Just as the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing series reaches its midway point, Antron Brown extends his Top Fuel point lead on a hole shot over Brittany Force. Tommy Johnson finally won in Funny Car, taking down current points leader Ron Capps at the NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway just south of Reading, Pa.
Vincent Nobile pursued the Pro Stock field, upsetting Greg Anderson. Eddie Krawiec upped the ante in Pro Stock Motorcycle, beating a defiant Cory Reed with all the championships tightening up.
Antron Brown and his Don Schumacher Top Fuel team debuted a new pink Matco Tools dragster honoring Breast Cancer Awareness as part of the ‘Tools for a Cause’ program. On Sunday, despite only one qualifying session, the N.J. native soared through eliminations to win his 60th overall NHRA National event this weekend at Maple Grove Raceway.
The victory was his sixth of the season; 44 in Top Fuel and 16 in Pro Stock Motorcycle rank him fourth on the all-time winner’s list. It was his 10th final round and fourth in the last six races, and his 75th career Top Fuel final.
“It felt good,” Brown said. “I’m not going to lie to everyone; all of the credit goes to my team. I have never had this happen before; I closed my helmet visor down, I had my fresh air on, and I couldn’t see anything. I just tried to keep in the groove and honestly, I overdrove the car a little bit. We cut just a good enough light to get that win. We had some lucky breaks go our way but we kept our heads down and kept on fighting.”
Defending champion Brown eliminated J.R. Todd, Clay Millican, and a tire-smoking Shawn Langdon in the semi-finals before facing Brittany Force.
Both Force and Brown ran exact elapsed times of 3.721 seconds in the finals with Brown prevailing by three-thousandths of a second, the exact difference in reaction starting line times (.066-.069).
He heads the Top Fuel points standings by 77 over Doug Kalitta in second as the Countdown to the Championship has reached its halfway point.
“This championship, there’s plenty of racing left,” Brown said. “We just have to continue and get in that groove and fight hard. No one is going to give you a championship. Everybody is winning who needs to win to survive. The competition is at an all-time high. I’m really enjoying racing in this kind of competition because it’s bringing the best out of everyone.”
Here’s the unofficial NHRA Top Fuel points standings with three Countdown races remaining:
- Antron Brown, 2,377; 2. Doug Kalitta, 2,300; 3. Brittany Force, 2,259; 4. Shawn Langdon, 2,258; 5. Tony Schumacher, 2,236; 6. Steve Torrence, 2,214; 7. Leah Pritchett, 2,188; 8. J.R. Todd, 2,183; 9. Richie Crampton, 2,159; 10. Clay Millican, 2,136.
For the third week in a row, Tommy Johnson Jr., drove the Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger Funny Car, funded by Terry Chandler, to the final round of competition. On Sunday he was able to drive it to the winner’s circle.
The Keystone Nationals gave many NHRA teams headaches, with three of four qualifying sessions cancelled because of rain. Johnson Jr. landed in the No. 2 position with a 3.897-second lap at 330.80 mph on Saturday.
“It was a tough track because the conditions were so good,” Johnson said. “The track is so tight; you have to be perfect or the car won’t make it.”
Johnson defeated Cruz Pedregon, Mike Smith and DSR teammate Jack Beckman in the semi-finals before battling with his DSR-mate Ron Capps in the finals for his 14th victory.
Johnson, after being the runner-up in the last two races of the Countdown, felt his third time would be a charm. This proved true as he ran a time of 3.895 seconds, 330.63 mph to Capps’ pass of 3.911 seconds, 324.12 mph for his second win of the season.
“You want to have a strong start, and we knew that going into Charlotte – we needed a strong start to the Countdown,” said Johnson, just 24 points back in second. “We started seventh in points, unfortunately, and would have liked to have started a little bit higher. But we went from seventh to fourth. A runner-up is good, and we went to St. Louis and went to another final round and I said I’d be happy with four more runner-ups. If we could do that the rest of the way, I figured we could win the championship.
“But when you look in the other lane in the final and you got Capps, who’s leading it, it’s a must-win. You can’t have another runner-up. You have to gain some ground. I’m really happy. I couldn’t be any happier with this start to the Countdown. That’s getting it done, and we have to keep doing it to get it done. I said it at the other end, neither one of us has won the championship, and I think you can see how bad we both want it. It’s going to be a fight, I can tell you that right now. It’s not going to be easy, but if we can continue this consistency, we’ll be alright.”
Here’s the unofficial Funny Car points standings after Maple Grove:
- Ron Capps, 2,368; 2. Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,344; 3. Jack Beckman, 2,275; 4. Matt Hagan, 2,258; 5. Del Worsham, 2,246; 6. John Force, 2,230; 7. Tim Wilkerson, 2,196; 8. Robert Hight, 2,193; 9. Courtney Force, 2,182; 10. Alexis DeJoria, 2,099.
Vincent Nobile earned his first victory of 2016 by posting a 6.575-second pass at 209.85 mph, in his Chevy Camaro, to defeat seven-time 2016 event winner Greg Anderson’s 6.582 at 210.37, in his Chevrolet.
Nobile entered the event on a bit of hot streak, with two-runner up finishes on the season, and ended a 56-race drought with the win. It marks the 10th victory of his career and first at Reading. Nobile, who qualified No. 1, moved to third in the Pro Stock points standings behind Jason Line and Anderson, respectively. He beat 2015 top rookie Drew Skillman, back-to-back and reigning world champion Erica Enders, and Shane Gray before meeting Anderson in the final.
“It was a big day for Mountain View Racing and NAPA Auto Parts,” said Nobile. “We got the Chevrolet in the winner’s circle, and I’m semi-speechless. We turned it around right at the right time. Don’t get me wrong; at the beginning of the year, we were like give us our carburetors back. It certainly was a pain in the butt, not necessarily for me as a driver but for the crew chiefs and the guys working on the car.”
Line still leads by 45 over Anderson and 83 over Nobile.
Here’s the unofficial Pro Stock standings after three of six races completed:
- Jason Line, 2,389; 2. Greg Anderson, 2,344; 3. Vincent Nobile, 2,306; 4. Bo Butner, 2,256; 5. Shane Gray, 2,242; 6. Chris McGaha, 2,189; 7. Allen Johnson, 2,160; 8. Drew Skillman, 2,157; 9. Jeg Coughlin, 2,115; 10. Erica Enders, 2,104.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Eddie Krawiec rode his Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson to win with a time of 6.818 seconds at 193.88 mph, to outlast rookie Cory Reed’s 6.958 at 186.43 on his Star Racing Buell in the final round.
This is Krawiec’s 35th career victory, fourth of 2016 and fourth at Maple Grove Raceway. The three-time world champion started the weekend fifth in points and moved up to second behind teammate Andrew Hines. Krawiec rode past Englishtown, N.J. winner Angelle Sampey, Karen Stoffer, and Sonoma, Calif. winner LE Tonglet to make it to the final round.
“My main goal this weekend here was to win,” Krawiec said. “If you win races in the Countdown, you’re going to be fighting for the championship when you get to Pomona. This was a big day for all of our team actually, Andrew and myself getting past the first round. When you draw Angelle and Chip Ellis in round one, you don’t say, ‘Well, this should be easy. This should be no problem this weekend.’ For me, I was on a mission first round because I knew if I went past first round I could keep the momentum and keep it rolling.”
Here are the NHRA Mello Yello Pro Stock points standings through Oct. 2.
- Andrew Hines, 2,341; 2. Eddie Krawiec, 2,303; 3. Angelle Sampey, 2,289; 4. Chip Ellis, 2,274; 5. Jerry Savoie, 2,271; 6. LE Tonglet, 2,215; 7. Cory Reed, 2,196; 8. Hector Arana, 2,159; 9. Matt Smith, 2,150; 10. Hector Arana Jr, 2,149.
The NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship continues Oct. 13-16 with the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at the Texas Motorplex in Ennis, TX.