Date: April 2, 2017
Event: 18th Annual Denso Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals (Round 4 of 24)
Series: Top Fuel class of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series
Location: The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Winner: Antron Brown of Don Schumacher Racing
U.S. Army Racing Finish:
Tony Schumacher qualified 2nd, lost to Brown in the final round.
Antron Brown qualified 8th, beat Schumacher in the final round.
It was an all-U.S. Army Top Fuel final for the second NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event in a row Sunday at the Denso Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and, this time, it was Antron Brown and the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) who hoisted the first-place Wally trophy, but fellow Army and DSR driver Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher leaves Las Vegas in a very familiar position – first place in the Top Fuel point standings.
Two weeks ago, at the NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida, Schumacher and the U.S. Army Dragster for DSR got the better of Brown in the final round to capture his record fifth Gatornationals victory from the No. 1 qualifying position and upped his career Top Fuel-record total to 83 event titles.
Schumacher and the U.S. Army team picked up right where they left off here this weekend, qualifying second and reaching their second consecutive final round. It was the fourth time in four events this season the team has advanced to the semifinals or beyond. Schumacher arrived in Las Vegas second in the championship, 24 points behind third DSR Top Fuel driver Leah Pritchett, who won the opening two events of the season at Pomona, California and the outskirts of Phoenix. His semifinal victory over Doug Kalitta coupled with Pritchett’s semifinal loss to Brown today gave Schumacher a six-point lead over Pritchett in the standings.
“It’s all good – the Army car is running well, the team is feeling good, at the end of the day, everything is fine,” said Schumacher, who was looking to up his record total of career Las Vegas event titles to nine. “You couldn’t ask for too much more. It was another good day for DSR and the U.S. Army. We’ve been more consistent to start the season than we have been in a while. The Army car is just great. Everybody on the team has confidence. We dropped a cylinder twice today, but that is going to happen. We got away with it in the second round today but not in the final. It happens, it’s OK. Antron and his team did what they had to do to win the races they had today. They put the hammer down on that particular run against us and did a great job. They are a good race team. There is never a time that we can take them lightly, and that’s OK. They’re our teammates. I’m just happy that our car has been going down the track since the very first run at Pomona. I’m excited because that means we can have a great car all year long and that’s how you win championships. It’ll be good to go to Houston, which is now one of my home races. We won’t go there as the winner of the last race like we did here, but we’re going there as the points leader. That’s a big deal. We’ve made two semifinals and two finals in the first four races this year and that’s incredible. If we do that at the end of the season, we win the championship and that bodes well for us.”
Schumacher’s day started with a solo run from his No. 2 qualifying position after No. 15 qualifier Terry Haddock had problems with his racecar in morning warmup. “The Sarge” got down the track in a comfortable 3.767 seconds at 327.98 mph and earned lane choice for his second-round matchup against surprise first-round winner Terry McMillen.
The U.S. Army Dragster dropped a cylinder at half-track in that race, but Schumacher still was able to hold on to beat McMillen, who also dropped a cylinder. Schumacher crossed the line in 3.865 seconds at 316.45 mph to McMillen’s 3.916 seconds at 311.70 mph.
In the semifinals, Schumacher and Kalitta met for the 82nd time with the eight-time world champion holding a 47-34 won-loss advantage, although Kalitta took three of their five meetings in 2016, including in the second round at the Pomona season finale. Schumacher clocked his fastest run of the day in the heat of the day, beating Kalitta with a run of 3.775 seconds at 320.97 mph. Kalitta, who was in the preferred left lane, crossed the line in 3.782 seconds at 326.87 mph.
Schumacher’s U.S. Army Dragster once again dropped a cylinder at about half-track in his final-round matchup against Brown. But even if he had gotten down the track cleanly, it might have been difficult to beat Brown’s run of 3.747 seconds at 321.04 mph, which was the best Top Fuel run of the day. Schumacher crossed the line in 3.804 seconds at 325.14 mph in picking up the 62nd runner-up finish of his illustrious career.
Brown and his Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster, meanwhile, opened the day with his best run of the weekend to that point from his No. 8 qualifying position. He eliminated No. 9 qualifier Scott Palmer with a run of 3.752 seconds at 325.53 mph while Palmer smoked his tires and coasted across the line.
The first-round win earned Brown a meeting with lane choice over this weekend’s No. 1 qualifier Steve Torrence. Brown laid down a solid run of 3.822 seconds at 318.24 mph while Torrence’s car limped across the finish line in 4.035 seconds at 276.41 mph. It was Brown’s 22nd win against Torrence in their 23 meetings.
In his semifinal against Pritchett, who smoked her tires at half-track, Brown illuminated the win light with his clean run of 3.797 seconds at 320.89 mph to set up the final-round matchup against Schumacher. It was Brown’s sixth win in nine meetings with Pritchett.
The final-round win over Schumacher was the 46th Top Fuel win of Brown’s career and his third at Las Vegas. It also made him the only driver in Top Fuel history to win at least one event title in 10 consecutive seasons. He was previously tied with Schumacher, who won at least one event title in nine consecutive seasons from 2002 to 2010. With his 46 career event titles, Brown is now just six behind third-place Joe Amato on the all-time Top Fuel wins list.
“It started out as a very challenging weekend because we had something that had been plaguing us, but the Matco Tools/U.S. Army boys just went to work,” said Brown, the two-time-defending and three-time Top Fuel world champion. “Today, it was tough battles. In the second round against (Steve) Torrence, in the semis against my teammate Leah (Pritchett) – those guys and her are doing a phenomenal job this year. And Tony, those Army boys kicked our tails in Gainesville. When you race two of your teammates, you know you’ve got a battle on your hands because we all have the same quality parts and piece that Don (Schumacher) provides for us. So when you go up against them, you’ve got to throw everything at it. Especially Tony, he’s hasn’t won eight championships for nothing, believe me. He knows how to race, how to get wins. But (co-crew chiefs) Brian (Corradi) and Mark (Oswald) and all of our boys, we had to push hard. It’s tough out there this year. We qualified eighth this weekend and to get that win today was pretty spectacular. I feel like I just won my first race, that’s how tough the competition is this year.”
After four of 24 events on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series tour for 2017, the top-10 drivers in the Top Fuel class are:
1. Tony Schumacher (382 points)
2. Leah Pritchett (376 points, -6)
3. Antron Brown (357 points, -25)
4. Doug Kalitta (301 points, -81)
5. Brittany Force (258 points, -124)
6. Steve Torrence (251 points, -131)
8. Clay Millican (187 points, -195)
7. Troy Coughlin, Jr. (176 points, -206)
9. Terry McMillen (164 points, -218)
10. Scott Palmer (148 points, -234)
Next up is the NHRA Spring Nationals at Royal Purple Raceway on the outskirts of Houston three weeks hence. FS1’s delayed broadcast of elimination rounds Sunday, April 23, is set for 5:30 p.m. EDT.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!