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NHRA changes Countdown rules to create more drama

Updated October 26, 2017 - 6:48 pm

If Antron Brown were invited to a surprise party, he probably would be the one turning on the lights before the guest of honor arrived.

The popular 41-year-old New Jersey native has clinched the past two NHRA Top Fuel championships at the Toyota Nationals in Las Vegas, which begin Friday at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. With Brown playing spoilsport, the Countdown for the Championship was over before the dragsters were even loaded into their haulers for the season finale at Pomona, California.

Where’s the drama in that?

So the Countdown was restructured. The season-ending Auto Club Finals now will offer bonus points, making it more difficult for drivers to clinch titles beforehand.

Some drag racing people all calling this “The Antron Brown Rule.”

The three-time champion laughed when asked about it. He also said he’s a big fan of points-and-a-half final races now, because it will give him a better chance to overtake championship leader Steve Torrence.

“The cool part about it is I’m the one who is coming in 100 points out from the lead,” Brown said at Thursday’s Toyota Nationals news conference at Caesars Palace. “That points-and-a-half really gives us a great shot to go for another championship at Pomona.”

With four wins in 2017, Brown has had another outstanding season. With eight wins, Torrence has had a phenomenal one, and it is Torrence who has the inside track on winning his first Top Fuel title. The Texan has a 57-point edge on second-place Brittany Force heading into Las Vegas, with Brown slotted fourth, 105 points back.

In another season, Torrence might be the one tripping the light switch here and spoiling the drama. In this one, with a maximum 191 points available at Pomona, there’s still work to be done.

“I don’t care for the Countdown, so I darn sure don’t care for the points-and-a-half,” said Torrence, who won last fall’s race here and his first U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis in September but is coming off a frightening crash at the Texas FallNationals, from which he walked away.

“Instead of who had the best race car all year long, it’s who had the best race car for the last six (races). If you have one bad race, and it happens to be at Pomona, you can lose the championship.”

Qualifying rounds in the Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock classes begin at 1:45 p.m. Friday and 1:15 p.m. Saturday. Final eliminations start at noon Sunday.

NASCAR Champion’s Week

NASCAR Champion’s Week in Las Vegas in reality lasts only three days, prompting race fans to wonder: Why couldn’t the Coca-Cola 600 be more like Champion’s Week?

This year’s toast to the NASCAR champion will be Nov. 28 to 30 and ends on Thursday (instead of the usual Friday) with the awards show at Wynn Las Vegas.

Retiring driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be feted at “Appreci88tion, An Evening with Dale Earnhardt Jr.” at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas on Tuesday, with the popular Victory Lap on the Strip beginning at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday. After the Lap, the bawdy Q&A session featuring NASCAR playoff drivers, will follow at 8 p.m. at The Chelsea at The Cosmo.

At the Bullring

A furious back-and-forth battle between Derek Thorn and Jeremy Doss concluded with Thorn taking the victory by .607 of a second and receiving a $15,000 check from U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., at the Senator’s Cup Fall Classic. The California drivers swapped the lead multiple times after a late-race restart in what one Bullring observer called “a race for the ages.”

Noah Gragson, who is bidding for Rookie of the Year honors on the NASCAR Truck Series tour, finished fifth to top Las Vegas-based drivers in the biggest Super Late Model race on the Bullring schedule.

The Bullring will bring the curtain down on its 2017 season Nov. 18 with the West Coast Short Track Championships featuring the SPEARS Southwest Tour Series, Lucas Oil Modified Series and USAC HPD Midgets Series.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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