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Brown already, or still, thinking about Countdown

CHANDLER, Ariz. -- Tony Schumacher has had little luck against Anton Brown. As if a mark of 0-7 in final rounds last season to cement his first winless season in 10 years weren't frustrating enough, Schumacher was 2-8 against Brown, and three of those eight losses came in the final round.

Brown's Top Fuel victory over him Sunday in the in an all-Don Schumacher Racing final round of the NHRA's Arizona Nationals was a continuation of Brown's dream and Tony Schumacher's nightmare.

However, Brown wasn't gloating after joining Robert Hight (Funny Car) and Jason Line (Pro Stock) in the winners circle.

"I'm just trying to catch up," he said of his rivalry with the seven-time champion. "It's not like we're slaughtering him. We're just winning races. We're winning by a thousandth of a second. The race could go either way. I got to take it as I can get it."

Brown has 16 Pro Stock Motorcycle Wally trophies and 16 in Top Fuel, and he said that's proof that Schumacher is winning the numbers game: "I've got 16 Top Fuel trophies. That man's got 67. I'm just trying to catch up. They're an incredible team, and you have to step up against an incredible team. It's just been going our way. So we want to ride it as long as we can."

What the Matco Tools Dragster driver said he wants to do is be prepared for a brutal battle this fall when the six-race Countdown to the Championship begins. It might sound a bit early to be thinking about that, but hardly a day has passed since last November -- when Brown missed out on his first series title -- that it hasn't been on his mind.

After trumping Schumacher with a 3.793-seconds, 319.82-mph performance on the 1,000-foot Firebird International Raceway course to Schumacher's 3.813, 318.17 blast in the U.S. Army Dragster, Brown said he's just getting revved up.

"To get to a second final in a row is a real huge statement for us, and we feel good. But this is just a start," he said. "And we all know it's not how you start but how you finish. We came up short last year, and we want to keep on plugging away and overcoming adversity to we know what to do when that Countdown starts [after Labor Day]."

Brown, the No. 5 qualifier, said Sunday he "knew I had the race car behind me to get the job done. But we just needed for everything to fall in place, and it fell in place at the right time. I actually felt real good about our situation going in [against Schumacher], because the last run before we ran an (3.)83, 313 in that left lane. And Brian and Mark [crew chiefs Corradi and Oswald] told me the car actually dropped a hole earlier in the run. And it still ran an .83 with a dropped hole. We had nothing to lose."

What Brown gained was the points lead as the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series heads to Florida's Gainesville Raceway for the March 8-11 Tire Kingdom Gatornationals.

He earned his 400th round-win in ousting top qualifier Shawn Langdon in the semifinals to reach his second final round in as many races this year. He started his lineup of what he called "steep competition" with Terry McMillen, then he avenged the previous weekend's loss to Spencer Massey in the Winternationals.

Brown denied a 68th victory to Schumacher, the No. 2 qualifier who was making his 111th career final round. Schumacher also was seeking his first victory since the October 2010 Las Vegas race and his fourth at the suburban Phoenix facility.

Said Schumacher, "Obviously we were hoping to finally get to victory lane after such a long time. It was good, close race with Antron. That's the way it always is when we face either of my DSR teammates [including Massey, who had top speed of the meet 325.37 mph]. Unfortunately, he just got me again."

Brown said, "We have three strong cars, and we bow out against each other. That's what really helps raise the bar at Don Schumacher Racing. We have a good, fun competition with each other, and that's what pushes us to new levels to race with the other guys, because they're coming, too."

Schumacher had to get past Mike Strasburg, Doug Kalitta, and Clay Millican for another shot at Brown.

'We're definitely not going to hang our heads in the U.S. Army team camp," Schumacher said. "We know we have a great race car and we are going to win races this season. Our Army Strong soldiers continually stay focused on the mission, and that's exactly what we're going to do moving forward.

"I believe we have started the season strong by advancing to the semifinals and finals in the first two races. I'm really looking forward to the Gatornationals."

Brown said he found his thoughts drifting back to his days as a youngster, when his family raced at the sportsman level, mostly at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park at Englishtown, N.J., and downstate at Atco Raceway.

"I remember as a kid underneath the bleachers, playing in the sand, and saying, 'Man, I wish I could race one of those nitro cars one day. It's a big dream for me, where I came from."

Drag-racing fans would be smarter to keep an eye on where Antron Brown is going.

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