Richmond: Friday qualifying report

ONE ROUND OF QUALIFYING COMPLETED AT RAIN-SLOWED TORCO RACING FUELS NHRA NATIONALS Brandon Bernstein, Tommy Johnson Jr. and Dave Connolly hold provisional No. 1 qualifying positions DINWIDDIE, Va. -- Fourth-place Brandon Bernstein's fight to...

ONE ROUND OF QUALIFYING COMPLETED AT RAIN-SLOWED TORCO RACING FUELS NHRA NATIONALS

Brandon Bernstein, Tommy Johnson Jr. and Dave Connolly hold provisional No. 1 qualifying positions

DINWIDDIE, Va. -- Fourth-place Brandon Bernstein's fight to hold onto one of the four spots in the inaugural Countdown to 1 got off to a great start Friday night as the second-generation Top Fuel pro earned the provisional low qualifier position at the second annual Torco Racing Fuels NHRA Nationals.

The son of legend Kenny Bernstein blistered Virginia Motorsports Park with a 4.549 at 321.58 mph to outrun the four drivers looking to replace him in the final leg of the first round of the NHRA Playoffs. Tommy Johnson Jr. leads Funny Car with a solid 4.790 at 312.06, while scorching-hot Pro Stock points leader Dave Connolly showed the way in the factory hot rod class with a steady 6.649 at 207.24 mph.

"That was big," Bernstein said. "To qualify in the top half and get those extra points gives us a little bit of a cushion. But it's still going to come down to a round-by-round deal on Sunday. We just have to go rounds on Sunday and hope we go more than [Bob Vandergriff] goes and even Whit [Bazemore] and the others. They're all right back there."

The most notable of those drivers behind Bernstein's Budweiser team is of course Bob Vandergriff's UPS team, which entered the weekend needing to make up just 21 points. Hoping to make up two points in qualifying to get within a round going into Sunday, Vandergriff will now have to turn his attention to just getting into the field after breaking in his only qualifying pass on Sunday. He'll enter Saturday's final qualifying sessions outside the field.

Whit Bazemore, who needs Bernstein to bow out early Sunday for him to have a chance at making the Countdown to 1 field, is second after Friday's lone qualifying session with a 4.574 at 321.42 mph in his Matco Tools rail. A lengthy rainstorm canceled the second session outright.

J.R. Todd, who is also chasing Bernstein, is third with a 4.592 at 317.64 mph in his Torco dragster, followed by points leader Larry Dixon, who is fourth with a 4.600 in his SkyTel dragster. Another Countdown racer, Doug Herbert, is next in fifth place in his Snap-on Tools car with a 4.606.

Johnson isn't a part of the Countdown but that didn't stop him from putting his Skoal Impala R/T on the provisional Funny Car pole with a 4.790 at 312.06 mph. Johnson's speed was the difference as John Force Racing pro Robert Hight also posted a 4.790, but he ended up second in his Ford after topping out at 307.58 mph.

"We sent our car in when Murf (McKinney, chassis builder) and all the engineers decided what needed to be fixed," Johnson said. "Our car was the first one to leave Murf's with all of the updates. They actually ended up making a lot of the jigs off of our car for everybody else's car. It wasn't a performance secret, so you want to share the safety stuff with everybody. We were more than happy to help everybody out."

The three drivers fighting to replace John Force in the Countdown to 1 field -- Mike Ashley, Ron Capps, and Gary Scelzi had mixed results Friday. Ashley was fifth in his Torco Dodge with a 4.905. Capps was all the way down in 12th with a coasting 8.727, while Scelzi finds himself outside the top 16 with a best of 11.762.

Considering he's won the last four races in a row, it surprised no one that Connolly has the quickest car in Pro Stock as his 6.649 at 207.24 mph in his Chevrolet Cobalt got the job done Friday night.

"The run we've been on is kind of incredible," Connolly said. "Sometimes you just get those vibes you're going to have a good weekend. I got that feeling last week and we actually made some gains in testing. You can go out there and test for months and months at a time and just never really find anything, but we actually felt like we made some progress with our Chevy Cobalt and it showed on that run."

Connolly's teammate at Cagnazzi Racing, fourth-place points earner Jeg Coughlin, is second on the grid with a 6.661 at 207.27 mph. The other players in the Countdown to 1 chase showed well with Larry Morgan earning fifth place with a 6.674, Allen Johnson taking sixth with a 6.677, Kurt Johnson grabbing eighth with a 6.689, Jason Line ninth with a 6.704, and Warren Johnson claiming 12th with a 6.708.

-credit: nh

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Series NHRA
Drivers Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , Warren Johnson , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Larry Morgan , Brandon Bernstein , Allen Johnson , Jason Line , Mike Ashley , Bob Vandergriff , Robert Hight , J.R. Todd , Dave Connolly , Tommy Johnson Jr.