Antron Brown was so dominant in the 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship, he clinched the Top Fuel world championship at the penultimate event of the year in Las Vegas.
Now, the two-time world champion is trying to top himself with another incredible playoff run in 2016. Brown has three wins in the first four playoff events in his 10,000-horsepower Matco Tools/U.S. Army dragster and again has his sights set on clinching at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway during this weekend's 16th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals.
He holds a 150-point lead over Doug Kalitta, and another strong showing in Vegas would mean a third career world title for the 61-time event winner.
"The thing about it, our heads are really focused on the end, and the end is not until they say this is the 2016 world championship winner," Brown said. "We're in a great situation right now, but we don't feel comfortable yet and our work is not done yet. We're not going in defensive mode, and we're just going to try to keep doing the same things we've done to get to this point."
Kalitta (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year's winners of the event that will for the first time be aired on FOX Sports 1 this October. On Sunday, FS1 will televise three hours of live finals coverage starting at 4 p.m. (ET).
It is the fifth of sixth races in the Countdown to the Championship, and Brown is on track for another impressive finish to his season.
A year after going 19-3 in the NHRA's six-race playoffs, winning the first three events of the Countdown, Brown and his team, led by crew chiefs Mark Oswald and Brian Corradi, have been just as remarkable in 2016. Brown has posted three wins and a 12-1 record, but the turning point came after a first-round loss - only his second of the year - in St. Louis.
The team rebounded with wins at Maple Grove and Dallas, showing progress and championship resolve in the process.
"St. Louis was definitely a wake-up call," Brown said. "We had a lot of mishaps in qualifying, and we knew we had to go back to work and qualify better. We couldn't afford to do that again.
"We stayed after and made some quality laps, and we figured it out. We did that because we prepared ourselves. We feed off each other. Everybody puts in the work, and that attitude is contagious."
To further exemplify his point, Brown qualified second at Maple Grove and No. 1 in Dallas, putting another championship in sight. But that possibility only drives Brown more, whether it is in the gym, at the shop or in the car. He remains highly motivated despite a big points lead, in part because of what happened in 2012.
Brown held a 136-point lead over Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tony Schumacher heading to Vegas before first-round losses in each of the final two races. It nearly cost Brown the championship, something that is a constant reminder this time of year.
"When you get into the Countdown, the bar gets raised and we're ready for that challenge," Brown said. "Our mindset is always striving to be better and trying to be more efficient, and I'm always doing something because I know my guys are doing the same thing. When we get to the race track, you can look everyone in the eye and know we're all ready. You can feel that emotion in our trailer, and that's the coolest part.
"It would be great to close this out in Vegas, and that's our hope. We want to win it, and we want to win it as quick as possible. But you can't take any of this for granted, and that's why we all work so hard to get to this point."
Force's John Force Racing teammate Hight won in Funny Car last year, but Ron Capps currently holds a 64-point advantage over Tommy Johnson Jr. Capps also must hold off the likes of Jack Beckman, reigning world champ Del Worsham and Matt Hagan.
Enders clinched her second straight Pro Stock championship a year ago with a Vegas win, but this season has belonged to teammates Jason Line and Greg Anderson. Points leader Line has eight wins in 2016, and Anderson, who is 26 points back, has seven.
Hines' Vegas victory in Pro Stock Motorcycle in 2015 helped clinched a second straight title, but he trails teammate and points leader Eddie Krawiec by 17 points.
The NHRA Toyota Nationals also features competition in the NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series and the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series. As always, fans 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.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying features two rounds at 11:45 a.m. and 3:45 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 28, and two final rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Oct. 29, at 11:45 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 30.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 800-644-4444 or 702-644-4444. Tickets are also available online at www.lvms.com.
Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. For more info, visit www.NHRA.com.
NHRA TOYOTA NATIONALS
WHAT?: 16th 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 2016 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. 27-30
SCHEDULE: THURSDAY, Oct. 27 - LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
FRIDAY, Oct. 28 - LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
NHRA J&A SERVICE PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 11:45 a.m. and 3:45 p.m.
SATURDAY, Oct. 29 - LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations
NHRA J&A SERVICE PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 1:30 p.m. Round 1 of eliminations at 5:30 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 11:45 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.
SUNDAY, Nov. 1 - Pre-race ceremonies, 10:15 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.
TELEVISION: Friday, Oct. 28, FOX Sports 1 (FS1) will televise one hour of live qualifying coverage at 6 p.m. (ET).
Sunday, Oct. 30, FS1 will air one hour of qualifying coverage at 10 a.m. (ET).
Sunday, Oct. 30, FS1 will televise three hours of live finals coverage starting at 4 p.m. (ET).
2015 EVENT WINNERS: Doug Kalitta, Top Fuel; Robert Hight, Funny Car; Erica Enders, Pro Stock; Andrew Hines, Pro Stock Motorcycle.
MOST VICTORIES: Andrew Hines, PSM, 5; Greg Anderson, PS, 4; Ron Capps, FC, 4; Tony Schumacher, TF, 4; John Force, FC, 3.
TRACK RECORDS: Top Fuel - 3.722 sec. by Antron Brown, Oct. '15 and 332.67 mph by Shawn Langdon, Oct. '15.
Funny Car - 3.931 sec. by Tommy Johnson Jr., Oct. '15 and 325.92 mph by Del Worsham, Oct. '15.
Pro Stock - 6.559 sec. and 210.28 mph by Erica Enders, Oct. '15.
Pro Stock Motorcycle - 6.852 sec. by Jerry Savoie, Oct. '15; 196.56 mph by Eddie Krawiec, Oct. '11
NATIONAL RECORDS: Top Fuel - 3.671 sec. by Steve Torrence, July '16, Sonoma, Calif.; 332.75 mph by Spencer Massey, Aug. '15, Brainerd, Minn.
Funny Car - 3.822 by Matt Hagan, Aug. '16, Brainerd, Minn.; 335.57 mph by Hagan, May '16, Topeka, Kan.
Pro Stock - 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March '15, Charlotte, N.C.; 215.55 mph by Erica Enders, 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 (800) 644-4444, or visit www.LVMS.com.
Pro Stock Motorcycle