Pomona III: Thursday qualifying day summary

Bernstein, Densham Among Qualifying Leaders At Automobile Club Of Southern California NHRA Finals POMONA, Calif. -- Kenny Bernstein led the Top Fuel qualifying order Thursday at the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals, inching ...

Bernstein, Densham Among Qualifying Leaders At Automobile Club Of Southern California NHRA Finals

POMONA, Calif. -- Kenny Bernstein led the Top Fuel qualifying order Thursday at the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals, inching closer to a sixth NHRA Winston championship, while Bob Panella officially clinched his third straight Winston championship in Pro Stock Truck.

Gary Densham, Jim Yates, Angelle Savoie and Scott Tidwell also were qualifying leaders at the final of 24 events in the $50 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series event for the 2001 season.

Bernstein set the Top Fuel pace by covering the historic Pomona Raceway quarter-mile distance in 4.528 seconds at 324.59 mph in his Budweiser King dragster. In one of the closest championship chases in NHRA history for any category, Bernstein leads season-long rival Larry Dixon by 54 points entering the $2 million race. Dixon, who is chasing his first career Winston crown, qualified third in his Miller Lite dragster, running 4.575 at 317.05.

"(Earning No. 1 early) does take the pressure off in some sense," Bernstein said. "We have the Budweiser Shootout this weekend and if you don't run well on Thursday or Friday, you are not going to be able to race the Shooutout the way you want to. (Crew chief) Tim Richards had it on the button today, he had it running good."

Densham was quickest in Funny Car, clocking a 4.826 with a track record speed of 319.82 in a Ford Mustang. Hometown favorite John Force, who clinched his record 11th series championship in late October in Dallas, qualified fourth with a 4.872, 313.00 in a Mustang.

"To be able to put a run like that on the board is great," Densham said. "This track is great. But the race itself is very tough. The car ran good and (Crew chief) Jimmy Prock said it might have more in it. I'll take it. You could tell the car was flying. I thought we had a real shot at winning the 50th race this summer too. But this being the Auto Club race, it would be sweeter if we could win here."

Yates led the Pro Stock order in a Pontiac Grand Am, covering the distance in 6.878 at 200.71. Points leader Warren Johnson qualified third in a Grand Am with a 6.904 at 201.25. Johnson, who is chasing his sixth championship title, leads Yates by 103.

Savoie increased her chances of claiming a second straight Winston championship when she powered her Suzuki to the top of the Pro Stock Motorcycle order with a 7.217 at 185.00. Championship rival Antron Brown, who trails Savoie by 73, qualified fourth at 7.264, 184.37 also on a Suzuki.

By making one qualifying attempt, Panella clinched his third series title in Pro Stock Truck. Panella drove his Chevy S-10 to a 7.490 at 181.08, good enough for seventh in the order. Meanwhile, Tidwell paced the Pro Stock Truck lineup in a S-10, posting a track record 7.460 at 181.32.

Qualifying continues Friday at 1:45 p.m.

-NHRA-

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