Near-perfect conditions provided for an exciting day of final qualifying in the 28th annual Auto-Plus NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway in Mohnton, Pa. U.S. Army NHRA Racing Top Fuel drivers Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and Antron Brown positioned themselves in Sunday’s elimination rounds with strong passes down the lightning-fast dragstrip.
Schumacher posted a near-record run of 3.736 seconds at 324.20 mph in Saturday’s first session, while Brown moved from 11th to seventh with his pass of 3.758 seconds at 325.14 mph in Saturday’s final session.
“We knew the opportunity was there today to go for a national record,” said Schumacher, who earned the third spot in Sunday’s 16-car Top Fuel field. “As a team, these are the kind of positions you want to be in. (Crew chief) Mike (Green) and all the U.S. Army guys worked together to give me a car that reflected the Army’s leading-edge technology. To put a 3.736 on the board in the first run gave us the opportunity to go after the record in the second run. Unfortunately, we didn’t get down the track, but we still have more opportunities to chase the record this weekend. Our mission in these qualifying rounds was to gain some points on the leaders and put ourselves in a good position Sunday.”
Schumacher entered the weekend trailing his Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) teammates Brown and Spencer Massey in the championship standings with only 12 rounds of racing remaining in NHRA’s Full Throttle Drag Racing Series six-race Countdown to the Championship. He trails Brown by 76 points and Massey by 52 markers entering Sunday’s eliminations. “The Sarge” will need to continue following the lead of the U.S. Army Soldiers, who possess mental, emotional and physical strength like no other, if he is going to complete the ultimate mission by winning his eighth Top Fuel title.
“We said it yesterday, that we were really disappointed about letting down the more than 1 million Soldiers we represent the past two races,” said Schumacher, who lost in the second round of eliminations in Dallas and St. Louis the last two weekends. “Winning is our only option and, hopefully, Antron (Brown) and Spencer (Massey) have some trouble. They are my teammates, but we can’t have them continuing to go rounds each race if we want to win this championship.”
Brown, winner of the last two events, climbed the ladder with each run during qualifying. The current Top Fuel points leader will look to make it three straight wins Sunday.
“We did what we needed to do today on a track that just keeps getting better and better,” said Brown, who is driving a special pink Matco “Tools for the Cause”/ U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster this weekend. “(Co-crew chiefs) Brian (Corradi) and Mark (Oswald) both said the track was so good, it started eating us up a little bit in our second run. The car actually wore the clutch out in that run, but it was really good to put up that 3.758. That got us into the top of the field and that will give us lane choice in that first-round matchup.”
David Grubnic earned top qualifier honors by posting a run of 3.728 seconds at 327.11 mph. The run is the quickest elapsed time in Top Fuel history.
Brown will face Steve Torrence in the opening round Sunday. Last weekend, Brown defeated Torrence in the second round en route to his victory in St. Louis and improved his 2012 record against Torrence to 5-0.
Schumacher is matched up with Terry McMillen in the bottom half of the ladder. The seven-time champion has won all four races against McMillen this season, including an opening-round victory at Brainerd (Minn.) International Raceway.
The Top Fuel elimination rounds are set to begin at 11 a.m. EDT Sunday. ESPN2 will provide three hours of tape-delayed coverage of the Auto-Plus NHRA Nationals beginning at 7 p.m. (EDT)
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