CHICAGO, Ill. – Steve Torrence took another step toward securing the No. 1 starting spot for the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship Sunday when he beat close friend and three-time champion Antron Brown in the last round of the 20th annual Fallen Patriots Nationals at Route 66 Raceway.
In winning for the fifth time in the last eight events at the wheel of his Richard Hogan-tuned Capco Contractors Top Fuel dragster, the 34-year-old Texan opened up a 101-point lead over second place Leah Pritchett with just five races remaining before the points are adjusted for the six-race Countdown that culminates in a $500,000 payday for the champion. Brown, who has won the last two titles, is two points behind Pritchett.
Whomever is No. 1 following the Labor Day U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Ind., will start the playoffs with a critical 30-point advantage. After a one-week break, the battle between Torrence, Pritchett and Brown will resume in the consecutive races at Denver, Colo., Sonoma, Calif., and Seattle, Wash., that make up the grueling Western Swing.
It was Torrence’s second straight win over Brown to whom he had lost in 20 of 21 meetings before this season. After Brown extended that dominance with victories at Las Vegas and Topeka, Torrence got a big win in the final round at Englishtown, N.J., on June 11 before winning again on Sunday. Both of the most recent meetings were classic.
Torrence won at Englishtown at 3.857 seconds to Brown’s 3.932, but that was a runaway compared to Sunday. In a battle between Top Fuel’s two best starting line drivers, Brown got a narrow .002 edge (.046-.048), but it wasn’t enough. Torrence stopped the 1,000 foot timers in 3.779 seconds; Brown in 3.786. The margin at the finish line was .005 of a second.
“I hope things are turning our way a little bit,” Torrence said of the rivalry. “All I know is that we bring out the best in each other. I know he’s made me a better driver. I had to get better just to beat him every now and then. Overall, it was a great weekend for the Capco gang.
“The Western Swing is next and we’re just gonna try to keep on doing what we’re doing. It’s worked pretty good so far. Richard Hogan, A.J. (tuning consultant Alan Johnson), Bobby (Lagana Jr.) and all the rest of the Capco misfits have given me a great car. We’re having fun.”
The No. 4 qualifier, Torrence took out Scott Palmer in round one, stopped Top Fuel rookie Blake Alexander in round two and got past Chicago native T.J. Zizzo in the semifinals to set up the showdown with Brown.