ANTRON BELIEVES COUNTDOWN NEEDS MAJOR REWORKING IF IT’S TO REMAIN
Let the record reflect, multi-time Top Fuel champion Antron Brown would not openly defy the rules of drag racing. He will play by them.
This doesn't mean he has to like them.
And, when it comes to the current configuration of the NHRA's Countdown to the Championship, he's anything but a fan.
"I feel like our sport was truly better the old natural way where it was all year long, but that's my opinion," Brown said. "I feel the Countdown takes away from your year’s long worth of work. It takes away the year-long achievement of what you see people doing and it kind of stops the 11th place guy from fighting the fight because he can’t make it into the top 10."
"That was his year-long goal, trying to make it into the top 10 and they just took that away from him. You can make it into the Countdown and this year’s not even over with yet, so you have no idea when it’s going to play out."
Brown means no disrespect to those who shoe might fight the comparison, but a championship can go to a person who has been mediocre all season long and get hot in the six races which count the most.
"Robert Hight won the championship form the tenth spot right once, but if it was the old natural way he would never have been close to winning the championship that year," Brown said. "What it did is took away from all the teams all their work. That’s my own personal opinion.
Brown believes if the Countdown is intended to be the playoffs, then NHRA should treat it as real playoffs where only those cars race one another.
"The top eight, not 10, top eight," Brown said. "This my reasoning, normally your number 10 spot might have won 8 round or 10 rounds or 6 rounds of racing and they can make the Countdown, but they have to go to every race. Well in any other sport that you play a true playoff you have to have better than a 500-record to almost make the playoff."
In the interest of fair reporting, in 2009, Hight made it into the Countdown with 12 round wins.
Looking at the 2017 numbers, Shawn Langdon had 10 round wins despite missing four races. The favored lock for the tenth and final spot in Top Fuel this season was Troy Coughlin Jr., who had only four round wins leading into Indianapolis. In Funny Car, Cruz Pedregon had five round wins. The eighth-place finisher in Top Fuel, Terry McMillen had 10, while JR Todd had 14.
"I think the top eight is where that cut line is in our sport," Brown said. "When we look at number eight, number seven or number six, they’re always bunched in there together and some of those cars won some races, they at least won one race. Then what happens is when you have those top eight cars those are your playoff cars in each professional category. They’re going to race for the championship where there’s only three rounds of racing, not four, three.
"And they still have to qualify [to seed the ladder], but they’ll all make the show because that’s the bonus of when you make the playoffs that you’re going to play in all the games. To give you a scenario, New England Patriots don’t have to play the Cleveland Browns because they haven’t made the playoffs. How does a non-playoff car get to race a playoff car but you’re racing a playoff?"
So where does it leave those who didn't make the playoffs? Given his druthers, Brown would love to see those cars have their own eight-car qualified field which enables them to still participate, but not get in the way of those fighting it out for a championship.
"Separate fields, then everybody will still get to race at every race, but they’re racing for something, and we’re racing for something else then you give the people more racing action that they've become used to getting," Brown explained.
The non-Countdown cars, Brown adds, can get a morale boost, because then some cars, who wouldn't have as good of a chance at winning an event, have the odds increased in their favor.
Brown believes this scenario would cut down on the need for novelty excitement enhancers such as increased point totals to keep point battles relevant.
"Let’s say I mess up qualifying on Friday night in one of the Countdown races and I can’t advance my position, I might be stuck in number eight spot out of the top eight Countdown cars, and I will end up racing the number one car first round," Brown said. "I could have a good chance of taking him out. I’ve won plenty of races from the number eight or number seven spot. I won the first round and ended up taking the number one or number two car out the second round.
"What that does is, which is cool, is that even if you lost first round, you’re not necessarily out of the race for the championship because all that person can do is make up 60 points on you in one race. And that same person the next race, they could lose the next round, first round of the next race. Then you could even win because I guarantee you all those top eight cars, almost every single one of them has won a race this year."
Brown is correct in a sense. Two of the top eight cars, Kalitta and McMillen, got their first wins during the Countdown. Over in Funny Car, only Courtney Force hasn't won a race but has been to the finals five times this season.
Brown believes his plan would make a championship title harder to win.
"You would really have to take out some serious hitters to actually win this way," Brown said.
But in today's format? Not so much.
"I don’t think it’s fair that you could have somebody that only comes to three races a year and they can show up at a race and race a Countdown car and take them out for a championship," Brown explained. "No other playoff sport is like that."
Out of the twelve races Brown has run since Charlotte's Countdown kick-off, he's only raced, one non-playoff team. In contrast, Top Fuel point leader Steve Torrence has faced seven, losing to one.
Brown said he's mentioned his idea to Graham Light, NHRA VP of Operations, who seemed interested.
Brown believes a team who fights all season to ear their berth should reap the lion's share of all the loot including television time and media coverage.
"Because that’s earned in 18 races," Brown said adamantly. "That is an earned privilege to make the countdown, that’s what you raced all those 18 races for because if not, why do we even race those other 18 races? That’s the question."
And Brown believes many fans are asking the same thing.