Antron Brown did not have the 2018 season he wanted, even if he expected it to a certain extent. The Matco Tools Top Fuel team went through a rebuilding year after losing longtime crew chief Brian Corradi to the Advance Auto Parts Funny Car. Corradi now tunes John Force, but the result remains the same: Corradi is no longer with Brown and the impact was immediate.
The next-man up mentality may make for a great catchphrase but it downplays how difficult it is, in practice, for everyone on a Top Fuel team to learn a new job during the season. It’s not about what people are capable of, it’s about how difficult fielding a competitive team is while also teaching everyone the ropes.
That phase, while at some level never truly over, at least appears to no longer be a hindrance. Brown now drives one of the six-best cars in the category (even higher if you don’t consider the part-time cars driven by Jordan Vandergriff and Billy Torrence) and he leads Top Fuel in reaction time average. That makes him a contender every time he shows up.
He made the quickest pass in the first qualifying session of Top Fuel at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Norwalk, which you can see below, which puts him on the front foot for the rest of the weekend. Brown has gone nearly a calendar year since his last victory (2018 in Seattle). That was the story when he won in Seattle, too.
Brown got the job done that day thanks to great driving, and that may be the story next time he wins, too. But at this point in the season his car is creeping closer to the likes of Steve Torrence, Doug Kalitta and Mike Salinas. We don’t know where his ceiling is, of course, but if Mark Oswald and Brad Mason can get just a little more performance out of this Matco Tools Top Fueler… Brown just might contend for another world championship.