Topeka: Bernstein looking to regain form

BRANDON BERNSTEIN LOOKING TO REGAIN TOP FORM AS POWERADE SERIES HEADS TO HEARTLAND PARK TOPEKA TOPEKA - One short year ago, Heartland Park Topeka represented the top of the mountain for Brandon Bernstein and the Budweiser Racing team. He had...

BRANDON BERNSTEIN LOOKING TO REGAIN TOP FORM AS POWERADE SERIES HEADS TO HEARTLAND PARK TOPEKA

TOPEKA - One short year ago, Heartland Park Topeka represented the top of the mountain for Brandon Bernstein and the Budweiser Racing team.

He had just won his third race in nine events and taken over the lead in the NHRA POWERade point standings for the second time in his young career. The 2003 Rookie of the Year was making a strong bid to follow that up with a Driver of the Year award in 2004.

Things were looking pretty good.

"We were ecstatic," currently sixth in the Top Fuel point standings after eight events. "We were the points leader, we were thinking we were going to go on and win more races. The attitudes were tremendous. We were on top. When you're on top, everything's great."

The good times, for Bernstein and Team Budweiser, did not roll. He suffered first round ousters in each of the following two races and didn't see another final round in 2004, although he did finish a respectable third in the point standings.

"A year ago, it was a pretty awesome feeling to be No. 1," said Bernstein, who talked about the added pressure that comes with wearing the bull's-eye that comes with No. 1, but added that he believes he and his team "handled (being No. 1) fine. I don't know if I'd change anything."

And while he's had his moments in 2005---- - hitting the top speed in Phoenix and again in Bristol, Tenn. where he was the top qualifier - he's yet to find the winner's circle.

"Race day for some reason, we just can't get over the hump," Bernstein said. "But we're close. We really think we're close. It's just one of those seasons where we haven't had a little bit of a break. We're not looking for a red-light, just a break, something to help us get over our second-round hump."

Bernstein would obviously like to change that and perhaps a return to Heartland Park Topeka May 26-29 for the 17th annual O'Reilly Summer Nationals, the ninth of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series, will do the trick.

"Coming into Topeka, I hope we can throw it down, get four qualifying runs down and be ready to go for eliminations (on Sunday)," Bernstein said.

The event at Heartland Park will be the third of three consecutive race weekends, positioned on the back end of a stretch that includes stops in Atlanta and Columbus, Ohio.

While Bernstein will certainly be a driver to watch in Top Fuel, he is not alone. Wichita's Cory McClenathan is solidly positioned in the Top 10 in the standings and he's won here twice (1994, 1998). Points leader Doug Kalitta and No. 2 Tony Schumacher are always threats, while emerging "Hot" Rod Fuller and youngster Morgan Lucas are still chasing down their first Top Fuel victories.

Other defending race winners include Whit Bazemore in Funny Car and Greg Anderson in Pro Stock.

Bazemore has already had an impressive 2005 with wins in Gainesville, Fla. and Las Vegas and his Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dodge will certainly be a car to watch. Also in Funny Car, John Force is the all-time wins leader at the track, regardless of class with seven, but he hasn't won here since 2000. He is leading the season's point standings with three victories, most recently at Columbus.

Anderson, who has earned back-to-back wins at Atlanta and Columbus, has begun to show signs of his dominant 2004 form and should be a threat along with series points leader Warren Johnson and the 22-year old Dave Connolly, who has been a threat all season long.

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Warren Johnson , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Doug Kalitta , Cory McClenathan , Brandon Bernstein , Morgan Lucas , Rod Fuller