A wild day of action and points shuffling at the Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals concluded with Antron Brown, Ron Capps, and Aaron Stanfield in the winner’s circle at zMAX Dragway at the conclusion of the second event of the six-race Countdown to the Championship.
Brown collected career win No 71, 55 of which have come in Top Fuel, to score his record-tying sixth Top Fuel win at zMAX Dragway, and did it on a holeshot, defeating noted starting-line bandit and technology teammate Justin Ashley, 3.672 to 3.671. Brown was .035 at the Tree to Ashley’s .055 reaction.
"Mike Ashley, Justin's dad, said before we started this race, 'It's going to be you and Justin in the final,' like he prophesized stuff, which is scary, and that happened," said Brown. "That was just a fun final. We knew Mike [Green] and Tommy [DeLago, Ashley's crew chiefs] were going to throw the kitchen sink at him and that Brian [Corradi] and Mark [Oswald, Brown's crew chiefs] were throwing the kitchen sink at it -- we would have borrowed our neighbor's kitchen sink if we had it -- so when we got there in that final, we just went there and go 'This is fun,' because we won it as a team, as a collective group. You know, they're on one side of our hospitality, we're on the other side. And we push each other all the time."
In addition to Brown’s three Carolina Nationals triumphs, he also won the Four-Wide event at zMAX Dragway in 2014 and 2015. Brown’s win moved him into second place, just 43 points behind Ashley in the race for the world championship.
Brown, who caught fire in the races leading up to the Countdown to the Championship with wins in Topeka and Indy, powered the Brian Corradi- and Mark Oswald-wrenched Matco Tools dragster past Reading winner Austin Prock, tire-smoking Brittany Forde, and Clay Millican with a trio of strong runs to reach the final.
Brown dedicated the win in honor of Abigail Bucher, daughter of Top Fuel racer Mike Bucher, who passed away in the week leading up to the event,
A week after taking over the points lead with a runner-up finish in Reading, Pa., Ashley built on that lead in Charlotte with another strong performance from his Mike Green-tuned Phillips Connect dragster. As he did at the spring race at zMAX Dragway, Ashley qualified No. 1, but this time he reached the final.
Ashley’s car was incredibly consistent, with runs of 3,68, 3.69, and 3.69 to defeat Alex Laughlin, world champ Steve Torrence, and tire-smoking Doug Kalitta to reach the final round.
Capps won his second race in the last three events and the 72nd of his career, but he had to survive a scare in the final against Alexis DeJoria in a race in which both engines went silent before the final line. Capps won with a 3,96 at just 267 mph to DeJoria’s 3.98 at 266 mph.
"I felt like got a good light and I didn't see her car and then mine bowed up and lifted the front end and I'm sure that G meter is probably half a G or more higher than anyone we've made," he said. "It just started grunting and taking off and I went 'Oh, hang on to this thing.,' and then it just quit. And then I'm listening. I didn't want to hit the button on the parachutes or touch anything. I was like Fred Flintstone, I just wanted to just push my feet to the bottom and didn't know where she was at. It coasted through and my [win] light came on and she went whizzing by me coasting, and I went 'Oh, man, that's gonna be fun to watch later.' I'm not even sure what happened or how close it was, but what a way to win."
The win moved Capps, the defending world champ, to within 27 points of leader Robert Hight, who lost in the second round to DeJoria. Capps dedicated the win to one of his biggest fans, Balin Hewson, the son of a NAPA dealer, who passed away Friday night.
"He literally was always the first to text me [after a win] and calls me all the time. He lived for everything drag racing, lived and breathed it., so this is great because his dad called me and told me, 'Go win it for him," and we actually did."
Capps, still riding high after his first U.S. Nationals win, rebounded from a disappointing second-round exit last weekend in Reading to reach his sixth final of the year. Capps’ Dean Antonelli-tuned NAPA Auto Parts Toyota ran a pair of 3.88s in the opening rounds to trailer Blake Alexander and Bob Tasca III then sued a 3.89 to defeat No. 1 qualifier John Force’s 3.91 in the semifinals.
DeJoria, winless since last year’s Bristol event, jumped her Del Worsham-tuned Tequila Bandero Toyota from ninth in points to sixth will a strong day. After beating Toyota teammate J.R. Todd in round one, she defeated points leader Hight in round two, 3.91to 3.91, then squeaked out a win over Matt Hagan in the semifinals by just .002-second. 3.88 to 3.89, to reach her 12th career final round in the class.
Stanfield got a measure of revenge on Matt Hartford, who defeated Stanfield in the final round in Denver. Stanfield drilled Hartford at the Tree and won a 6.567 to 6.579 race that wasn’t as close as those numbers might indicate. The victory was Stanfield’s seventh in Pro Stock and 20th overall. With the win, he climbed into second place, just 64 points behind Elite Motorsports teammate Erica Enders, who fell in the semifinals.
"Leading up to this race has been based on a little bit of adversity on our team. and we just we wanted to come in and kind of turn things around this weekend," said Stanfield. "And we did all through qualifying; our hot rod was nice and consistent. I did probably the most consistent driving job I've done all year long through qualifying and eliminations, and it just worked well.
"I'm just more worried about winning races and going rounds and being consistent as a driver [than focusing on points]. Every time I seem to start focusing on points, I started to think about it too much so I just want to continue to do good and produce consistent results and win races."
Stanfield, who started out the season brilliantly with a runner-up and a win at the first two events and even held the points lead with the Janac Brothers Camaro through the year’s first four events, has been solid throughout the year, adding another win and three runner-ups to stay in the title fight.
After besting Deric Kramer in round one, Stanfield defeated second-place Greg Anderson on a 6.57 to 6.56 holeshot in round two then won a crucial battle with his closest points rival and Elite teammate, Troy Coughlin Jr., to reach the final round.
Hartford, who didn’t win a round of racing at the three events following his Denver win, has shown steady progress if not spectacular progress over the last two events, qualifying in the top half of the field in both Indy and Reading and winning a round at each with his Total Seal Camaro.
Hartford qualified fourth in Charlotte, two-hundredths behind runaway leader Enders, then defeated Bo Butner and Dallas Glenn to earn a tough semifinal match with Enders. When Enders’ powerful red Chevy shook the tires just off the line, Harford was mean and clean to the wins stripe to reach his 12th career final.