Phoenix: Sunday final summary

Rookie Bernstein wins first NHRA National event. Capps and Anderson also score victories at Checker Schuck's Kragen NHRA Nationals CHANDLER, Ariz. -- Rookie Brandon Bernstein claimed his first NHRA Top Fuel victory in only his second start...

Rookie Bernstein wins first NHRA National event.
Capps and Anderson also score victories at Checker Schuck's Kragen NHRA Nationals

CHANDLER, Ariz. -- Rookie Brandon Bernstein claimed his first NHRA Top Fuel victory in only his second start Sunday at the Checker Schuck's Kragen NHRA Nationals at Firebird International Raceway near Phoenix.

Ron Capps and Greg Anderson also claimed victories at the $1.9 million race, the second of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Bernstein deep-staged his Budweiser/Lucas Oil dragster and used a holeshot start of .030 to win at the same track where his father Kenny took his first dragster win in 1991.

Bernstein's red machine edged Larry Dixon's Miller Lite dragster at the finish line with a 4.574 second run at 322.58 mph. Dixon clocked a quicker, but losing, 4.539 at 321.73 for the runner-up effort.

"It's amazing," said Bernstein, who won the Div. 7 Top Alcohol Dragster championship in 2001. "This is Top Fuel, this is the top of the sport. Winning today is a tribute to my team, I am just lucky to drive the car. That was a hell of a race. Those guys have a good team and they'll be right there until the end. I am sure we're going to meet a few more times on down the road."

Bernstein defeated Mike Strasburg, Jim Head and Tony Schumacher, before knocking off Dixon in the final. He said he wasn't trying to break Dixon's concentration with the deep-stage maneuver.

"I'll admit I was a little nervous there in the final and rolled the car in a little too far in staging -- that was not intentional," Bernstein said. "I had to refocus and calm down really quick. I got lucky there. The more runs you get the more comfortable you feel, and going rounds sure helps that process."

The elder Bernstein, who won six NHRA championships (two in Top Fuel and four in Funny Car) and logged 65 career victories during his 27-year driving career, is pleased with his son's progress.

"That's a big win for a lot of reasons," said team owner Kenny Bernstein. "That answers a lot of questions. This takes the pressure off and puts us in a position that we know we can do it. Brandon will get better. I can't say how much better he is compared to how I was at this stage in my career. He's doing a tremendous job. I am very proud of him. He will get better as time goes by and that just takes more runs."

Dixon remained in the points lead, 68 ahead of Bernstein, who moved into second place with the win.

Capps also used a holeshot start to claim his 14th career victory in Funny Car and move ahead of Tony Pedregon for the POWERade Series points lead. Capps' Skoal Chevy Camaro covered the quarter-mile distance in 4.868 at 310.13, but used a near-perfect .003 reaction time to defeat Gary Densham's quicker Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang, which clocked a 4.810 at 318.99.

Like Bernstein, Capps said he wasn't trying any games during the staging process.

"You just get so amped-up out there, it was time to go," Capps said. "I just went for it and it worked out. I don't want to jinx myself, but I've never had a red-light as a pro."

Capps had his work cut out for him to make it to the final, defeating Tim Wilkerson, top qualifier Tony Pedregon and Frank Pedregon before facing another Force Racing threat in Densham.

"You wake up and look at the ladder and never see an easy round," Capps said. "Today I saw Tony Pedregon on our side of the ladder and I knew it would be tough to get past him. To do it and then go on and win the race tells me I have a car that can win at any time, and that's a real good feeling to have."

It is the first time he's been the points leader since prior to the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in 1998.

"You always have fans out here tapping you on the shoulder and saying, 'When are you gonna beat (12-time champion John) Force?'," Capps said. "I sure won't knock the champ now because I learned that lesson in '98. We all know he'll be there, along with a lot of other drivers, at the end of the season. I'm just getting a little head start, that's all."

With the win, Capps leads Tony Pedregon by 10 points. With a second round exit, Force moved to 10th overall in the points order.

Anderson moved into the Pro Stock points lead with his fifth career victory. He recorded a 6.865 at 201.61 in his Vegas General Construction Pontiac Grand Am to hold off Troy Coughlin, who posted a slower 6.907 at 200.83 in his Jeg's Mail Order Chevy Cavalier.

Anderson, who switched from a Chevy Cavalier to a Pontiac Grand Am and overahauled his race team during the offseason, posted round wins over Ron Krisher, Mark Pawuk and Jeg Coughlin to advance to the final round.

"I started over this year," admitted an excited Anderson, who finished third overall last season. "I hired all new guys for my crew to put some fun back into it. I knew we might struggle early but over the long run it would be better. We're way ahead of where I thought we'd be at this point in the year. I feel very lucky that the team has jelled this quickly and the new car has come around so quickly. This is the best race car I've ever driven in my life. When you have a car this good it takes so much pressure off you."

It is the second time that Anderson has led the points in his career, as he was No. 1 following last season's event in Brainerd, Minn.

The next NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series event is the 34th annual Mac Tools Gatornationals, March 13-16 at Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway.

-nhra-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Jim Head , Frank Pedregon , Jeg Coughlin , Troy Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Mark Pawuk , Tony Pedregon , Ron Capps , Tony Schumacher , Greg Anderson , Ron Krisher , Gary Densham , Tim Wilkerson , Brandon Bernstein , Mike Strasburg