It’s getting close to the final Countdown for NHRA drivers and their teams.
You can almost hear the blare of synthesized trumpets, as per the GEICO commercial on TV.
The announcer said if you’re the band Europe, you love a final countdown. It’s what you do. And if you’re Top Fuel driver Antron Brown, you also love a final Countdown, because it’s what you usually do best.
The NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship is a six-race, playoff-type format patterned after NASCAR’s Chase that is supposed to provide drama at the end of the season. Instead, it has mostly provided Brown and his Don Schumacher Racing team a platform for displaying dominance.
Last year, Brown clinched his second Mello Yello Series championship in Las Vegas, the next-to-last stop in the Countdown. With a 150-point lead over closest pursuer Doug Kalitta, he’s in prime position to do it again at the 16th Toyota Nationals beginning Friday at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway drag strip.
These are the other numbers as they apply to the third-generation driver from New Jersey and his stranglehold on the Top Fuel division: seven victories in 2016; 30 over the past five seasons (more than the next two drivers combined); 45 Top Fuel wins (fourth all time, and he has been racing dragsters only since 2008). Brown also has won six of the past 10 Countdown races.
Cue the synthesized trumpets.
A lot of drag racing people already are measuring Antron Brown for another victory banquet tuxedo. But the driver, citing what was a struggle to lock down his first championship, says this isn’t NASCAR, in which one can ride around at the back of the pack to protect one’s position.
Brown, the first African-American to win a major auto racing championship, was coasting toward the title with a 136-point lead on teammate Tony Schumacher in 2012 before being bounced in the first round in Las Vegas and again in the season finale at Pomona, California. He barely held off The Sarge to cop the crown in one of the closest points battles in NHRA history.
“When you drive a Nitro car, anything can go wrong at a given moment,” said Brown, a former track and field star, and winner of the spring race in Las Vegas, before Thursday’s Toyota Nationals media luncheon at Smith & Wollensky on the original Las Vegas Strip.
“In 2012, we came in with the same kind of points lead and we ended up winning the championship by eight points,” said the personable Brown, winner of three of the first four races in this year’s Countdown. “The competition is crazy right now. If we go out in the first two rounds of these last two races and Doug caps off it off with some wins, the points will be right there.”
At least the race for the Funny Car title is tighter.
Veteran Ron Capps, a four-time bridesmaid seeking his first championship, leads DSR stablemates Tommy Johnson Jr. by 68 points and Matt Hagan by 88. The Pro Stock division, with Jason Line 26 points ahead of Greg Anderson in a battle of Ken Black Racing team drivers, is even more competitive.
Contact Ron Kantowski at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.
NHRA TOYOTA NATIONALS
Where: Las Vegas Motors Speedway dragstrip
When: Mello Yello Series qualifying 11:45 am., 3:45 p.m. Friday; 11:45 a.m., 3:30 p.m., Saturday; final eliminations 11 a.m. Sunday.
TV: Fox Sports 1 (FS1)
Tickets: Beginning at $63; LVMS.com; 702-644-4444