The difference between victory and defeat in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series Top Fuel division can be gut-wrenching, at times. Despite posting five runs under 3.8 seconds over his six passes, U.S. Army Top Fuel driver Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher couldn’t advance past the second round of eliminations Sunday at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Ill.
Schumacher, who entered the third event in the six-race Countdown to the Championship in third place behind his Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) teammates in the championship standings, defeated Clay Millican in today’s opening round but was clipped by Brandon Bernstein in the second round by the slimmest of margins. The two posted identical times of 3.795 seconds, but Bernstein’s .041 of a second reaction time bested Schumacher’s .055. Brown and Massey, meanwhile, both reached the Top Fuel final, putting Schumacher and the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster team in position to follow the lead of the U.S Army Soldiers they represent, who possess mental, emotional and physical strength like no other, if they are going to close the season as 2012 Top Fuel champions.
“I always say God has a plan, and maybe his plan for this year is for it to come down to one run for the championship,” said Schumacher, who trails the front-running Brown by 83 points and second-place Massey by 62 with three races remaining. “We’ve been there before. We’re good. We’ve got more than 1 million Army Strong Soldiers behind us and there is no other team I would want to go with into these final three races.”
Brown continued his own run to the championship by following up last weekend’s victory in the AAA Insurance of Texas Fall Nationals at the Texas Motorplex in Ennis with his second consecutive victory over Massey in the final. Brown posted a run of 3.766 seconds at 325.22 mph to score his series-leading sixth win of the season.
“We had a grand slam weekend here in St. Louis,” said Brown, who defeated Bruce Litton, Steve Torrence and Bernstein en route to his 10th final of the season.”We’re blessed to have this great team and it starts with Don Schumacher. He orchestrated this entire organization and, when you see all four DSR cars in the finals of Funny Car and Top Fuel, that’s an awesome statement. Every one of the guys on this Aaron’s/Matco Tools/U.S. Army team is just incredible. Nobody got down after our little problem in Charlotte. We just kept our heads down and kept on digging.”
After reaching the final in Charlotte two weeks ago and the second round in Dallas last week, Schumacher came to the outskirts of St. Louis looking to earn his third victory of 2012 and his third career win at Gateway. Even though he was disappointed with the early exit, the seven-time Top Fuel champion turned his focus to next week’s Auto Plus Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa.
“There are 12 rounds left for us in the season and we have to win everything we can,” said Schumacher, who has four career wins at Maple Grove. “It’s going to be a huge challenge because, every time we race, we seem to bring out the best in our competition. We brought it onto ourselves by winning that many championships and races. Our only hope is that my (DSR) teammates (Brown and Massey) don’t get too far ahead of us.”
With three races remaining in the Countdown to the Championship, which culminates at the season-ending Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals Nov. 8-11 at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif., the top-10 drivers competing for the title rank as follows:
1. 1. Antron Brown (2,378 points)
2. Spencer Massey (2,357 points, -21)
3. Tony Schumacher (2,295 points, -83)
4. Shawn Langdon (2,274 points, -104)
5. Brandon Bernstein (2,238 points, -140)
6. Morgan Lucas (2,205 points, -173)
7. Steve Torrence (2,180 points, -198)
8. Doug Kalitta (2,168 points, -210)
9. David Grubnic (2,152 points, -226)
10. Bob Vandergriff (2,117 points, -261)
The next event on the NHRA schedule – the fourth race of the six-race Countdown – is next weekend’s (Oct. 5-7) Auto-Plus NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa. Four qualifying sessions – two Friday and two Saturday – will set the field for Sunday’s eliminations, which begin at 11 a.m. EDT. ESPN2 will provide tape-delayed coverage beginning at 7 p.m.
- TSC –
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