LAS VEGAS – It wasn’t the scenario Antron Brown wanted Sunday at Las Vegas, but it could have been much worse.

Brown lost in Sunday’s opening round of the Big O Tires NHRA Nationals that seemed to open the door for Don Schumacher Racing teammate Spencer Massey to nearly catch the Top Fuel points leader with only one event remaining.

But while Massey lost in the second round and gained 20 points on Brown to trail Brown by 70, their teammate, Tony Schumacher, moved around Massey into second place after his U.S. Army team was runner-up for the Las Vegas title and trails Brown 65 points.

Brown and his Matco Tools team will head to Pomona, Calif., in two weeks with the lead in search of their first NHRA world championship.

“No matter what, we’re leaving with the points lead,” Brown said. “We lost some points, but we’ll go into Pomona with the lead. Our Matco boys are going to keep working hard. We had a lot of things go wrong this weekend that usually never go wrong like the clutch management system breaking, electrical wires breaking. All these little nitpicky gremlins came out this weekend.”

A variety of maladies produced Brown’s worst qualifying position (13th) of the season that set up a first-round match-up with Khalid alBalooshi of Al-Anabi Racing. At the most recent NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event three weeks ago, alBalooshi upset Brown near Reading, Pa., for his first NHRA pro event title.

On Sunday at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, moments after Brown’s engine developed major problems alBalooshi moved into the lead before his engine exploded. But alBalooshi had enough momentum to coast to victory with an elapsed time of 4.470 seconds at 241.07 mph to Brown’s 4.591 (239.27).

“It felt good off the line, like it was moving good,” Brown said. “As I saw the finish line coming up I kept my foot in it. I should have slapped the throttle one more time, because when it was spinning it kept on spinning and popped the supercharger and then my car was just coasting to the finish line and I saw alBalooshi come around us at the stripe and that’s the worse feeling. And he was on fire.”

After Massey won his first match from the No. 2 qualifying position, he was upset in the next round by Bob Vandergriff.

“It is what it is, and that’s drag racing,” Brown said. “The bad part is that we’re letting these other guys get back in it, but that’s okay. It’s the Countdown to the Championship. We’re going to hit Pomona and we’re going to give it our best shot and give it all we got.

“We’re going to keep on pressing. We’re not whipped. We’ll be here testing (Monday) and we’ll keep digging and make sure everything is working the way it’s supposed to and be ready for Pomona.
“One thing is that the good Lord is an able guy, He never gives you anything you can’t handle. Things happen for a reason and this is all part of it. We’ve put ourselves in a good position in case something like this happened.”

The following are Brown’s results from The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway near Las Vegas:

Event winner: Bob Vandergriff (Bob Vandergriff Racing)
No. 1 qualifier: Tony Schumacher (DSR) 3.773 sec., 323.66 mph

ANTRON BROWN, Matco Tools “Tools for the Cause” dragster
Qualified: No. 13
First round: Khalid alBalooshi (4.470 sec., 241.07 mph) def. BROWN (4.591, 239.27)

Session 1: 3.869 sec., 313.88 mph
Session 2: 5.582, 117.93
Session 3: 5.470, 124.32
Session 4: 4.013, 251.95

Nov. 8-11; Auto Club of Southern California NHRA Finals, Pomona, Calif.

(unofficial through Oct. 28)
(* mathematically eliminated from championship contention)

TOP FUEL Pts. Pts. Behind
1. ANTRON BROWN 2,522 —
2. TONY SCHUMACHER 2,457 -65
3. SPENCER MASSEY 2,452 -70
4. Shawn Langdon 2,406 -116
*5. Brandon Bernstein 2,346 -176
*6. Doug Kalitta 2,309 -213
*7. Morgan Lucas 2,299 -223
*8. Steve Torrence 2,265 -257
*9. Bob Vandergriff 2,264 -258
*10. David Grubnic 2,225 -297