NHRA: Antron Brown primed to get back on track in ‘Western Swing’ kickoff this weekend in Denver

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Top Fuel driver Antron Brown is the NHRA’s modern day answer to Horace Greeley.

It was Greeley who on July 13, 1865 – yep, just over 153 years ago, to be precise – that wrote the famous words “Go West, Young Man” in the New York Tribune.

Brown grew up in New Jersey, but has called Indianapolis home for the last several years.

But Brown has a second home of sorts – and that’s where the “Go West, Young Man” aspect comes in.

Each year the NHRA hosts its three-race mid-summer “Western Swing” in Denver, Sonoma (California) and Seattle, Brown feels right at home.

Last year, he won two out of three, at both Denver and Seattle, including defeating Don Schumacher Racing teammate Leah Pritchett in the Denver finale.

But wait, there’s more:

* He’s won three times at Bandimere Speedway in the Denver suburb of Morrison, Colorado (2009, 2012 and 2017).

* He’s also a five-time runner-up at Bandimere (2008 and 2016 in Top Fuel and in 1999, 2001 and 2005 in Pro Stock Motorcycle).

* He’s a three-time No. 1 qualifier (2009 and 2010 in Top Fuel, and 2001 in Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Brown comes into this weekend’s Dodge NHRA Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere on a roll. He was runner-up in the last Mello Yello Drag Racing Series two weeks ago at Epping, New Hampshire, losing to Steve Torrence in the final round.

Brown sits sixth in the Top Fuel standings with 717 points, but a distant 369 points behind class leader Torrence.

To say this has not been a typical season for Brown is an understatement. He’s managed just 13 round wins in the 2018 season’s first 13 races.

Worse, he hasn’t won since last year’s triumph at Seattle.

But with 11 races left in this season, including five more to qualify for the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs, Brown has plenty of time to get things back on track.

He hopes it starts this weekend in Denver, which is unlike any other race on the schedule because the elevation of the race track is about a mile above sea level.

“The air is thin and there’s not much oxygen,” Brown said. “The temperatures will go up during the day and that makes some difficult conditions for the race cars to make good power and run hard there.

“It’s the same thing for all the crew members on the human body. When you go there, it’s definitely a test of conditioning and going out there and making it happen.

“The trick in going to Denver is that you have to be mentally strong, emotionally tough and use all of your physical strength to make it happen when you don’t think you have anything left in the tank.

“We’ve had success there, though. We were the last ones to sweep the Western Swing in 2009 and came close last year after winning in Denver and Seattle.”

This weekend will be the 396th race of Brown’s NHRA career. He has 65 total wins (49 in Top Fuel, 16 in PSM). He’s also on the verge of capturing his 50th career No. 1 qualifier honors (38 in Top Fuel, 11 in PSM).

Because of the elevation and unique atmospheric conditions, Brown and his U.S. Army/Matco Tools team is ready for anything more so at Bandimere than any other track they visit each year.

“We change almost everything on the car before we go to Denver because Denver is just a way different setup with how we run the car,” Brown said. “We put stuff that we’ve been running off to the side, then we’ll swap it back after Denver.

“You go to Denver like you’re playing craps,” Brown said. “You just roll those dice and hope they come out right so you stumble onto a good combination that’s going to work.

“That had been our Achilles heel for a stretch before we made it to the finals two years ago because Denver had been eating us up a little bit. We’ve won there three times and been runner-up five times. We just have to get back to that combination and be competitive once again. Denver’s just a challenging track.”

But Brown is definitely up to the challenge. He’s gone west to win a few more.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

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.