During cold, rain-interrupted Auto-Plus Nationals eliminations at Maple Grove Raceway in which he said "everybody was doing phenomenal runs," Antron Brown's winning quarterfinal elapsed time against Morgan Lucas was the most phenomenal of all.
Brown's 3.722-second blast in the Matco Tools Dragster was the quickest run in Top Fuel history. It surpassed the 3.728-second E.T. that Dave Grubnic ran Saturday in qualifying No. 1 at the Reading, Pa., racetrack to tie Spencer Massey's run this June at Englishtown, N.J.
That gives Brown two of the top four elapsed times in the Top Fuel class -- and they came within a seven-day stretch.
While he soaked in the satisfaction of the achievement, Brown didn't take any flights of fancy. "Ain't going to be no knockout blows here," he said. He knew he not only had to finish eliminations, which are set to resume at 11 a.m. Monday, but that he also has two more events to keep up his blistering pace. "We've got to go to Vegas and perform just like we've performed here and then we'll see where we're at."
For Sunday, his accomplishment against Lucas was as warming as a welcome cup of coffee would have been.
"Today was one of those days where the conditions were at their all-time," Brown said. "You had five guys in Top Fuel who had [3.]74 [-second E.T.s] first round. Those are some crazy-good passes." And Brandon Bernstein ran a 3.736-second, 330.31-mph effort in beating Tony Schumacher in the pairing immediately before Brown's.
Brown said it was cold and the track was tight, but he gave kudos to the NHRA Safety Safari crew because "they prepped it up."
His opening-round victory over Steve Torrence came in 3.745 seconds, "and I think I was like, the fourth fastest. We had to run that, because when you're racing somebody like Steve Torrence, first round, that was a final-round match-up first round. We just qualified in a bad spot and had to steal a first round -- that's how tight the competition is."
Against Lucas, who was sitting on the national E.T. record -- which is worth 20 critical points -- Brown said he knew "we had to step up, because the track conditions were going to be the same and they were going to prep it again. So it got better with more cars running on it. So we had to go out there and give it our all."
Astonishingly, Brown said, "There's still a little bit more left on the table." He said crew chiefs Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald told him his engine dropped a cylinder just before the finish line, meaning he could have registered an even more staggering E.T.
"That was why my car had a little squiggle. It wasn't because the tarck was loose. It was because it dropped a hole," the points leader said.
"There's more out there. We're nowhere by any means on the safe side of having a record," Brown said. "You still have Shawn Langdon with the Al-Anabi car . . . and [Doug] Kalitta went a [3.]739. You still have tow cars left [in the second round of Top Fuel eliminations]. Conditions are going to be better tomorrow -- still cool but with a little sun out. The track will be even better. They're going to go out there and throw down.
"We've got keep on and keep our head down and do what we've got to do and keep pressing hard if we want to try to get that record," he said. "And our main goal is try to get to the final. We have Brandon up in the semis, so we'll see if we can get by that round -- and keep on collecting points. That's the name of the game."
Brown reminded that the season has just nine more rounds of racing left.
He said these are great conditions. "And the way you can tell they're great conditions is not by what one car defines what the track does but it's when you look at all the cars. If you ran a [3.]79, you're on the bottom half of the field. The bottom half of the ladder! I ran a [3.]758, which started me off third for that session, and my hopes were that would keep us in the top five. I know some people could come up and knock you down. But we ended up seventh.
"So when I saw that, I thought, 'Man, these cats are not playin' around. This is the Countdown. All these teams want it and they're not scared to turn the screws up. All these teams are doing phenomenal jobs. And the track is in that type of condition. Maple Grove, on a cool day like it is, the track surface is really, really good. The concrete is really smooth. They've prepped the track right. And everybody is throwin' down, and it’s holding."
Despite his over-the-top performance Sunday, Browns said he didn't think he can derail rival and Don Schumacher Racing teammate Massey this weekend. Massey fell in the first round to Khalid al Balooshi in the first round.
"I don't think I can deliver a knockout punch here if we win the race," Brown said, "because we can go to the next race and we might not even qualify."
Don't laugh. Something similar happened last season to Massey. Here at Reading last October, he beat Del Worsham in the final round, despite Worsham setting the national E.T. record on that run. Then at the following race, at Phoenix, Massey had a title-killing DNQ.
If Brown should for some reason fail to make the field at Las Vegas, he said, "Spencer has a car and their tem is capable of going out there and wining the race." Moreover, he said, everybody counted Massey out after his team's Phoenix disaster, "and they came to the last race of the year two or four points out of first place because they came right back the first race after that [at Las Vegas] and won it. That's bow strong that FRAM car is. Ain't going to be no knockout blows here."
Meanwhile, Massey said his loss to al Balooshi was "a tough one to take. We ran great, but we just got beat. It just shows how tough it is out here. Not very often do you post a 3.77 and not get a win light.
"We've seen extreme conditions all weekend long," Massey said. "It's been cool, overcast, and fast. We just needed to be a little bit faster today."
Still, he said he admired his team. "These guys on my team haven't had an easy weekend. We had some problems in qualifying and hurt some parts, but our guys never stopped working. They've been grinding for six weeks now, and I couldn't be more proud of them," he said. "We'll just take these next two weeks off and relax and get recharged to make a strong run for it in these last two races. We may be down, but we aren't out of it yet."
Third-place driver Tony Schumacher, who drives DSR's U.S. Army Dragster, lost in the second round to Brandon Bernstein for the second straight weekend.
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