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Antron Brown piloted his Matco Tools Top Fuel dragster to victory on Sunday, Sept. 18, at the ninth annual NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C.
John Force (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Chip Ellis (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also were winners at the 19th event of 24 on the 2016 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule. The NHRA Carolina Nationals is the first race of the six race Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
Antron Brown started the Countdown to the Championship just like he did in 2015 - with a win at zMAX Dragway near Charlotte.
The Matco Tools team kicked off the six-race sprint to the Top Fuel world championship by defeating Clay Millican, Brittany Force, Pat Dakin and Doug Kalitta en route to their fifth win in nine final round appearances through 19 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series events.
After qualifying seventh and fighting mechanical issues in the first three qualifying sessions, the team led by crew chiefs Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald rallied to be the quickest in Saturday's last session and marched through tough opposition during Sunday's championship eliminations in hot and muggy conditions.
"I'm dreaming right now, somebody needs to come pinch me," Brown said. "The thing about it is, when you come here this is the way you want to start the Countdown off. Brian, Mark and this whole Matco Tools/U.S. Army/Toyota team we just keeps digging. That was the key.
"We were low of the final qualifying session and that gave us some confidence coming into today. The track got to be the hottest that we've had all year long and we knew it was going to be tricky. We navigated down it, did what we had to do. We had some really monster match-ups.
"This Countdown (to the Championship) puts a lot of pressure on a lot of teams and so many teams stepped up to the plate this weekend and performed at a high, high level.”
Starting with the first pass, Doug Kalitta, crew chief Jim Oberhofer and the Mac Tools team were on it. They scored six bonus points and earned their fourth no.1 qualifying effort of the season with their Friday night 3.721 effort. That gave Kalitta his first career zMax Dragway pole.
And the consistency continued on race day. The first opponent was Ike Maier and the Mac Tools team took him seriously, running a 3.768-second lap to give them lane choice over Countdown for the Championship contender Leah Pritchett.
In the second round, Kalitta was able to get the jump on Pritchett on the line and never looked back running another great 3.817-second pass in the heat of the day. That advanced Kalitta to the semifinals where the draw would be a new face, Wayne Newby, who advanced to his first semifinal of his NHRA career. Kalitta was again solid on the tree, but the Mac Tools dragster started dropping cylinders almost immediately. Doug held on, and his 3.879 was enough to get the Mac Tools team to their fifth final of the season. The opponent: Antron Brown, the man who sits directly ahead of Kalitta in the point standings.
Doug was ready for the final and was away first on the starting line, but Brown was able to drive around Kalitta for the win.