Despite starting race day from the No. 15 spot at the 69th annual NHRA U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park, Antron Brown and his Matco Tools ‘Test Drive’ Top Fuel team never counted themselves out. The defending event champion bounced back from a rough start in qualifying by racing to victory yet again on Monday afternoon, winning the prestigious U.S. Nationals for the fifth time as a driver and the second time as a team owner.
Brown returned to Indy, the home of his AB Motorsports team, as the most recent winner on tour after winning the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in Brainerd, Minn. He didn’t make it down the track on Friday’s first qualifying attempt, but came back on Saturday to record a 3.858-second pass in the second session. In the process, he beat Mike Salinas on a holeshot in the first round of the final Mission Foods #2Fast2Tasty Challenge of the season. Brown improved in the third session, but it wasn’t quick enough to qualify, nor to beat technical alliance teammate Justin Ashley in the final round of the Mission Foods #2Fast2Tasty Challenge. A cylinder out at the step of the throttle in the fourth qualifying session on Sunday prevented Brown from bumping into the field. With the pressure on, Brown and crew chiefs Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald laid down the fourth-quickest pass of the final session, a 3.806 E.T., to secure the No. 15 spot.
“It’s a big deal just to qualify for this race,” Brown said. “We almost didn’t qualify this weekend, and that’s because everybody shows up and shows out. That’s why the bump was a 3.82 in Top Fuel, and people were running that in the heat of the day.”
Race day Monday at the Big Go started with a rematch of the 2022 U.S. Nationals final round against reigning world champion Brittany Force. Brown was first off the line and traded the lead with Force before her engine expired near the 660-foot mark, allowing Brown to move on with a 3.749-second pass. Brown slowed to a 3.791 E.T. in the second round, but it was quick enough to beat Clay Millican. Brown met up with Ashley for the second time of the weekend in the semifinals, though this edition went Brown’s way. Ashley went up in smoke early in the run, while Brown ran into his own troubles further down track, coasting to a winning 4.924 E.T.
In the final round, Brown and fellow Toyota driver Steve Torrence left the starting line with nearly identical reaction times. Brown was just a tick quicker, and he added to that lead at every increment to win with a 3.779 E.T. to Torrence’s 3.870-second runner-up effort. It was Brown’s third win of the year in five final rounds, adding his 74th career victory in his 135th national event final round.
“We never stopped believing,” said Brown, who shared the U.S. Nationals winner’s circle with Toyota teammate Ron Capps for the second year in a row. “All of the glory goes to God. You have to have faith. I love this team. They never quit. Matco Tools Test Drive – get you a dealership – but this is all about my team. Brian Corradi, Mark Oswald, all of the Matco boys – they worked so, so hard. Toyota, we love you. We are going places – the Countdown, here we go.”
Brown is now a five-time Indy winner. His first win came in Pro Stock Motorcycle. His fourth win at last year’s U.S. Nationals was his first Indy win as a team owner. This weekend’s victory was special in its own right.
“This is one of those ‘get dirty’ wins,” Brown said. “We went through all the stuff this weekend. At the end of the day, we started smelling the roses, and that was the good part, but we went through all of the trials and tribulations. That’s what makes this one so special. We felt like we had so much good momentum coming off of Brainerd and we got thrown a curve ball – a few of them, actually. We were down and out but we came back. We’ll remember this Indy win out of all of them, that’s for sure.”
Brown finished the NHRA Camping World Series regular season in third. He’ll begin the six-race Countdown to the Championship at the NHRA Nationals, Sept. 15-17, at Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pa.
Qualified: No. 15 (3.806 E.T. at 327.74 MPH)
Elimination Round Results:
E1: 3.749 E.T. at 320.05 MPH defeated Brittany Force 3.870 E.T. at 244.21 MPH
E2: 3.791 E.T. at 326.79 MPH defeated Clay Millican 3.919 E.T. at 275.96 MPH
E3: 4.924 E.T. at 165.44 MPH defeated Justin Ashley 6.569 E.T. at 141.71 MPH
E4: 3.779 E.T. at 328.54 MPH defeated Steve Torrence 3.870 E.T. at 327.43 MPH
NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series Top Fuel Point Standings (Unofficial):
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