For now, though, Schumacher, who is chasing his eighth career Top Fuel title in his U.S. Army Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR), and Brown, the defending and still reigning Top Fuel champion in his Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR, are perhaps the most anxious among all their peers to get back to racing next weekend after both endured rough starts to this year's Countdown playoffs during this weekend's sixth annual NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway near Charlotte, N.C.
Schumacher logged solid qualifying efforts Friday and Saturday and started Sunday in the No. 2 position feeling ready to exhibit the championship form he and his U.S. Army team had become known for over the past decade. But his first-round matchup against No. 15 qualifier Leah Pruett was over almost before it started as the seven-time champion smoked his tires as he left the starting line and coasted across the finish line in 7.458 seconds at 85.94 mph. Pruett took the first-round win with a run of 3.854 seconds at 316.42 mph.
"We just have had absolutely horrendous luck," said Schumacher, who was among five of this year's 10 Countdown finalists to get knocked out in the opening round today, including points leader Shaun Langdon of Al-Anabi Racing. "You go out and run really fast in qualifying, and then you get to race day and it doesn't get down the racetrack. We're almost inclined to test tomorrow, but how do you test luck? We know how to get down the racetrack. We go fast, we qualified well. We can't test Sunday issues on Monday morning, so we've got to go out and do what we know how to do. Maybe somebody wants to see a great comeback out of this team. We'll have to see what happens. We've done it many times. Unfortunately, the door was wide open. We were chomping at the bit and didn't have a very difficult path to get there. We could've taken the points lead just by winning two rounds. But a lot of guys went out, too. If it was that easy, they wouldn't have. We all got caught off-guard and it was just unfortunate.
"You know," Schumacher continued, "the Army is the strength of the Nation, and the Soldiers are the strength of our Army. This Army-NHRA partnership provides Americans a platform to experience the power, speed, teamwork and technology that drives that strength. We plan to get past this and put ourselves in position to win the championship."
Brown, meanwhile, did see his defense of his 2012 world championship end before it started this weekend as, for the first time since the 2008 season finale at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif., he failed to qualify for Sunday's elimination rounds. It ended Brown's streak of 110 consecutive events for which he had qualified prior to this weekend.
DSR teammate Spencer Massey, who began the Countdown seeded second, advanced to today's final round and assumed the points lead despite getting edged at the finish by Morgan Lucas.