MADISON, Ill. --
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also were winners at the 21st race of the season and third of six playoff events in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.
Force powered to his second win of the season with a final round performance of 4.097 seconds at 310.13 mph in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, while defending world champ Jack Beckman trailed in his Valvoline/MTS Dodge Charger with a 4.127 at 309.84.
With the victory, Force, 64, now trails series leader Matt Hagan by six points.
Force defeated rookie Chad Head, longtime rival Ron Capps and teammate Robert Hight along the way to his third win at Gateway. Hagan, the event's top qualifier who entered the day with a 63-point lead over second place Cruz Pedregon, lost to Beckman in the second round. Pedregon also went out early with a first round exit, which opened the door for Force to move to the top of the points order.
The runner-up finish put the still-winless Beckman in third place in the standings, 44 back of Hagan. Robert Hight is fourth overall, 48 points back in his Auto Club Mustang. Two-time champ Pedregon dropped to fifth, 83 behind Hagan.
In Top Fuel, Brown claimed his third victory of the season and 40th of his career by defeating Khalid alBalooshi in the final round. Brown covered the distance in 3.788 at 323.97 in his Toyota/Matco Tools dragster to take his second consecutive win at this track, and third overall. Runner-up alBalooshi finished in 3.833 at 319.98 in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster.
Brown defeated Billy Torrence, Clay Millican and seven-time champ Tony Schumacher to advance to the final round. The effort ended a mini-slump for the defending world champion, who has not been in a final round since he won in Atlanta in early May. Since then he's posted eight first round losses and a DNQ at the Countdown playoff opener in Charlotte.
Brown moved to sixth in the standings with the victory and now trails series leader Shawn Langdon by 102 points. Doug Kalitta and Spencer Massey, who both lost in the first round, are second and third, 33 and 35 points back respectively. Morgan Lucas is fourth overall, 45 points back and Schumacher is fifth.
"Our goal from here on out is to just go and race like it's the last race out here, and we're going to push really hard and hopefully go qualify top half again next weekend, and we're just going to take it one round at a time," Brown said. "If the next two races in a row we can creep up some points here and there, we can go into that last race in Pomona with a shot. That's all we want is to have a shot, and it's still in our scopes, so we're not going to let that go, and we're going to give it everything we've got."
In Pro Stock, Enders-Stevens raced to her second consecutive victory at this event and scored the sixth win of her career by holding off Mike Edwards in the final round. Enders-Stevens used a reaction time advantage to claim her second win of the season, powering her Husky Liners Chevy Camaro to a run of 6.540 at 211.23 to finish in front of the quicker, but losing Interstate Batteries/I Am Second Camaro of Edwards, which posted a 6.532 at 212.36.
Enders-Stevens, who missed six of the last eight races in the regular season due to lack of sponsorship, moves into fourth place in the points order with the victory, 60 back of Edwards, who regained the series lead. Jeg Coughlin is second overall, and Jason Line is third.
"This helped validate the faith that [new sponsor] Husky Liners had in me," Enders-Stevens said. "They are pleased with what we've done, and that's big because this deal only came together four days before the first [Countdown race] in Charlotte. Now we're up to fourth in points, and I think we're three rounds out of the lead, and we're going to do our best to keep winning. This was a make-or-break weekend because if we had exited first or second round, the championship would have been out of reach. Now, the way we see it, this is our championship, and they're going to have to take it from us."
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Smith rode to his second victory of the season and moved into the series lead by outrunning LE Tonglet in the final round. Smith scored his 15th win of his career and second at this track with a performance of 6.887 at 194.52 on his Viper Motorcycle Company Buell, while Tonglet trailed with a 6.950 at 192.14 on his Nitro Fish Suzuki.
"This was important because I've messed up so much here lately in final rounds," Smith said. "I've had the best bike and gave it up. It has been one thing after another. I could have won five or six races this year. This time, I tried not to mess up. When we got to the final, I knew we had a better bike, and I took the win and the points lead. Now we just need to see what happens the rest of the year."
Smith now holds a 75-point lead over both Lucas Oil Buell riders Hector Arana Sr. and Hector Arana Jr., who are tied for second place. Smith says he is lucky to be in this position, considering he nearly didn't get to race today after falling ill last night.
"I got sick last night with food poisoning, and I had an IV in me," Smith said. "I have to say thanks to the doctors here or I wouldn't be here today. I was hurting pretty bad. My blood pressure was really low, and they told me that if it didn't improve, I wasn't going to race today. I drank water all night, and at 9 a.m., they checked me again, and I felt a lot better. I was lucky I even got to race, and now I made it to the winner's circle."
The NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship continues Oct. 3-6 with the Auto-Plus NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway, Reading, Pa.
Sunday's final results from the Second annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park. The race is the 21st of 24 in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series-
Top Fuel -- Antron Brown, 3.788 seconds, 323.97 mph def. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.833 seconds, 319.98 mph.
Funny Car -- John Force, Ford Mustang, 4.097, 310.13 def. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 4.127, 309.84.
Pro Stock -- Erica Enders-Stevens, Chevy Camaro, 6.540, 211.23 def. Mike Edwards, Camaro, 6.532, 212.36.
Pro Stock Motorcycle -- Matt Smith, Buell, 6.887, 194.52 def. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.950, 192.14.
Pro Modified -- Mike Castellana, Chevy Camaro, 6.084, 194.72 def. Rickie Smith, Camaro, 7.060, 144.81.
Super Stock -- Bill Rowe, Chevy Nova, 9.820, 133.05 def. Bo Butner, Ford Mustang, foul.
Stock Eliminator -- Kevin Stubbs, Chevy Camaro, 10.425, 125.45 def. Britt Cummings, Chevy Corvette, 10.530, 123.32.
Super Comp -- William Carrell, Dragster, 8.893, 173.49 def. Chris Sullivan, Dragster, 8.868, 167.53.
Super Gas -- Marlin Snyder, Buick Opel GT, 9.862, 160.63 def. Luke Bogacki, Chevy Corvette, foul.
Top Dragster -- Lane Dicken, Dragster, 6.891, 183.59 def. Phillip Oakley, Dragster, 6.583, 196.07.
Top Sportsman -- Robert Irby, Chevy Corvette, 7.106, 188.23 def. Rick Bowman, Chevy Camaro, 7.079, 190.97.