Antron Brown insisted he did not need to change much in regards to his approach heading into the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship.
Competing in the rigorous Top Fuel class all season was all he needed, and the payoff has been evident through the first four races of the NHRA's six-race playoff.
Brown won the first three events of the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship and holds a 132-point lead over reigning world champion Tony Schumacher heading into this weekend's 15th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Oct. 29-Nov. 1. A second Top Fuel world championship in his 10,000-horsepower Matco Tools dragster is now within sight, and Brown credits being ready for the big moments the Countdown presents as a major reason for his success.
"I think the way we really got prepared is looking at this year as a whole and (seeing) how many people have won and how competitive the class is," said Brown, who has a Top Fuel-best seven wins in 2015. "It's ridiculous how crazy tough this class is, and I think that's what prepared us for the Countdown. We lost close races this year and it's rough out there.
"That really got us motivated, geared up and pumped up for the Countdown. When we came into the Countdown, we came in prepared. We knew we had to give our A-plus game, and we knew we couldn't slip up."
Spencer Massey (Top Fuel), Del Worsham (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year's winners of the event that will once again be televised on ESPN2. The 15th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals marks the fifth of six playoff races in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, and the race will play a crucial part in the championship hunt.
With another strong performance in the Countdown, Brown could wrap up his second world championship in Las Vegas. The likes of Schumacher, Richie Crampton, who won in Dallas and has five victories in 2015, and other Top Fuel stars will try to keep that from happening, but Brown will be focused on finishing another banner season in memorable fashion.
His 2015 campaign has been full of noteworthy accomplishments, including picking up his 50th career win and setting the Top Fuel E.T. world record of 3.680 in Brainerd. Now at 54 career wins, Brown and his team, led by crew chiefs Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald, went to another level in the Countdown, posting 11 straight round wins before a semifinal loss in Dallas. It included three victories to take a commanding points lead, and Brown has thrived in key moments.
"We've been in the right spot at the right time, and we've been doing the right things in those moments so far," Brown said. "I think we, as a team, live for these moments. We live for these moments. You can't slack up on somebody; if you do, they take you out.
"It's been that same mindset all the way through the Countdown. We have the mindset of what we have to gain. We have nothing to lose, because it's starting all over. All we have is what we can gain right now. We already prepared this whole year for this moment. We're contending for a championship and we're right where we want to be, so what do we have to lose?"
That mindset has served Brown and his team well through the first four races of the Countdown, but he knows the biggest moments in 2015 may be yet to come. Schumacher has put together incredible late-season performances his entire career, and Brown knows he will be getting everyone's best shot in Las Vegas and at the season finale in Pomona. But he also isn't changing a mindset that has worked extremely well thus far.
"Our mindset in Vegas is to just keep on doing what we've been doing and go out there, try to qualify in the highest position we can," Brown said. "We want to be as efficient as possible on race day, and that starts with round one. We're not trying to get ahead of ourselves. We're just going to go out and race to the best of our ability."
That means competing against a loaded field that also includes Brittany Force, three-time world champion Larry Dixon, Doug Kalitta, J.R. Todd, Steve Torrence, Shawn Langdon and Dave Connolly. With everything that is on the line at the NHRA Toyota Nationals, an electric atmosphere is expected at the race. That is music to Brown's ears, and he is eager to embrace the challenge that awaits.
"I always enjoy going to Vegas," Brown said. "This is one of those races that will make or break you. We have to step up, and that brings the excitement up. This is one of those races that you have to bring it. My guys are definitely doing their job and homework. Our deal is that we remind each other of that each and every race."
In the search for his first Funny Car world championship, Del Worsham picked up his third Countdown win at the most recent event in Dallas, pushing his lead to 38 points over Jack Beckman. Other Funny Car stalwarts include Tommy Johnson Jr., who sits in third and 147 points out of first, reigning world champion Matt Hagan, Ron Capps, a Funny Car-best five-time Vegas winner, 16-time world champion John Force, teammate Alexis DeJoria, Cruz Pedregon, Robert Hight and Tim Wilkerson.
Erica Enders will look to get a step closer to a second straight world title in Las Vegas in Pro Stock, thanks in part to winning her second race of the Countdown in Dallas. She will have to deal with the likes of four-time world champion and seven-time Vegas winner Greg Anderson, who sits 154 points back in second.
Enders will look to clinch a world title in Vegas, but also must contend with Chris McGaha, Allen Johnson, rookie Drew Skillman, who picked up his first career Pro Stock win in St. Louis, Larry Morgan, Vincent Nobile, Jason Line, Shane Gray and Jonathan Gray.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, reigning world champion and points leader Andrew Hines, who has a class-best four wins in Vegas, lost in the first round in Dallas and watched his points lead fall to just 21 points over teammate Eddie Krawiec. Jerry Savoie, who won in Dallas, pulled to within 31 points, while St. Louis winner Hector Arana Jr. is 81 points behind Hines. Others to watch include Matt Smith, Hector Arana, two-time season winner Karen Stoffer, Jim Underdahl, Chip Ellis and Scotty Pollacheck.
Drivers in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and the NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Series also will race hard in their quest to become winners of the thrilling event during the weekend.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they're granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly skilled mechanics who service their hot rods between rounds and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying begins Friday, Oct. 30, with sessions at 12:15 and 3:45 p.m. Pacific Time. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, Oct. 31, at 12:15 a.m. and 3:45 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 1.
NHRA TOYOTA NATIONALS FACT SHEET
WHAT: 15th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals, the 23rd of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and the fifth of six playoff races in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship. Drivers in four categories - Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle - earn points leading to 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships.
WHERE: The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas. Track is located approximately 15 miles north of Las Vegas off I-15.
COURSE: Championship drag strip; Track elevation is 2,100 feet above sea level; Track direction is south to north.
WHEN: Thursday through Sunday, Oct. 29 - Nov. 1
THURSDAY, Oct. 29 - LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
FRIDAY, Oct. 30 - LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
NHRA J&A SERVICE PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 11:45 a.m. and 3:15 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 12:15 and 3:45 p.m.
SATURDAY, Oct. 31 - LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations
NHRA J&A SERVICE PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 11:45 a.m. Round 1 of eliminations at 3:15 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 12:15 and 3:45 p.m.
SUNDAY, Nov. 1 - Pre-race ceremonies, 10:15 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.
Sunday, Nov. 1, ESPN2 will televise 90 minutes of qualifying coverage at 2:30 a.m. (ET).
Sunday, Nov. 1, ESPN2 will re-air 90 minutes of qualifying coverage at 3 p.m. (ET).
Sunday, Nov. 1, ESPN2 will televise three hours of coverage starting at 8 p.m. (ET).
2014 EVENT WINNERS: Spencer Massey, Top Fuel; Del Worsham, Funny Car; Erica Enders, Pro Stock; Andrew Hines, Pro Stock Motorcycle.
MOST VICTORIES: Greg Anderson, PS, 4; Ron Capps, FC, 4; Andrew Hines, PSM, 4; Tony Schumacher, TF, 4; John Force, FC, 3.
Top Fuel - 3.732 sec. by J.R. Todd, Nov. '14 and 330.88 mph by Spencer Massey, Nov. '14.
Funny Car - 3.983 sec. by Matt Hagan, Nov. '14 and 325.37 mph by Courtney Force, March '14.
Pro Stock - 6.576 sec. and 209.88 mph by Erica Enders, Nov. '14.
Pro Stock Motorcycle - 6.856 sec. by Andrew Hines, Nov. '14; 196.56 mph by Eddie Krawiec, Oct. '11.
Top Fuel - 3.680 sec. by Antron Brown, Aug. '15, Brainerd, Minn.; 332.75 mph by Spencer Massey, Aug. '15, Brainerd, Minn.
Funny Car - 3.897 sec. by Jack Beckman, Oct. '15, Reading, Pa.; 330.47 mph by Matt Hagan, Sept. '15, Madison, Ill.
Pro Stock - 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March '15, Charlotte, N.C.; 215.55 mph by Erica Enders-Stevens, May '14, Englishtown, N.J.
PS Motorcycle - 6.728 sec. by Andrew Hines, Oct. '12, Reading, Pa.; 199.88 mph by Hector Arana Jr., March '15, Charlotte, N.C.
TICKETS: For tickets call The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway at (702) 644-4444, or visit www.LVMS.com.
NHRA MELLO YELLO COUNTDOWN TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS STANDINGS
Points standings (top 10) following the 30th annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex, the 22nd of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series -
Pro Stock Motorcycle