NHRA: Antron ‘Countdown’ Brown on verge of 3rd Top Fuel title in 5 seasons

(Photos: Mark Rebilas/Toyota Racing (car), NHRA (head photo)
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Antron Brown has a new nickname.

Instead of being known as “AB” for his two initials, you can call him “Countdown Brown.”

It’s a moniker that is most appropriate. In the last 10 races in the NHRA Countdown to the Championship – six last season and four thus far in 2016 – Brown has won six of those events.

“That’s called teamwork, that’s called when the pressure gets up,” Brown said. “I think that’s what brings out the best in our team.

“Our team thrives on pressure. Where some teams might crack or fold, some teams get better. When the higher the pressure gets, it seems like it dials our knob up even more and we put that extra focus in. We all feel it.

“We can look at each other without even talking about it and know where we need to be. Every time we go down that racetrack, it’s like alright now, we have the next round. This is the coolest part that I think makes our team so good, we never look at the whole race. We take it one step at a time.

“Every step that we take we try to be efficient with it and make the best out of it. I think that’s what pays big dividends when we look back. We look at all the baby steps we made and all the right ones that got us where we needed to be.”

There’s another significant type of countdown for Brown in this weekend’s Toyota NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The New Jersey native holds an almost insurmountable 150-point lead over second-ranked Doug Kalitta, 172 points over third-ranked Shawn Langdon and 191 points over fourth-ranked Brittany Force.

Brown merely has to leave Las Vegas with between a 96 to 110-point lead to clinch his second consecutive Top Fuel championship and third in the last five seasons.

But don’t let that massive points lead coming into Sin City fool you. Like a savvy gambler, Brown is not letting the odds sway him. He’s most definitely keeping his cards close to the vest.

antron brown wins at chicago 2016

“We are going into Vegas, we have a little bit of a points lead but it’s anybody’s game,” Brown said. “Our main focus is to stay humble, keep our heads down and continue the hard work that’s got us here.

“That is a crucial moment for us right now. We’re still not done working. We can’t wait for Vegas and the Toyota Nationals.”

Brown is looking to extend his outstanding run thus far in this year’s Countdown at Las Vegas by claiming his fourth win in the first five races of the playoffs. That would make him 7-for-11 in his last 11 Countdown races, including last year’s three Countdown wins.

Given his large lead on Kalitta and the others chasing him, you’d think Brown would come into Vegas with a defensive mindset, to protect what he has so far.

If you indeed thought that, you thought right. As the artist formerly known as AB, it’s all about the offense and the win, baby.

“Our heads are really focused on the end and the end is not until they say this is the 2016 world championship winner,” Brown said. “We’re in a great situation right now, but we don’t feel comfortable yet and our work is not done yet.

“We’re not going in defensive mode and we’re just going to try to keep doing the same things we’ve done to get to this point.”

There’s a lot of wisdom in Brown’s strategy. Back in 2012, before he ultimately won his first Top Fuel crown, he also almost lost it.

Brown came into Las Vegas with a 136-point lead over Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tony Schumacher. But with uncharacteristic first-round losses in final eliminations at both Vegas and the season finale at Pomona, Brown barely held on to deny Schumacher his ninth career Top Fuel championship by a mere seven points, one of the closest finishes in NHRA history.

“It would be great to close this out in Vegas and that’s our hope,” Brown said. “We want to win it and we want to win it as quick as possible. But you can’t take any of this for granted and that’s why we all work so hard to get to this point.”

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TOYOTA NHRA NATIONALS

WHAT: 16th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals, the 23rd of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and the fifth of six playoff races in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship. Drivers in four categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – earn points leading to 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships.

WHERE: The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas. Track is located approximately 15 miles north of Las Vegas off I-15. COURSE: Championship drag strip; Track elevation is 2,100 feet above sea level; Track direction is south to north.

WHEN: Thursday through Sunday, Oct. 27-30

SCHEDULE:

THURSDAY, Oct. 27 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying

FRIDAY, Oct. 28 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying; NHRA J&A SERVICE PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.; MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 11:45 a.m. and 3:45 p.m.

SATURDAY, Oct. 29 – LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations; NHRA J&A SERVICE PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 1:30 p.m. Round 1 of eliminations at 5:30 p.m.; MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 11:45 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.

SUNDAY, Nov. 1 – Pre-race ceremonies, 10:15 a.m.; MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.

TELEVISION: Friday, Oct. 28, FOX Sports 1 (FS1) will televise one hour of live qualifying coverage at 6 p.m. (ET).

Sunday, Oct. 30, FS1 will air one hour of qualifying coverage at 10 a.m. (ET).

Sunday, Oct. 30, FS1 will televise three hours of live finals coverage starting at 4 p.m. (ET).

2015 LAS VEGAS EVENT WINNERS: Doug Kalitta, Top Fuel; Robert Hight, Funny Car; Erica Enders, Pro Stock; Andrew Hines, Pro Stock Motorcycle.

MOST CAREER VICTORIES AT LAS VEGAS: Andrew Hines, PSM, 5; Greg Anderson, PS, 4; Ron Capps, FC, 4; Tony Schumacher, TF, 4; John Force, FC, 3.

LAS VEGAS TRACK RECORDS: 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. Pro Stock Motorcycle – 6.852 sec. by Jerry Savoie, Oct. ’15; 196.56 mph by Eddie Krawiec, Oct. ’11

NATIONAL RECORDS: Top Fuel – 3.671 sec. by Steve Torrence, July ’16, Sonoma, Calif.; 332.75 mph by Spencer Massey, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn. Funny Car – 3.822 by Matt Hagan, Aug. ’16, Brainerd, Minn.; 335.57 mph by Hagan, May ’16, Topeka, Kansas. Pro Stock – 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.; 215.55 mph by Erica Enders, May ‘14, Englishtown N.J. Pro Stock Motorcycle – 6.728 sec. by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 199.88 mph by Hector Arana Jr., March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.

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POINT STANDINGS

Top Fuel — 1.  Antron Brown, 2,504; 2.  Doug Kalitta, 2,354; 3.  Shawn Langdon, 2,332; 4.  Brittany Force, 2,313; 5.  Steve Torrence, 2,307; 6.  Tony Schumacher, 2,295; 7.  J.R. Todd, 2,260; 8.  Leah Pritchett, 2,250; 9.  Richie Crampton, 2,195; 10.  Clay Millican, 2,168.

Funny Car — 1.  Ron Capps, 2,465; 2.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,401; 3.  Matt Hagan, 2,377; 4.  Jack Beckman, 2,334; 5.  Del Worsham, 2,320; 6.  Robert Hight, 2,278; 7.  John Force, 2,267; 8.  Courtney Force, 2,238; 9.  Tim Wilkerson, 2,228; 10.  Alexis DeJoria, 2,151.

Pro Stock — 1.  Jason Line, 2,454; 2.  Greg Anderson, 2,428; 3.  Vincent Nobile, 2,340; 4.  Shane Gray, 2,320; 5.  Bo Butner, 2,314; 6.  Drew Skillman, 2,269; 7.  Chris McGaha, 2,222; 8.  Allen Johnson, 2,213; 9.  Jeg Coughlin, 2,146; 10.  Erica Enders, 2,135.

Pro Stock Motorcycle — 1.  Eddie Krawiec, 2,425; 2.  Andrew Hines, 2,408; 3.  Jerry Savoie, 2,376; 4.  Angelle Sampey, 2,365; 5.  Chip Ellis, 2,328; 6.  LE Tonglet, 2,288; 7.  Cory Reed, 2,229; 8.  Hector Arana, 2,211; 9.  Matt Smith, 2,202; 10.  Hector Arana Jr., 2,183.

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Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.
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On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.


Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)