Craig Murto: Rain didn’t wash out weekend racing

Craig Murto

Despite forecasts early in the week for a complete weekend washout, skies cleared enough on the East Coast for the NHRA and NASCAR to get their shows complete.

You don’t win the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship in the first three races, but Antron Brown made a statement at the Keystone Nationals at Pennsylvania’s Maple Grove Speedway by winning his third straight race with a 3.717-second run at 328.46 mph, and taking a stranglehold the Top Fuel standings.

Track conditions were challenging, because the track was wet for most of the first three days. The pro teams only got one round of qualifying on Saturday, when the track temperature was 60 degrees.

“This race was tough because we literally had no runs down the racetrack,” Brown stated in a news release.

By Sunday, the skies cleared a bit and the track temperature was up to 80 degrees.

“When we went out there today it was like the first round of qualifying,” Brown said following his victory. “The track got eight times better by the second (round).”

Brown beat Tony Schumacher in the Top Fuel final. Schumacher remains second in the Top Fuel standings, but Brown has a 2,432-2,338 lead, the largest lead among the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series professional categories. The victory was his seventh of the season.

Other winners at Maple Grove included Jack Beckman (Funny Car) and Chris McGaha (Pro Stock).

Beckman’s win was his seventh of the year, but he wasn’t sure he would beat Chad Head.

“The final round, 40 feet out, I thought, ‘This thing has too much wheel speed,'” Beckman said. “I thought, ‘This thing is over.'”

But Beckman pulled out the win. Del Worsham still leads the Funny Car standings, though he lost in the first round. Beckman picked up a national elapsed time record, 3.897 seconds, during eliminations and gained an extra 20 points at Maple Grove. Worsham now leads Beckman 2,361-2,345.

McGaha defeated Greg Anderson in the Pro Stock final, the third win of his career. Erica Enders lost in the second round but she continues to lead the Pro Stock title hunt. Enders leads Greg Anderson 2,385-2,313. McGaha is next with 2,281.

Of course, Antron Brown wasn’t the racer to make a statement on Sunday. With his back against the wall in a must-win situation, Kevin Harvick dominated the 400-mile race at Dover, Del., by leading 355 miles. The statement? If you’re going to win the NASCAR Chase to the Sprint Cup, you’re going to have to go through Kevin Harvick.

Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers have been in the situation before. Last year they were in a must-win race at Phoenix and scored the win, moving on to Homestead to win for the title.

The Chase format brings out the best in racers, and creates excitement where none would have existed. Without the Chase, Dover would have been a ho-hum race. But we got to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. fight his way past Jamie McMurray to earn a spot in the next round.

And would anybody have guessed that six-time champion Jimmie Johnson would see his championship hopes evaporate due to the failure of a rear axle seal, a part that costs less than $20? He was firmly in the Chase until the failure.

Part failures happen in motorsports, and it’s just part of it. Some failures may be due to a lack of preparation or care, but most are not. Part failures usually fall into the category of “racing luck.” You never hear of a baseball player dropping a ball because his glove failed, or a running back in football tripping over his defective shoe.

There will probably be plenty of part failures and damaged equipment – as well as bruised egos – at Martinsville this weekend. The track postponed its annual Late Model Stock Car special due to the rain last weekend. If you’ve ever wanted to go to Martinsville but didn’t want to deal with the Sprint Cup crowds, the Late Model Stock Car ValleyStar Credit Union 300 will be Sunday. Gates open at 9 a.m., heat races begin at noon. Visit MartinsvilleSpeedway.com for ticket information. It’s the richest, most prestigious race all year for the weekend warriors who race at our local tracks, and never fails to entertain.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.