Date: October 29, 2017
Event: 17th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals (Round 23 of 24)
Series: NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series
Location: The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Winner: Terry McMillen of Hoosier Thunder Motorsports
U.S. Army Racing Finish: Tony Schumacher qualified 1st, lost to Leah Pritchett in the second round.
Antron Brown qualified 10th, lost to Shawn Langdon in the first round.
Any competitor in a championship race wants the opportunity to decide their own fate. For U.S. Army Racing teammates Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and Antron Brown things haven’t gone exactly as planned in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship, but enteringSunday’s elimination rounds of the 17th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway both still had a puncher’s chance.
Unfortunately, as the case is with many visitors to Las Vegas, their numbers didn’t come up Sunday and 2017 world championship dreams became even longer shots. Schumacher, after earning his 10th career number one qualifier at The Strip, continued a frustrating Countdown with his fourth second-round loss in the first five events, and Brown, who is looking to become the first driver in Top Fuel since his U.S. Army teammate to win three consecutive Top Fuel world titles, lost in the first round for the first time since the second race of last year’s Countdown in St. Louis, a span of 27 events.
The U.S. Army tandem ventured to Las Vegas with a best-case scenario of staging a rematch of April’s DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals final where Brown defeated Schumacher. Both entered the weekend trailing Countdown points leader Steve Torrence by more than 100 points and needed long runs to cut into the lead with only one more event remaining.
Schumacher did his part during qualifying aboard the U.S. Army Dragster of Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) establishing a new track record in elapsed time and tying the speed record at The Strip with his run Friday night of 3.673 seconds at 332.67 mph. He topped qualifying sessions three and four on Saturday and collected nine bonus points in qualifying en route to his 84th career pole.
The eight-time Top Fuel world champion and his U.S. Army Racing team led by crew chief Mike Green and assistant crew chief Phil Shuler carried that momentum into Sunday’s first round where Schumacher defeated Troy Buff for the third time in 2017 with a lap of 3.730 at 329.10 mph. In the second round, Schumacher faced DSR teammate Leah Pritchett, who earned lane choice in round two after defeating T.J. Zizzo with her run of 3.705 seconds at 326.16 mph. Schumacher had the advantage early, but seemed to slow late in the run allowing Pritchett to score her fifth win over “The Sarge” in 14 career matchups after posting the fastest run of the round at 3.754 seconds at 322.73 mph compared to Schumacher’s 3.869 seconds at 292.27 mph.
“We started the day feeling like we had a great opportunity to win this race,” said Schumacher. “We had a great U.S. Army car this weekend, but we weren’t able to accomplish what we wanted to today. It’s really tough on this whole U.S. Army Racing team. Everyone works so hard and nobody wants to feel like we do right now. Timing is such a part of this deal. I would have beaten several other cars out there in that round, but I didn’t beat the one I was racing. We tend to draw someone that gets down the track. You look at the other matchups and someone struggles to make it. It just happens over and over to us. The frustrating part is you look at the data from the run and it mirrored the one from round one. It showed nothing out of the ordinary. When you look at it, you say to yourself it’s dead on. I think I ran through some oil. I’ve made enough laps in these cars that I can feel it when it’s going to smoke the tires. You know it’s grabbing clutch or doing something, but that run it stayed true. I don’t know. Maybe there was just enough mist of something out there that ended up being what caused the problem. We’ll figure it out and try to finish the year with a much better Sunday in Pomona”
Despite qualifying 10th in the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR, Brown was in a position to climb back into contention with a potential matchup with Torrence in round two Sunday. With revenge part of the equation in round one, Brown was looking to avenge his semifinal loss to Shawn Langdon in Dallas two weeks ago. Both drivers had great lights and were side-by-side in front of the soldout crowd, but it was Langdon who reached 1,000 feet first winning the race by 0.0105 seconds (approximately 5 feet).
“It was a heart-breaking day,” said Brown. “It didn’t go the way we wanted. Our plan actually came together, but we had to win that first round to take advantage of it. Man, it was wide open. Sometimes you’re the bug and sometimes you’re the windshield. That was a great race with Shawn (Langdon). We just came out on the wrong end of it. Overall, it’s been a great year for our Matco Tools/U.S. Army team. The focus now is going to Pomona and finishing it out strong. We won’t be the champions, but maybe we can move up into the top three. We will just go out there and race as hard as we can and see what we can do.”
Terry McMillen defeated Brittany Force in the Top Fuel final to earn his first career Top Fuel victory. Force’s run to the final reduced Torrence’s lead in the championship standings to 20 points heading into the season-finale at Auto Club Raceway in two weeks. Brown ranks fourth with 2,392 markers, 135 out of the top spot, and Schumacher holds the sixth position in the standings with 2,273 points, 187 points behind Torrence and Force.
After five of six Countdown playoff events and 23 of 24 on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series tour for 2017, the top-10 drivers in the Top Fuel class are:
1. Steve Torrence (2,527 points)
2. Brittany Force (2,507 points, -20)
3. Doug Kalitta (2,443 points, -84)
4. Antron Brown (2,392 points, -135)
5. Leah Pritchett (2,361 points, -166)
9. Terry McMillen (2,241 points, -286)
10. Scott Palmer (2,169 points, -358)
Next up is the 53rd annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway in Ponoma, CaliforniaNovember 9-12. FS1 will carry Sunday’s elimination rounds live in a three-hour show beginning at 7 p.m. ET.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!