Lewis Hamilton
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Hamilton hopes to ‘get the job done’ at U.S. Grand Prix

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AUSTIN, Texas — Lewis Hamilton has a certain love affair with the rolling hills and scrub land in the heart of Texas.

It’s easy to see why. The Mercedes driver has been almost invincible here, with five wins at the United States Grand Prix since 2012, including a season championship secured in 2015.

That makes it an almost perfect spot for more.

Win another race and another championship on Sunday and the Mercedes driver will sit all alone in second in Formula One history, with only a short step left to reach the top.

The British driver is on the cusp of securing a sixth career championship that would move him past Argentina’s Juan Manuel Fangio, the “Godfather” of F1 drivers, and within one of the record seven won by Germany’s Michael Schumacher, who is still regarded as the sport’s greatest champion.

Hamilton should have little trouble doing it. All he needs to do is finish eighth or higher on Sunday.

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“It’s been a good hunting ground for me, so very excited to go there and who knows whether we can get the job done?,” Hamilton said. “We’ll hopefully have a good race there.”

He’s almost downplaying his chances. There’s not much reason to do that at this point.

Hamilton nearly closed out the championship last week with his surprising win in Mexico City , but teammate Valtteri Bottas’ third-place finish pushed the title chase into another week. Bottas is the only driver still mathematically in the championship, but just barely.

“I don’t mind,” Hamilton said after not quite closing it out last week. “I love racing.”

Hamilton didn’t win the Texas race last year, finishing a third as Kimi Raikkonen took the checkered flag with Ferrari.

But he was in spectacular form last week in Mexico City, getting his 10th win of the season on a track that favored rivals Red Bull and Ferrari.

Hamilton is a defacto spokesman for growing Formula One in the U.S. Still young and stylish at 34, an environmental activist on social media , Hamilton is a valuable face and force for promoting the series in America, which hasn’t been as easy as F1 officials hoped when they returned to American soil with the Texas track and race in 2012.

Efforts to start other races haven’t been so easy. A dream race in Miami couldn’t take hold in the downtown venue on Biscayne Bay the series wanted and the current idea of racing around the parking lot of the stadium where the NFL’s Miami Dolphins play has run into fierce opposition from locals.

The Texas race has been a stronghold and Hamilton still does his part. He was in New York City with an event in Times Square before coming to Austin.

Hamilton sees himself – the first and still only black driver in Formula One who comes from a middle class family – as a story that can be inspiring to an American audience.

“I think my story and my family’s story is something that a lot of people in different countries can relate to,” Hamilton said.

Ferrari and Red Bull could still put up a fight Sunday at the Circuit of the Americas.

Ferrari has started on pole the last six races and the U.S. Grand Prix winner has come from the front row every year since the Texas track opened. The recent runs from pole have produced just three victories however, and none since Singapore on Sept. 22.

The team is partly to blame for not winning through a series of blunders or being outmaneuvered by Mercedes. In Mexico City, Ferrari put drivers Sebastian Vettel on different pit strategies and both surrendered the lead to change tires at different times.

“We certainly want to do better than that,” Ferrari Team Principal Mario Binotto said.

Verstappen will be looking to put a bad race in Mexico behind him. He was stripped of pole position in Mexico City because of a penalty for not slowing down while under a yellow flag in qualifying. He then punctured a tire on the fourth lap. A car and driver that had the pace to win finished sixth.

Verstappen finished second in Texas last year and won his late-lap duel with Hamilton for the position.

“A lot is possible at this track as there are so many good overtaking opportunities, which makes things interesting in the race,” said Verstappen, who will be racing his 100th career grand prix at just age 22.

Hamilton, who is driving his 248th, may be wary of talk like that from Verstappen. Their cars touched on the opening lap in Mexico City, and Hamilton said he’s learned to give Verstappen a lot of room to race.

“It’s the smartest thing you can do,” Hamilton said.

NHRA: Antron Brown takes major step toward team ownership

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There will come a day that when three-time NHRA Top Fuel champion Antron Brown wants to talk to his boss, he’ll need to look no further than in the mirror.

The New Jersey native announced Tuesday that he has begun to lay the groundwork to own his Top Fuel team, eventually branching out from Don Schumacher Racing.

“It’s definitely exciting, but at the same time, it’s also nerve-wracking because the buck stops here right now,” Brown told NBC Sports. “Now the coolest part is you get to help and drive and motivate and push the team forward, to make decisions and leave a legacy behind for my family.”

Brown will continue racing for DSR this season while beginning the transition to eventual sole ownership of the new AB Motorsports in the future. Even when he officially leaves the DSR camp as a hired driver, Brown and his new team will retain a technical partnership with the Schumacher organization.

Moving toward team ownership is just a natural evolution for Brown, who previously ran his own Pro Stock Motorcycle team from 1998 until joining DSR in 2002. It’s also a move that potentially may lead other current drivers to start thinking about their own futures.

It’s no secret that many of the biggest names in drag racing – both drivers and owners – are getting up in years. John Force will soon turn 72, while Schumacher is 75. They’re among several others in the sport who are making contingency plans for their teams to continue to operate once they’re gone – and Brown wants to do his part to help the sport grow and flourish.

“When you’re able to have ownership, you’re looking at the talent coming up,” Brown said. “You’re able to reach down and see and give other people opportunities that you had. When I came to race for Don Schumacher at DSR, he’s given all these people at his place this opportunity to drive.

“But what happens when the Don Schumachers, the John Forces, the Connie Kalittas go? You lose all the owners of our series, so who’s next in line to take over that lineage or carry that torch? It’s a necessary means for the future for the upcoming people.

Antron Brown’s plans to become a team owner were embraced by his current team owner, Don Schumacher. (Getty Images)

“I’ve been in this sport for over 20 years. This is the next evolution of my chapter, the next page of my book. What am I going to do when I decide to hang the helmet up one day? I want to be there to bring that new crop of drivers and talent up and help mold them to be the best version of themselves to carry the sport forward and to share with them what was shared with me over all my years in the sport, from Kenny Bernstein, John Force, Big Daddy Don Garlits, Mark Oswald and Don “Snake” Prudhomme, all the people I looked up to.”

While Brown will start as a single-car team once he transitions to ownership, he hopes to eventually build AB Motorsports into at least a two-car operation, with his Top Fuel dragster and a Funny Car.

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The path to eventual ownership began nearly a year ago when Brown and Schumacher discussed the future.

“Me and Don had a heart-to-heart talk,” Brown said. “When I told him what I wanted to do, Don said, ‘Antron, I know this is what you want to do. I’ll support you in this.’

“That’s a cool experience when you have a gentleman that has done everything in this sport, from over 350 national event wins, 17 world championships – and I’ve done three with him – and is in every motorsports hall of fame there is.

“What is he going to do next? He’s making the sport better by pushing people like myself to do what I’m doing now. No matter how long it takes, I know I have him on my backside, pushing me to get to that point.”

Like father, like son: Antron Brown and son Anson, who is following in his father’s drag racing footsteps. Photo: Antron Brown’s official Facebook page.

His family’s future also figured into Brown’s decision. His oldest son, Anson, soon turns 16 years old and is heavily involved in NHRA’s Jr. Dragster program, as are Brown’s other children. It’s likely his son some day will follow in his father’s footsteps.

But don’t think that the elder Brown, who turns 44 in March, is ready to hang up his firesuit just yet.

“I’ll stop driving when I feel I’m not capable to drive no more and I’m not having fun no more,” he said. “That’s nowhere in the near future. I know I’m going to drive for at least another 15 years.”

Heading into this season, Brown will retain current sponsorship from Mac Tools and Toyota, as well as associate sponsorship from Hangsterfer’s on his 11,000-horsepower dragster. Global Electronic Technology also has signed on as a new associate sponsor in a multiyear deal.

“It’s no secret this has been a goal of Antron’s for a while now, and I’m happy to be able to provide the tools and resources needed for him to be able to successfully branch out on his own,” Schumacher said in a team media release. “It’s important for me to see my team members grow.”

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Brown burst upon the NHRA scene atop a Pro Stock Motorcycle in 1998, earning 16 wins over the next 10 seasons. He joined DSR in 2002 and made the switch to Top Fuel in 2008.

Since then, Brown – who now resides in suburban Indianapolis – has gone on to become one of the winningest drivers in Top Fuel history with 50 national event victories, as well as three championships between 2012 and 2015.

That performance recently earned him AutoWeek magazine’s Top Fuel Driver of the Decade.

Brown also announced Tuesday he is reuniting with former crew chief Brian Corradi, who returns to the team after spending the last two seasons as co-crew chief for 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force. Corradi will share crew chief duties for Brown with NHRA veteran Mark Oswald.

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When he won his first title in 2012, Brown became the first African-American world champion in Top Fuel history. He hopes his move to ownership will continue to grow NHRA’s already significant focus on opportunities for minorities and females in the sport.

“I think it’s important across all spectrums, period,” Brown said. “I think a lot of fans see me, and they can relate to me because I am them. I came from a good, hard-working family in Chesterfield, New Jersey, which is right next door to Trenton.

“Everybody in my family from my great uncles to my grandpop made their own way, had their own businesses, from swimming pool to paving to septic tank businesses.

“One thing my grandpop said to me is the world is wide open. He said, ‘Son, you can have anything you want in this world, as long as you put the effort and put the work towards it.’ If people can resonate with my story from where I came from and where I’m heading, I hope it gives them this energy, this ray of hope that ‘if Antron Brown can do this, so can I.’

“That’s the only way for motorsports to grow. It’s for the young ones to get interested in it and I want them to know the opportunity is there. All they have to do is take it.”

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Brown will be among more than 30 Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers who will take part in this weekend’s annual preseason “spring training” test at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, in preparation for the season-opening Lucas Oil Winternationals Feb. 6-9 in Pomona, California.

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