TOPEKA, Kan. -- Kenny Bernstein led a parade of 50-somethings into the winner's circle Sunday at the Advance Auto Parts NHRA Nationals and in the process he moved into the Winston Top Fuel points lead for the first time since winning the elusive...
TOPEKA, Kan. -- Kenny Bernstein led a parade of 50-somethings into the winner's circle Sunday at the Advance Auto Parts NHRA Nationals and in the process he moved into the Winston Top Fuel points lead for the first time since winning the elusive championship in 1996.
Tony Pedregon, Ron Krisher and Don Smith also were winners in their respective categories at the $1.9 million race, the ninth of 24 events in the $50 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.
Bernstein, 56, posted four consistent 4.6-second runs in his Budweiser King dragster to take the victory, his third of the season and 56th of his career. In the final round, Bernstein covered the Heartland Park Topeka quarter-mile in 4.625 seconds at 317.94 mph, crossing the finish line just in front of rival Larry Dixon's Miller Lite dragster, which clocked in at 4.648 at 313.73.
"When it's hot and sunny it's anybody's ballgame and today I'm real proud of Tim Richards (crew chief) and the Bud team for doing the job they did," said Bernstein, who beat John Smith, Darrell Russell and Mike Dunn to advance to the final. "Tim is just so great at making the right calls and he did that today. It takes consistency to win races and championships and that's what we have right now. Tim gets the credit for that."
With the win, Bernstein moves 19 points ahead of Dixon, and 31 in front of third-place Mike Dunn.
"It's still early and I think everybody has to realize that," the five-time NHRA champion warned. "There's still a long, hot summer ahead of us. We just have to keep after it."
Pedregon, 36, earned his second-straight Funny Car victory over team owner John Force. Pedregon powered his Castrol Syntec Ford Mustang to a 4.912 at 309.77, while Force's Castrol GTX Mustang lost traction near mid-track and recorded a 6.032 at 246.62. It was Pedregon's 12th career win and first at Heartland Park.
Pedregon, who posted the fastest speed in NHRA history (324.83 mph) during qualifying, failed to back-up the speed within the required one percent, but came close during his first round victory over Bruce Sarver. He said setting the national record would've been nice, but winning is even better.
"I think John might've been a little bitter if we took the win and his (national speed) record," Pedregon said with a laugh. "I think this definitely erases any speculation about multi-car teams and whether there's real racing out there. This was just a spectacular weekend for our team and I think it is a good indicator of the kind of performance that we're capable of. I really felt like my guys pulled it through for me today."
Force, who is seeking a record 11th Winston championship, increased his points lead to 115 over Ron Capps, while Pedregon moved to sixth in the standings.
Krisher, 53, drove to his first win of the season and third of his career, outrunning new series points leader Mark Pawuk when his Summit Pontiac Grand Am lost traction. Krisher sped to a 6.963 at 198.73 in his Eagle One Chevy Cavalier, while Pawuk's attempt at getting his first win of the season came up short as his car slowed to a 7.07 at 197.19.
"The key in that final was having lane choice," said Krisher. "(Mark) got out there and was ahead of me to 1,000-foot, but then I caught him and passed him. I don't know what happened to his car because I never looked over. I was just driving my car all the way. When you start looking at the other car, you lose drag races. Fortunately, today was our day."
Pawuk took the Winston points lead for the first time in his 14-year Pro Stock career, leading Warren Johnson by 47.
Smith, 59, earned his first-career victory in Pro Stock Truck when fellow Chevy S-10 driver Randy Daniels fouled at the start of the final round.
"I had lane choice for each round and my crew gave me a good truck all day long," Smith said. "I was pretty nervous in the final because it was so exciting. After the start I saw him get out there about a truck length on me and I was worried, but I saw the win light come on in my lane so I knew he must've (fouled). It's a great feeling to win one of these races."
With the runner-up effort, Daniels moved 14 ahead of Bob Panella in the Winston point standings.
The next NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series event is the fourth annual Lucas Oil Products NHRA Nationals, May 31-June 3, at Route 66 Raceway near Chicago.