READING, Pa. (Oct. 5, 2013) – For those counting out Antron Brown’s chances to defend his NHRA Top Fuel world championship, they should reconsider.

Brown and the Matco Tools’ Tools for a Cause team were seen by many two weeks ago to be out of the NHRA Countdown to the Championship hunt when they arrived in the midst of a mid-season slump at Gateway Motorsports Park last weekend.

But Brown with crew chiefs Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald won the Gateway title near St. Louis, their third of the year, and climbed to within 102 points of first place after arriving at the track 150 out of the lead.

Brown, who is racing near his hometown of Chesterfield, N.J., this weekend at Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pa., and the Matco team continue to show the championship form of a year ago.

The team produced the quickest elapsed time in Saturday’s first qualifying session with a time of 3.793 seconds at 324.98 mph and completed his fourth and final qualifying run at 3.815 (320.20) in the heat of the afternoon.

The Matco team is seeded fifth for Sunday’s championship eliminations, which begin at 11 a.m. (ET.)

What is most impressive about Brown over the past week is that five of his last nine runs have been in the 3.79-second range. His speed topped 320 six times during that span.

“It’s just all the hard work our Matco team has put into this,” said Brown, who has won three of his 40 titles this season. “It’s starting to pay off. We’ve been pressing real hard and keeping our heads down and moving forward.

Before arriving at Gateway for the third of six Countdown events, the Matco team had lost in the first round in eight of the previous 13 events and didn’t qualify for another.

The team has closed that chapter.

“In life, when you struggle that’s when you learn the most important life lessons,” he said. “We’ve been learning and getting better. Now we’re able to apply it to the racetrack and get after it.

“We work together to get better. I can’t speak enough about how competitive our class is right now, and hard it is. When you get the challenges we faced sometime you have to go back to the drawing board. You have to get through that grind. Sometimes it doesn’t always go your way, and sometimes you have to take a couple steps back and that’s when you do the most learning.

“That’s what’s been paying off.

“We’re just trying to keep putting our best foot forward so we can produce at these last three races and compete for the championship again. We won it last year and we know what it tastes like and feels like. It’s a great feeling and honor, and we want to do it again.”

The following are qualifying summaries for Brown and notes from Maple Grove Raceway:

No. 1 Qualifier: Morgan Lucas (3.772 sec., 314.90 mph)

ANTRON BROWN, Matco Tools’ Tools for a Cause Top Fuel Dragster
Qualified: No. 5
First-round opponent: Billy Torrence
First session: 3.845 sec., 319.82 mph
Second session: 3.793, 321.27 mph
Third session: 3.793, 324.98
Fourth session: 3.815, 320.30

(Unofficial through Oct. 5 qualifying at Maple Grove Raceway; DSR drivers in CAPS)
1. Shawn Langdon 2,361 (–)
2. Doug Kalitta 2,318 (-43)
3. Morgan Lucas 2,316 (-45)
4. SPENCER MASSEY 2,315 (-46)
5. TONY SCHUMACHER 2,282 (-79)
6. ANTRON BROWN 2,252 (-109)
7. Clay Millican 2,218 (-129)
8. Khalid alBalooshi 2,223 (-138)
9. Bob Vandergriff 2,167 (-197)
10. Steve Torrence 2,125 (-216)

2013 REGULAR SEASON WINNERS: Langdon, SCHUMACHER, BROWN, SCHUMACHER, MASSEY, Vandergriff, BROWN, Langdon, Langdon, Steve Torrence, MASSEY, SCHUMACHER, alBalooshi, MASSEY, Langdon, Lucas, MASSEY, Langdon.
2013 COUNTDOWN WINNERS: Lucas (Charlotte), Doug Kalitta (Dallas), BROWN.

Sunday: 11 a.m. (ET), championship eliminations

Saturday: 11:30 p.m. (ET), qualifying, ESPN News, delayed
Sunday: 12:30 a.m. (ET), qualifying, ESPN2, delayed; 8 p.m. (ET), championship eliminations, ESPN2, delayed

(As of Saturday afternoon)
Sunday: High 84; 10 percent chance of rain