As the defending event champion, Antron Brown has fond memories of Heartland Motorsports Park, which hosted its final Menards NHRA Nationals presented by PetArmor this weekend. Brown scored his first win as a team owner at Topeka last year, and he came up just two win lights short of another victory during Sunday’s rain-delayed eliminations. Brown’s Matco Tools ‘Test Drive’ Top Fuel dragster made its quickest pass of the event in the semifinals, but it wasn’t enough to drive around technical alliance teammate Justin Ashley.
Brown started qualifying with a tire-hazing attempt on Friday. He improved in the second session, which doubled as the first round of the Mission Foods #2Fast2Tasty Challenge, though he wasn’t quick enough to beat fellow Toyota driver Steve Torrence. Brown and crew chiefs Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald came back for the final qualifying session and posted a 3.864 E.T. at 322.65 MPH to qualify No. 11.
After rain showers delayed Sunday’s first round of eliminations, Brown improved upon his qualifying effort with a 3.810-second pass at 326.79 MPH to get past Mike Salinas. In the second round, Brown and opponent Austin Prock left the starting line with nearly identical reaction times. Brown powered past a tire-smoking Prock with a consistent 3.811-second effort, earning a spot in the next Mission Foods #2Fast2Tasty Challenge in the process. Semifinal opponent Justin Ashley grabbed a starting line advantage that made a difference at the finish line, as Brown’s quickest pass of the weekend, a 3.711 E.T., lost to Ashley’s 3.726-second effort by just five-thousandths of a second.
“We had the best car in the semis and we fell short to the Phillips Connect car again,” said Brown, a two-time Topeka winner. “They’re doing a great job. Justin did his job on the tree and I fell behind, but we’re just going to keep working. We’re going to keep pushing. We’ve been really close in a lot of close races. That was five thou. Last week was two thou. We’re just going to keep swinging, and we know it’s going to go the other way shortly. All we’ve got to do is keep on staying persistent. I’m working on getting better and our team has been working on getting better. We’re putting up tight packages and we’re just falling a little short, but it just tells you how tough this class is.”
Brown, who raced to a runner-up finish at the NHRA Sonoma Nationals before Topeka, moved up from fifth to fourth in Top Fuel points with his semifinal appearance at Heartland Motorsports Park.
“We’re going to Brainerd with some momentum, and we made the #2Fast2Tasty Challenge again,” Brown said. “Hopefully we get a little redemption out there. We’re going to go in there with our guns – or our tools – blazing.”
With the NHRA Countdown to the Championship playoffs just weeks away, Brown and the AB Motorsports team will move on to the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, Aug. 17-20, at Brainerd International Raceway in Brainerd, Minnesota.
Qualified: No. 11 (3.864 E.T. at 322.65 MPH)
Elimination Round Results:
E1: 3.810 E.T. at 326.79 MPH defeated Mike Salinas 4.874 E.T. at 147.99 MPH
E2: 3.811 E.T. at 326.56 MPH defeated Austin Prock 4.008 E.T. at 244.12 MPH
E3: 3.711 E.T. 325.92 MPH defeated by Justin Ashley 3.726 E.T. at 326.87 MPH
NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series Top Fuel Point Standings (Unofficial):
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