Antron Brown spent the offseason eager to get back to a dragstrip after gaining his only Top Fuel victory of last year in the NHRA season finale.
Brown's optimism was rewarded when he beat Brandon Bernstein to win the SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals on Sunday before a crowd of about 18,000 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
In the other professional categories, Robert Hight won for the second time this year in Funny Car and Mike Edwards defended the Pro Stock title he won here last year.
Brown, who drives for Don Schumacher Racing, is relieved he won't have to wait until the 23rd event of the year to get a victory.
"We were ready for the season. We learned a lot last year because we were racing a car totally different," said the 36-year-old New Jersey native who lives in Pittsboro, Ind. He said the dragster last year was converted to a chassis, engine and clutch system produced by Schumacher.
Brown, a former Pro Stock Motorcycle racer, won his 26th NHRA title including 10 in Top Fuel. He climbed from sixth to second in points behind Del Worsham, who lost to Bernstein in the semifinals.
Bernstein, who has lost in his last eight final-round appearances, was hoping a win would help celebrate the 10-year anniversary of when he won the Top Alcohol Dragster title at Las Vegas moments after his father, Kenny Bernstein, won the Top Fuel title.
While it was the best event this year for Bernstein, who qualified second, Brown's dragster tuned by Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald was the day's most consistent. Brown completed the championship 1,000-foot race in 3.887 seconds at 318.84 mph and the slowest of his other three runs was 3.91 seconds.
Brown eliminated Morgan Lucas, teammate and seven-time champion Tony Schumacher and Doug Kalitta to reach the final.
Consistency is what Brown believes will make his team a championship contender this year.
"(Consistency) played a big part. The tough deal about fuel racing is there are a million ways to lose and only one way to win. You have to do everything the same to duplicate runs," he said.
In the case of Hight, the trend has been replication. The 20th Funny Car title of his career continued a torrid pace for John Force Racing. The victory is the second for Hight in three events, and teammate Mike Neff won the other title three weeks ago.
John Force, who lost in the second round Sunday, closed last season with two titles. That gives the three-car team five straight event titles.
"That shows what kind of equipment I get in and the team I have around me," said Hight, the 2009 series champion from Yorba Linda, Calif.
"People always ask me if I feel a lot of pressure because of the team I'm on. I say no because it makes it easier for me as a driver because you just go out there and you know the car is right. Hat's off to John and the team he has put together."
After beating Jim Head and Jack Beckman, Hight's quicker reaction on the starting line allowed him to defeat Cruz Pedregon to reach the final against Johnny Gray.
Hight won the April event at the speedway for the second time and became its first double winner in Funny Car in the event's 12-year history.
Contact reporter Jeff Wolf at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0247.