warren Johnson, 3; Larry Morgan, 3; Bruce Allen, 2; Erica Enders, 2; Allen Johnson, 2; Jim Yates, 2;
Top Fuel – 3.722 sec. by Antron Brown, Oct. ’15 and 332.67 mph by Shawn Langdon, Oct. ’15.
Funny Car – 3.931 sec. by Tommy Johnson Jr., Oct. ’15 and 325.92 mph by Del Worsham, Oct. ’15.
Pro Stock – 6.559 sec. and 210.28 mph by Erica Enders, Oct. ’15.
Top Fuel – 3.680 sec. by Antron Brown, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn.; 332.75 mph by Spencer Massey, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn.
Funny Car – 3.879 sec. by Jack Beckman, March ‘16, Gainesville, Fla. and 331.45 mph by Matt Hagan, Nov. ’15, Pomona, Calif.
Pro Stock – 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March ’15, Charlotte, N.C. and 215.55 mph by Erica Enders, May ‘14, Englishtown N.J.
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NHRA MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING SERIES WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS STANDINGS
Point standings following the third of 24 events
Top Fuel: 1. Brittany Force, 251; 2. Clay Millican, 210; 3. Doug Kalitta, 205; 4. Steve Torrence, 199; 5. Terry McMillen, 178; 6. Leah Pritchett, 166; 7. J.R. Todd, 157; 8. Tony Schumacher, 155; 9. Richie Crampton, 153; 10. Antron Brown, 149.
Funny Car: 1. Robert Hight, 280; 2. Ron Capps, 279; 3. John Force, 221; 4. Jack Beckman, 205; 5. Courtney Force, 201; 6. Del Worsham, 189; 7. Tim Wilkerson, 183; 8. Chad Head, 162; 9. Alexis DeJoria, 119; 10. Matt Hagan, 118.
Pro Stock: 1. Jason Line, 337; 2. Greg Anderson, 331; 3. Bo Butner, 233; 4. Drew Skillman, 205; 5. Chris McGaha, 161; 6. (tie) Jeg Coughlin, 160; Allen Johnson, 160; 8. Vincent Nobile, 138; 9. Alex Laughlin, 121; 10. Erica Enders, 97.
Pro Stock Motorcycle: 1. Eddie Krawiec, 129; 2. Hector Arana, 99; 3. Andrew Hines, 79; 4. LE Tonglet, 74; 5. Chip Ellis, 62; 6. (tie) Michael Ray, 52; Jerry Savoie, 52; Jim Underdahl, 52; 9. Angelle Sampey, 35; 10. (tie) Scotty Pollacheck, 33. Melissa Surber, 33.