Three-time world champion Antron Brown picked up his first playoff win in six years on Sunday at zMAX Dragway, driving to the Top Fuel victory at the 14th annual Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals.
Ron Capps (Funny Car) and Aaron Stanfield (Pro Stock) also picked up wins at the second of six races in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship.
Brown put together a run of 3.672s at 335.73mph in his Matco Tools dragster, slipping past points leader Justin Ashley on a holeshot in a thrilling final round to win his first race in the Countdown to the Championship since 2016. It is Brown’s third victory in the past five races and the 71st in his career, as the first-year team owner also moved to second in the points standings with four races left in 2022. To reach the finals, Brown beat three standout competitors, including Reading winner Austin Prock, Brittany Force and Clay Millican. He followed with a 0.035s reaction time in the final round, which was enough to allow him to beat Ashley’s quicker 3.671s at 333.99mph.
“When you look at the Top Fuel class, the first round is a final round. It’s incredible competition and my hat is off to my team,” Brown said. “They’re just incredible, we’ve never lost faith and this group just kept digging. To own a team and do what we’ve done, we’re blessed. To win the second race in the Countdown, that’s really huge. This is where it really gets good and it gets really tight, and you have to fight for every point. It’s a blessing to make it here. If you win a race today, you’re doing something special, and I’ve got a special group behind me.
“Justin was dropping bombs on people all day long and we knew that was going to be a tough matchup. That was just a fun final. We push each other all the time and I knew we were both going to give it everything on the starting line. Our car stayed lit and I just tried to keep it straight as an arrow.”
Ashley, who was also the No. 1 qualifier, advanced to his second straight final round thanks to wins against Alex Laughlin, four-time defending world champ Steve Torrence and Doug Kalitta. It’s the sixth final round this year for Ashley, who holds a 43-point lead over Brown after two playoff races.
Capps, the defending world champ in Funny Car, also pulled to second in points with his win on Sunday, hanging on against Alexis DeJoria in the championship round with a 3.967s at 267.32mph in his NAPA Auto Parts Toyota GR Supra. That gives Capps his fourth win this season, which is also his first as a team owner, and 72nd in his standout career. Capps’ Sunday included wins against Blake Alexander, Bob Tasca III and then 16-time world champ and No. 1 qualifier John Force to set up the marquee matchup with DeJoria. Capps was quicker on the starting line and then hung on for the victory, which puts him just 27 points behind leader Robert Hight as the Countdown to the Championship nears the halfway mark.
“I can’t say enough about the people around me,” said Capps, who has wins in three of the past four Funny Car races. “There’s nothing better than throwing down in the first round and it was on from there. From the second round on, we were just picking up points and it worked out great. It’s fun to be in our pit area right now. It’s just a good vibe right now and I wanted a place like this. We’re very blessed to do this and this team, they just raise the bar for me.
“It was an emotional day and every round win was huge. I knew in Indy we had a great weekend, but we were humbled [in Reading]. That’s drag racing and I just wanted to get back in the fight [today]. It’s fun to be right back in it.”
DeJoria knocked off J.R. Todd, Hight and Matt Hagan to reach the finals for the first time this season and the 12th time in her career.
Stanfield made a major move and jumped back into the championship mix on Sunday in Pro Stock, capturing his first career Countdown to the Championship victory by knocking off Matt Hartford in the final round with a run of 6.567s at 210.21mph in his Janac Brothers Chevrolet Camaro. It’s Stanfield’s third win this season and seventh in his career and it might have come at the perfect time when it comes to the title conversation. He knocked off Deric Kramer, defending world champion Greg Anderson and Troy Coughlin Jr. to reach the final round and then left first on Hartford en route to the playoff win. Elite Motorsports teammate Erica Enders held a sizable lead after the first race in the Countdown to the Championship, but Stanfield pulled within 64 points after his impressive day at zMAX Dragway.
“We’ve had a little adversity lately and we came through right there,” said Stanfield, who also advanced to his seventh final round in 2022. “I’ve been struggling as a driver, and we pulled it together today. The pressure was definitely on [in the finals], but I just want to keep driving and keep winning. I’m super thankful for this opportunity I have, and this was a great event at a great facility, and we’ll try to get another [win] next weekend. Matt has had my number lately, but we got it done today and I’m super pumped up. We wanted to come in and kind of turn things around this weekend and this was probably the most consistent driving job I’ve done all year long.”
Hartford enjoyed a big day as well, beating Bo Butner, Dallas Glenn, and Enders to reach the finals for the second time this season and the 12th time overall.
The NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series returns to action with the NHRA Midwest Nationals on Sept. 30-Oct. 2 at World Wide Technology Raceway in St. Louis.