Another Big NHRA Weekend for Charlotte Winners Antron Brown, Ron Capps

Photo credit: NHRA/National Dragster
Photo credit: NHRA/National Dragster
  • Justin Ashley maintains Top Fuel points lead as Brittany Force’s bid takes another punch.

  • Four Top Fuel title contenders fall in first round, three of top five out by Round 2.

  • Hagan yields second place in the points to Capps, while John Force, Bob Tasca gain no ground in Funny Car.

  • With semifinal finish, Pro Stock leader Erica Enders shows she’s beatable, as Aaron Stanfield wins.

Call Top Fuel points leader Justin Ashley a prophet.

Heading into the NHRA’s 15th edition of the Countdown to the Championship, in the wake of Antron Brown’s U.S. Nationals triumph that capped the 16-race regular season, Ashley said, “If somebody out there thought that Antron Brown’s struggles were going to continue for a long time, I would have called them crazy. It was only a matter of time before this guy came around.

"And look, we all knew that, right? And we knew that going into the Countdown he was probably going to get hot at the right time and he was going to be a threat.”

Brown became the chief threat to points leader Ashley, his quasi-teammate and Toyota inner-circle colleague, Sunday at the Betway Carolina Nationals at Concord, N.C. The Matco Tools/Toyota Dragster owner-driver defeated Ashley in the final round at zMAX Dragway to move into second place, within 43 points of the lead.

Brown changed the Countdown conversation by eliminating Brittany Force in the quarterfinals for the second time in as many Countdown races (including last week at Reading, Pa.).

For the second time in three races, fellow Don Schumacher Racing spinoff team owner Ron Capps (Funny Car) joined him and Pro Stock hot shoe Aaron Stanfield in the winners circle.

Other winners Sunday were Aaron Stanfield (Pro Stock), “Stevie Fast” Jackson (Pro Modified), and J.R. Carr (Mountain Motor Pro Stock), as well as Super Stock’s Dan Fletcher, who earned his 106th career victory in the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series.

Brown Mounts Major Comeback

Dragging nine first-round defeats and a failure to qualify in March at the prestigious Gatornationals like unwanted baggage throughout much of the regular season, Brown has plodded methodically from as far back as 13th place to second, thanks to this third victory in five races.

Photo credit: NHRA/National Dragster
Photo credit: NHRA/National Dragster

“It was a long year up until this point,” Brown’s emotional co-crew chief, Brian Corradi, said following the .0195-of-a-second margin of victory.

Now, for Brown, it’s a season of promise as he pursues his fourth Top Fuel series crown.

“Every first round is (like) a final round,” Brown said, citing “incredible competition.” However, he said, “We never lost faith. We have only 16 more rounds left. And we have to fight for every round win. It’s a coin toss.”

Force, who set another track speed record this weekend but lost her lead at Reading last week and slipped yet another place in the standings to third, said, “Being eliminated in the second round is heartbreaking for this entire Flav-R-Pac / Monster Energy team. We’ve done so well all season long, and now we’re struggling when it really matters. We’ll figure this s--- out before we get to the next one.”

Round 2 also bit No. 3-seeded Mike Salinas, No. 5 Steve Torrence, and No. 7 Josh Hart. Salinas lost to Doug Kalitta, and Hart to Clay Millican. Torrence dropped his race against Ashley, making his chances for a fifth consecutive championship look a little bleaker.

But Torrence said, “When I said we were going to hurt some feelings in the Countdown, I didn’t mean our own. We’ve dug ourselves a nice hole, but we can still dig out of it. We didn’t get down the track when the conditions were best on Friday night. That put us behind, and we never really caught up. We’ll just have to double down at St. Louis and Dallas and see what happens. When you have the Capco Boys behind you, you always have a chance. We had a good opportunity to make up some ground [Sunday], but we just didn’t take advantage. But credit my Toyota teammates, Justin and Antron. They’re in the driver’s seat right now, and the rest of us are just playing catch up.”

DeJoria Steps Up, But no Match for Capps

Photo credit: NHRA/National Dragster
Photo credit: NHRA/National Dragster

Alexis DeJoria knocked out top-ranked Robert Hight in the quarterfinals Sunday, barged her way into her career 12th final round, and improved three places in the standings to sixth. But she didn’t have enough to beat Ron Capps in the final. And he barely had enough to beat her.

Each lost power and coasted across the finish line, Capps just a little more than 20 feet ahead of her in what Capps co-crew chief Dean Antonelli called “a race of attrition.” Antonelli said, “We got away with one.”

It was his 71st Funny Car victory in the 137th final round of his career. With that, he traded places with Matt Hagan to move up to No. 2 in the standings and cut Hight’s advantage from 84 points to 27.

Photo credit: NHRA/National Dragster
Photo credit: NHRA/National Dragster

Hight said, “We had a spark plug out, and it dropped a cylinder. If the driver would have had a .069 light like I had first round, we would be moving on.”

Capps rebounded from what he called “a kablooey” with his engine Saturday night and said he was pleased to be “picking up Countdown points and putting them in the bank.”

As for DeJoria, Capps said, “She’s bad-ass. We could be at an Iron Maiden concert in the mosh pit or hanging out or on the starting line. She’s still one of my favorite people.”

John Force and Bob Tasca III, who finished fourth and fifth, respectively, kept their places, but both lost to Capps. No. 1 qualifier Force lasted until the semifinals, his 119th race-day meeting with the reigning champion.

“Well, I guess my luck ran out. No, really, though, not a bad day. We needed to go some rounds, keep ourselves in the conversation, and we did just that,” Force said. “We stayed No. 4, and with four races left, we still have a shot at it. It’s going to be a lot of work, for the guys and for myself.”

As for losing ground Sunday, Hagan said, “It stinks because I know we’re running good. It always comes down to the last race in the Countdown. We need to just keep digging hard and being aggressive going down the racetrack. We can always look back and say we should’ve done something differently, but you go up there thinking you’re doing the right things. And it just wasn’t quite enough today.”

Tasca was the second-round casualty to Capps, and he said, “It’s hard to even understand. Sometimes this sport will tear your heart out. We weren’t even close to smoking the tires every single run this weekend. And then we go and blow the tires off. The only silver lining is Robert [Hight] lost – the points leader lost, so we don’t lose much ground to him. Very disappointed. We’re off to St. Louis.”

The series will move to the St. Louis suburb of Madison, Ill., this coming weekend for the Midwest Nationals at World Wide Technology Raceway.

Frontrunners Race with Heavy Hearts

Capps, Brown, and Ashley were racing with a heavy hearts this weekend, mourning the passing of tw special individuals.

Capps learned Friday night that youngster Balin Hewson, a super-fan for the popular Funny Car two-time champion, had passed away. Capps said he was “still trying to process” the news, and after winning Sunday said the little boy “would be doing doughnuts in his wheelchair right now. I’m going to miss talking racing, hearing his excitement and [reading] those text messages every weekend, win or lose” from Hewson.

In the Top Fuel, the passing of Abigail (“Abby”) Bucher-Baldwin, daughter of part-time dragster racer and Cleveland pastor Mike Bucher, hit several racers hard, including Ashley and Brown.

Brown said, “We had an angel in our pit. We saw an eagle circling today, and we always say that’s an angel from above. She had a child less than year ago.”

And Ashley said the Bucher family has been “in our hearts and prayers.”

Results

Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals

at zMax Raceway, Charlotte

Sunday's final results from the 14th annual Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMax Dragway. The race is the 18th of 22 in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series:

Top Fuel -- Antron Brown, 3.672 seconds, 335.73 mph def. Justin Ashley, 3.671 seconds, 333.99 mph.

Funny Car -- Ron Capps, Toyota Supra, 3.967, 267.32 def. Alexis DeJoria, Supra, 3.985, 266.85.

Pro Stock -- Aaron Stanfield, Chevy Camaro, 6.567, 210.21 def. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.569, 209.82.

Top Alcohol Dragster -- Earl Nichols Jr., 5.289, 273.61 def. Jasmine Salinas, 5.291, 275.96.

Top Alcohol Funny Car -- Sean Bellemeur, Chevy Camaro, 8.302, 109.29 def. Shane Westerfield, Camaro, Foul - Red Light.

Competition Eliminator -- Joe Carnasciale, Chevy Cavalier, 8.946, 152.16 def. David Eaton, Roadster, 6.743, 169.08.

Super Stock -- Troy Huntzberry, Chevy Cobalt, 10.040, 131.77 def. Peter D'Agnolo, Chevy Camaro, 9.508, 134.69.

Stock Eliminator -- Dan Fletcher, Chevy Camaro, 11.449, 105.03 def. Mitch Kight, Plymouth Barracuda, Foul - Red Light.

Super Comp -- Robert Houston, Dragster, 9.736, 122.40 def. Dan Foley, Dragster, Foul - Red Light.

Super Gas -- Billy Upton, Chevy Corvette, 9.899, 162.90 def. Ernie Knight, Chevy Nova, 9.895, 138.83.

Top Dragster presented by Vortech Superchargers -- Jeremy Hancock, Dragster, 8.956, 99.02 def. Clint Riley, Dragster, Foul - Red Light.

Top Sportsman presented by Vortech Superchargers -- Jerry Albert, Chevy Camaro, 6.611, 208.52 def. Larry Willard, Chevy Bel Air, 7.328, 182.23.

Pro Modified -- Steve Jackson, Chevy Camaro, 5.715, 254.62 def. Justin Bond, Camaro, 5.745, 249.90.

Mountain Motor Pro Stock -- JR Carr, Chevy Camaro, 6.277, 224.06 def. John DeFlorian Jr, Camaro, 6.291, 223.58.

Round-by-Round Results

TOP FUEL:

ROUND ONE -- Josh Hart, 3.708, 322.19 def. Tony Schumacher, 3.736, 296.76; Brittany Force, 3.670, 335.57 def. Spencer Massey, 3.754, 326.87; Clay Millican, 3.739, 326.48 def. Doug Foley, 3.787, 313.73; Justin Ashley, 3.688, 330.80 def. Alex Laughlin, 3.814, 303.43; Mike Salinas, 3.696, 331.20 def. Leah Pruett, 3.796, 314.39; Doug Kalitta, 3.710, 327.19 def. Shawn Langdon, 3.731, 327.19; Antron Brown, 3.691, 331.20 def. Austin Prock, 3.778, 328.14; Steve Torrence, 3.690, 331.61 def. Billy Torrence, Broke - No Show;

QUARTERFINALS -- Millican, 3.681, 332.59 def. Hart, 7.510, 94.70; Brown, 3.733, 287.23 def. Force, 5.252, 161.48; Ashley, 3.697, 332.43 def. S. Torrence, 3.725, 316.08; Kalitta, 3.696, 327.59 def. Salinas, 3.720, 333.08;

SEMIFINALS -- Ashley, 3.691, 333.91 def. Kalitta, 7.778, 119.78; Brown, 3.687, 325.14 def. Millican, 3.699, 331.20;

FINAL -- Brown, 3.672, 335.73 def. Ashley, 3.671, 333.99.

FUNNY CAR:

ROUND ONE -- Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Supra, 3.878, 334.73 def. J.R. Todd, Supra, 4.192, 239.70; Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.869, 331.53 def. Jim Campbell, Dodge Charger, 5.910, 116.76; John Force, Camaro, 7.621, 80.92 was unopposed; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.929, 315.71 def. John Smith, Charger, 4.369, 217.70; Ron Capps, Supra, 3.889, 326.79 def. Blake Alexander, Ford Mustang, 4.535, 203.25; Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.882, 330.80 def. Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 3.945, 320.05; Chad Green, Mustang, 3.909, 323.43 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, Foul - Centerline;

QUARTERFINALS -- Hagan, 10.423, 77.63 was unopposed; DeJoria, 3.918, 324.59 def. Hight, 3.924, 320.36; Capps, 3.885, 335.07 def. Tasca III, 8.251, 101.66; Force, 3.918, 330.39 def. Green, Broke;

SEMIFINALS -- DeJoria, 3.887, 332.02 def. Hagan, 3.893, 334.07; Capps, 3.899, 328.22 def. Force, 3.915, 331.53;

FINAL -- Capps, 3.967, 267.32 def. DeJoria, 3.985, 266.85.

PRO STOCK:

ROUND ONE -- Cristian Cuadra, Ford Mustang, 6.579, 208.10 def. Camrie Caruso, Chevy Camaro, 15.292, 57.70; Kyle Koretsky, Camaro, 6.563, 209.52 def. Mason McGaha, Camaro, 6.581, 209.14; Aaron Stanfield, Camaro, 6.566, 209.82 def. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.580, 209.01; Dallas Glenn, Camaro, 6.574, 209.04 def. Fernando Cuadra Jr., Mustang, 6.967, 159.91; Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.562, 209.62 def. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.553, 209.23; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.558, 209.04 def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.594, 207.62; Troy Coughlin Jr., Camaro, 6.579, 208.68 def. Fernando Cuadra, Mustang, 6.605, 207.98; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.550, 210.28 def. Larry Morgan, Camaro, 6.635, 208.23;

QUARTERFINALS -- Coughlin Jr., 6.570, 209.17 def. Koretsky, 6.572, 209.88; Hartford, 6.552, 209.65 def. Glenn, 6.562, 208.39; Stanfield, 6.572, 210.05 def. Anderson, 6.562, 209.04; Enders, 6.545, 210.31 def. C. Cuadra, 6.598, 208.07;

SEMIFINALS -- Stanfield, 6.571, 209.46 def. Coughlin Jr., 6.578, 209.17; Hartford, 6.568, 209.01 def. Enders, 9.312, 107.39;

FINAL -- Stanfield, 6.567, 210.21 def. Hartford, 6.569, 209.82.

Updated Points Standings

Point standings (top 10) following the 14th annual Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMax Dragway, the 18th of 22 events in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series -

Top Fuel

1, Justin Ashley, 2,272; 2. Antron Brown, 2,229; 3. Brittany Force, 2,220; 4. Mike Salinas, 2,218; 5. Steve Torrence, 2,167; 6. Doug Kalitta, 2,140; 7. Josh Hart, 2,139; 8. Austin Prock, 2,129; 9. Clay Millican, 2,125; 10. Leah Pruett, 2,094; 11. Shawm Langdon, 2084; 12. Tony Schumacher, 2064.

Funny Car

1. Robert Hight, 2,283; 2. Ron Capps, 2,256; 3. Matt Hagan, 2,223; 4. John Force, 2,209; 5. Bob Tasca III, 2,179; 6. Alexis DeJoria, 2,154; 7. J.R. Todd, 2,133; 8. Tim Wilkerson, 2,121; 9. Cruz Pedregon, 2,105; 10. Jim Campbell, 2,054; 11. Blake Alexander, 2032.

Pro Stock

1. Erica Enders, 2,312; 2. Aaron Stanfield, 2,248; 3. Troy Coughlin Jr., 2,215; 4. Greg Anderson, 2,203; 5. Kyle Koretsky, 2,190; 6. Dallas Glenn, 2,162; 7. Matt Hartford, 2,160; 8. Mason McGaha, 2,093; 9. Camrie Caruso, 2,085; 10. Bo Butner, 2,084; Fernando Jr. 2064; 12. Cristian Cuadra, 2054; 13. Deric Kramer, 2043; 14. Chris McGaha, 2023; 15. Fernando Cuadra, 2012.