Bristol: Sunday eliminations report

JOHN FORCE GETS FIRST WIN OF THE SEASON; BERNSTEIN AND COUGHLIN ALSO FIND VICTORY CIRCLE IN BRISTOL BRISTOL, Tenn. --An emotional John Force celebrated his 123rd Funny Car victory Sunday like it was his first, erasing the memories of a ...

JOHN FORCE GETS FIRST WIN OF THE SEASON; BERNSTEIN AND COUGHLIN ALSO FIND VICTORY CIRCLE IN BRISTOL

BRISTOL, Tenn. --An emotional John Force celebrated his 123rd Funny Car victory Sunday like it was his first, erasing the memories of a very tough first half of '07 with a huge win at Bristol Dragway.

Force shared Thunder Valley's winner's circle with Top Fuel winner Brandon Bernstein and Pro Stock titlist Jeg Coughlin, who are both challenging the POWERade Series points leaders in their respective categories from their second-place perches.

Force outlasted Advance Auto Parts pro Cruz Pedregon in the final -- 4.993 at 284.62 mph to 5.024 at 279.73 mph -- to score his first win of the season. Prior to this weekend's seventh annual O'Reilly NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals the 14-time champion hadn't advanced past the quarterfinals in his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang.

"We went from being one of the greatest teams ever in the sport, if I can pat my own back, to being the worst, right there in the cellar," Force said. "We just couldn't figure out what was wrong. This [car] was the most stubborn woman I've ever met in my life. No matter what we did to her she wouldn't go down the track. I couldn't even beat my own daughter.

"I also asked (former driver, the late) Eric Medlen to forgive me. I said, 'I know you're up there Eric and if I've done something wrong, I'm sorry.' I don't know how all that works but it made me feel better in my heart to get it off my chest. I'm not seeing aliens or hearing voices, but today we started having magic."

Despite his struggles this year, Force's win puts him in a tie for 13th place, just 63 points behind the Countdown to the Championship cut-off point.

Bernstein had an easy victory pass after UPS racer Vandergriff smoked his tires right at the hit of the throttle. Just to make sure, he kept the Budweiser/Lucas Oil machine in the middle of the lane and posted a 4.648 at 317.57 mph to claim his fourth win of the year in five finals. He now has a career final-round record of 16-5.

"We started the day with that 4.53 and I was blown away," Bernstein said. "Then we go out in the second round and the semis and we're pedaling like crazy just to get to the other end. Tim [Richards, tuner] made a great call in the final to just back it down and get it to run from A to B.

"We've struggled the last few weeks but this team doesn't get down. We just stayed focused and we were able to come out today and get a win. We seem to have a habit of rebounding like that after we DNQ or lose in Round 1."

After three forgettable races that resulted in him dropping from first to fourth place, Bernstein moved back up to second Sunday with his big win. He now trails "Hot Rod" Fuller by 74 points.

After stealing away holeshot wins from points leader Greg Anderson and third-place runner Dave Connolly en route to his second career final, Pro Stock finalist Kenny Koretsky almost did it again in the money round against Coughlin. The veteran racer left first, .013 to .041 seconds, and led past the 1,000-foot timer before Coughlin's JEGS.com Chevrolet Cobalt blew by to take the win by .0024 seconds. The final numbers had Coughlin crossing in 6.809 at 203.22 mph to Koretsky's 6.839 at 201.82 mph.

"What a great win for this race team," said Coughlin, who tied Don Prudhomme and Anderson for 10th place on the all-time wins list. "Kenny raced his wheels off his car today and he was hammering the Tree. Luckily, our Cagnazzi horsepower was just barely enough for me to win, and when I say barely, I mean barely, just two-thousandths of a second margin of victory.

"There's been a Cagnazzi Racing car in the last six finals and between Dave [Connolly, teammate] and me we've won four so that tells me the entire team has been working extremely hard to make us look good. Today they gave me a flawless car. I was slow letting the clutch out a few times; that was the only issue we had."

Coughlin's second win of the year combined with points leader Anderson's first-round exit allowed Coughlin to pare Anderson's once gigantic lead to just 86 points. Over the last nine races, Coughlin has out-scored Anderson by a margin of 804-718 points.

Koretsky averaged a .013-second reaction time on the day. He was runner-up to Anderson at the 2004 Indy race.

The NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series continues with the 28th annual Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals, July 13-15 at scenic Bandimere Speedway near Denver.

-credit: nhra

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , John Force , Greg Anderson , Cruz Pedregon , Kenny Koretsky , Brandon Bernstein , Eric Medlen , Dave Connolly