There were moments during this weekend’s 63rd annual NHRA U.S. Nationals when it seemed as though U.S. Army Racing’s Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher’s Indy legacy was going to reach another level. Unfortunately, the storybook ending that the 10-time U.S. Nationals champion was hoping to have play out came to an abrupt end when something all too familiar transpired.
Schumacher lost to the 16th qualifier Kebin Kinsley in Monday’s semifinal. A result that reminded the eight-time NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Top Fuel world champion of his debut in Top Fuel at the 1996 U.S. Nationals.
“We just got beat,” said Schumacher, following his 16th semifinal appearance in the U.S. Nationals. “I don’t want to take anything away from Kebin and his team. They are all good people over there with that team. I have been in those shoes. My first NHRA race in Top Fuel was the 1996 U.S. Nationals and I did the same thing. I made the final as the 16 seed. There is something special about this place for sure.”
His U.S. Army teammate Antron Brown was hoping to harness the Indy magic himself and close the NHRA regular season on a roll, but he lost to Monday’s eventual U.S. Nationals winner Steve Torrence by 0.0108 seconds (approximately 5 feet) in a thrilling second-round battle.
Following his narrow defeat in Saturday night’s final of the $100,000 Traxxas Nitro Shootout, Schumacher was on a mission to claim his 11th U.S. Nationals triumph Monday. His nine-man U.S. Army team led by Mike Green put in overtime Sunday night after a broken camshaft in Sunday’s final qualifying session caused catastrophic damage to the powerplant of the U.S. Army Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR). They bounced back Monday as Schumacher predicted they would with solid victories over Terry McMillen and Doug Kalitta to reach the semifinals. With a spot in the Monday’s final on the line, Schumacher met Kinsley for the third time in his career. Kinsley narrowly had the advantage at the start, but Schumacher surged ahead. Kinsley retook the lead at the 330-foot light and held off Schumacher’s late run at victory and won by 0.0304 seconds (approximately 14 feet) to earn his first career victory over “The Sarge” which also resulted in his first Top Fuel final appearance.
“We had a really good U.S. Army car today, and that was just a rough way to end our Indy,” said Schumacher. “I sometimes dislike racing against cars that on paper you should beat. You line up against the Kalitta team or any of our DSR teams and we rarely have any issues. When you have to rise the occasion, it just seems like we do better. It’s crazy to think that we get beat more often by teams that we probably shouldn’t. I’m not making any excuses. We came up short of our goal this weekend. We made a run at the Traxxas Shootout Saturday and then had to deal with a part failure that exploded an engine in yesterday’s final session. The U.S. Army guys worked extremely hard last night to rebuild this U.S. Army machine and it was really good today. Indy is always special to us and we wanted to leave with the trophy, but they only give one of those out here so we have to wait until next year. We’ll take a breath now and then it’s off to Charlotte and the start of the Countdown.”
Brown led the Top Fuel contingent to Indy as the leader in the championship standings and the three-time NHRA Top Fuel world champion looked the part in his first-round race with Scott Palmer. Brown put a .050-second light up and never looked back as his Matco Tools/Mello Yello/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR stopped the clock at 3.726 seconds at 324.44 mph. The victory advanced Brown to the second round where he would face Torrence, a driver he had defeated 23 of 27 times prior to Monday.
The U.S. Nationals was the 18th race of the 2017 campaign and closed out the regular season. Brown and Schumacher rank second and fourth, respectively, in the lineup of 10 drivers competing in the Countdown to the Championship that begins in Charlotte in two weeks.
The points for the 10 drivers qualified for the six-race Countdown to the Championship in Top Fuel are as follows:
1. Steve Torrence (2,100 points)
2. Antron Brown (2,080 points, -20)
3. Leah Pritchett (2,070 points, -30)
4. Tony Schumacher (2,060 points, -40)
5. Doug Kalitta (2,050 points, -50)
6. Brittany Force (2,040 points, -60)
7. Clay Millican (2,030 points, -70)
8. Terry McMillen (2,020 points, -80)
9. Scott Palmer (2,010 points, -90)
1. Steve Torrence (1,667 points)
2. Antron Brown (1,599 points, -68)
3. Leah Pritchett (1,563 points, -104)
4. Tony Schumacher (1,220 points, -447)
5. Doug Kalitta (1,126 points, -541)
6. Brittany Force (1,105 points, -562)
7. Clay Millican (1,080 points, -587)
8. Terry McMillen (770 points, -897)
9. Scott Palmer (698 points, -969)
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