Meanwhile, DSR teammate Antron Brown, the defending series champion and driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster, powered his way through all four rounds of eliminations to score his first victory of the season, the 38th of his NHRA career, his first at the Gatornationals, and the milestone 200th NHRA win in the history of DSR.
For Schumacher, the seven-time Top Fuel champion, it was the first opening-round loss in 13 events dating back to the NHRA Mile High Nationals in Denver last July, when he was beaten, there too, by alBalooshi.
"I have no idea what happened, yet," said Schumacher, the winner of the last event at Phoenix whose streak of consecutive final-round appearances came to an end at four. "The best guess any of the guys have is maybe the car was overclutched. They'll have to tear it down and see what it was. Hey, it's a long season and our best days still lie ahead of us as only the strongest wear the colors of the U.S. Army, whose Soldiers possess a mental, emotional and physical strength like no other. This U.S. Army Racing team reflects those strengths. Every day, the best way to put it, is the other guy got to the finish line first. It doesn't matter if you smoke the tires or do it on a holeshot or get outrun. The other guy got there first. Our U.S. Army car's been really good and consistent going down the track. But, every now and then, you're going to have something go wrong. It's just the way it is. We get a break that way a lot. A lot of times the other guy smokes them, too, like in the case of today's race, but it was just too far down the track. I can't even begin to guess what it might have been. It didn't even make a full revolution. Wicked, like riding a bull."
Al Anabi Racing driver alBalooshi also smoked his tires a bit further down the track en route to the finish line, where he clocked in at 4.147 seconds at 260.16 mph, but it was good enough for the win as Schumacher coasted slowly across the line more than five seconds later. Had Schumacher's U.S. Army racecar maintained its grip down the track, he likely would have benefitted greatly from his .023 of a second reaction time compared to alBalooshi's 0.79.
Schumacher's early exit, combined with Brown's event title, allowed Brown to leapfrog over his teammate into the Top Fuel point standings lead. He sits four points (269-265) ahead of the second-place Schumacher.
Brown was absolutely impressive in disposing of Larry Dixon, Steve Torrence and DSR teammate Spencer Massey en route to the Top Fuel final. Each of his four elimination-round runs was in the 3.7-second range, and he saved his best for last with a 3.761-second, 318.77-mph run in the final against Millican. It was the fastest run of the weekend.
"We knew we wanted to come out here and have some fun, but we had to execute," said Brown, who one month ago today walked away from a horrific, fiery crash at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif., after his second-round win. "The Top Fuel class right now by far is the toughest it's ever been. Different people are setting low ETs and you never know what to expect. To go up against our teammate in the semis, that was like a final, too, blow for blow. Look at Phoenix, Tony (Schumacher) took me out in the semis and he was hungry. The whole U.S. Army team did an incredible job. The whole new 50-minute turnaround (between semifinal and final rounds) is pretty tough on us, but we have so many great teams at DSR that come in and pull together, they all dug in and helped us get ready for the final today. When you have a great group of people working together like that, those kinds of numbers that popped up for us on the board in the final are going to happen. It felt good to bring that win home. Hopefully, we can put Pomona behind us, now, and we can keep moving forward. Everything that Don (Schumacher) has been orchestrating in all the years he's been in drag racing, he wants to build the quickest, the fastest and absolutely the safest cars and I believe he's done that, especially with the way I was able to walk away from that accident at Pomona. I just feel incredibly blessed to be a part of this whole organization. To bring that 200th win home with Johnny and myself, it was all of us together. It wasn't just my team, it was all of us together."