|NJ native Antron Brown took the 2012 Top Fuel title|
|Photos courtesy NHRA|
Antron Brown did everything he needed to do to win his first career NHRA Championship on Sunday – he made it all the way to the last race and still had a 65-point edge on teammate Tony Schumacher in the Top Fuel points standings.
But he still needed help – he needed Brandon Bernstein to somehow beat seven-time NHRA champion and a six-time Pomona champion Schumacher in the final round.
When the win lights came on at the end of the final round, Bernstein had his first victory of the season and Brown had his first Top Fuel title.
Simple as that.
Bernstein beat out Schumacher on a holeshot to score his first victory of the season and snap and 59-race winless streak, joining Cruz Pedregon, Allen Johnson and Andrew Hines in the winner’s circle at the season ending Auto Club Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
Brown joined Funny Car driver “Fast" Jack Beckman as they celebrated their NHRA titles in a pair of championship battled that went right to the wire.
It was a nail-biting finish to wild weekend that saw a least one championship contender almost fail to qualify for the event.
It was fitting that the battle for the Top Fuel title came down to the wire between Brown and Schumacher – the two had been swapping the points lead since the third race of the season at Gainesville.
Even though Schumacher faced an uphill climb coming into Sunday’s eliminations, if anyone could come back from the brink – it’s the man known as “The Sarge". Few could forget his come-from-behind championship victories in 2006 and 2007.
After Brown fell to teammate Spencer Massey in the opening round, it looked as though the door was open for Schumacher – or Massey, who was still mathematically in the hunt – to make another heroic come-from-behind run.
Schumacher beat out J.R. Todd, Khalid alBalooshi and Bob Vandergriff to reach his ninth final round of the year, taking on Bernstein, who had bested Terry McMillan, Spencer Massey – eliminating Massey from the title hunt – and Clay Millican to advance to just his third money round of the season.
In the final, Bernstein beat Schumacher off the line with a .037 light and led all the way, clocking in at 3.762 at 320.81 mph over Schumacher, who went 3.753 at 325.83.
“I’m beside myself because I feel so blessed to be in this moment right now," said Brown. "I’m glad we could bring this home for DSR. It feels incredible.
“I saw both cars stay lit up all the way down the racetrack. I saw Tony’s 3.75 pop up and thought, ‘He’s got it.’ Then I saw the win light on Brandon’s side, and it was like, ‘Brandon just won?!’ It was liked mixed emotions," said Brown. “I thought about our team, and it set in that we just won. To win the championship with the way the competition has been this year in Top Fuel is incredible.
I’m beside myself because I feel so blessed to be in this moment right now. I’m glad we could bring this home for DSR. It feels incredible."
The race for the Funny Car title was just as dramatic, as Beckman opened up Sunday’s events with just a four-point cushion over Ron Capps.
Both drivers advanced all to the semi-finals, where it looked like there was a chance the two might settle the championship in the final round, but Capps fell to Courtney Force which clinched the title for Beckman even before his semi-final run began. Beckman would lose to Cruz Pedregon in the semi, wrapping up his first-career Funny Car title by just two points.
“I’m really not feeling anything right now," said Beckman. “You think about this, and you dream about this. It’s going to take me a while to wrap my head around this. We would have loved to have won it head to head in the final, but the trophy is going to shine just as well no matter what. We really wanted to win.
“It took probably five seconds (after Capps lost), which felt like a half-hour, and (Beckman’s crew) said, ‘We just won it.’ Then I thought, ‘Well, I can’t celebrate right now. We have to go up there and try to win.’ We didn’t, and I’m not all that upset about it, to be honest with you."
Pedregon and Force advanced for their first-ever first-round meeting, but in the final it was all Pedregon as Force lost traction right off the line, with Pedregon going 4.035 at 306.12 mph for his first victory of the year and 30th of his career.
“We’ve probably left five or six races on the table this year and we put it together this weekend," Pedregon said. "But we’ve always had a fast car. We placed third overall last year, and after winning today, we finished fourth this year and I think we’ve proved we belong with the top teams. We’re a smaller independent team, but with the way we finished, I think we can build on this and be one of the favorites heading into next season."
|All the 2012 NHRA champions pose for a group photo (L to R) Brown, Beckman, Johnson and Krawiec|
Newly crowned Pro Stock champion Allen Johnson defeated Vincent Nobile to capture his seventh win of the year and cap a remarkable season for the 52-year-old driver who led the Pro Stock points standings for the final 11 events of the year.
Having clinched the title by just qualifying for the event, Johnson took an opening round victory over Greg Stanfield, followed by wins over Ron Krisher and Mike Edwards to take on Nobile, going 6.528 at 212.76 mph over Nobile’s 6.533/211.66 for the victory.
“Our team is so awesome and the Mopar Dodge Avenger has just performed flawlessly," said Johnson “Determination and my father (who is his engine builder) is what got us to this point. He wanted to do this all his life and my whole focus was winning this with him. A lot of hard work and determination went into winning this. We had a dominating performance in this Countdown, won a championship and ended with a win. What more can we do? That has added just a little more emotion to it."
Andrew Hines got a bit of redemption with a victory over Eddie Krawiec in the Pro Stock Motorcycle final, beating out the new 2012 champion with a track-record breaking ET of 6.766 at 198.29 mph over Krawiec’s 6.805/ 197.54.
“It was by far the best bike I had all year," Hines said. “This was an absolutely phenomenal bike I had all weekend long. It was a total joy to get down the track."