With just six races comprising the NHRA Countdown to the Championship, drivers know the importance of getting off to a good start when they return to zMAX Dragway for the NHRA Carolina Nationals, Sept 13-15.

The first of the six-race playoffs for drag racing's premier series, the NHRA Carolina Nationals will set the tone for a final sprint to the championship.

"To come to zMAX for the first race of the Countdown is crucial," said Antron Brown, driver of the Matco Tools Top Fuel dragster for Don Schumacher Racing. "If you get set back, it really hurts you for the rest of the Countdown because you only have five races left to get the job done. zMAX is a premier track on the circuit. We have to get in there and get off to a great start."

Brown, the defending NHRA Top Fuel champion, said he doesn't feel any more pressure having to defend his 2012 title, but hopes the experience he gained during last year's Countdown will help him win back-to-back championships.

"It doesn't give you more pressure," Brown said. "You have the same pressure to perform, but people expect for you to try to duplicate that championship. Our deal is we know what it takes now to get the job done. We keep in that same mindset to go out there in attack mode and go out there and execute."

Combined with a fast car and lightning-fast reaction times, the confidence that comes from a win early in the Countdown can provide the momentum needed to claim the sport's ultimate prize.

"We're leading the points and we have a lot of momentum," said Matt Hagan, driver of the Don Schumacher Racing Mopar Funny Car. "We've snagged a couple of wins along the way. We still have a lot of racing left, and I'd really like to set it off in the Countdown with a win. It's awesome to be back at zMAX. Hopefully we can do well there and have some fun."

Fans can catch all the action at the NHRA Carolina Nationals with the weekend pass, starting at just $99. Single-day tickets start at just $20 and kids 13 and under get in free. Every ticket is a pit pass, giving fans behind-the-scene access to the pits, the chance to get an autograph or photo with their favorite drivers and access to the gigantic Nitro Alley vendor display, the Fan Zone and more.

To purchase tickets, call the Charlotte Motor Speedway ticket office at 1-800-455-FANS (3267) or visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com. To stay up to date with everything going on at the Bellagio of drag strips, log on to www.charlottemotorspeedway.com or connect with zMAX Dragway on Twitter at www.twitter.com/zmaxdragway or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/zmaxdragway.