Brainerd: Sunday eliminations final report

FORCE GETS WIN NO. 125, COUGHLIN GRABS 50TH WIN, BERNSTEIN, HINES ALL FIND VICTORY IN BRAINERD BRAINERD, Minn. - John Force recorded his 125th Funny Car victory Sunday and secured a spot in the Countdown to the Championship by beating fellow...


BRAINERD, Minn. - John Force recorded his 125th Funny Car victory Sunday and secured a spot in the Countdown to the Championship by beating fellow legend Kenny Bernstein in the closest drag race of the 26th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway. Force nipped Bernstein by .0048 seconds, or about two feet, with a 4.794-second pass at 316.60 mph to Bernstein's 4.801 at 320.43 mph.

Bernstein's son Brandon quickly brightened his father's mood by beating friendly rival Larry Dixon in the Top Fuel final, 4.525 to 4.586. In Pro Stock, Jeg Coughlin became just the 11th racer in 56 years of NHRA competition to score 50 national event wins when he beat Greg Anderson. An all-Harley Pro Stock Motorcycle final between teammates Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec favored Hines.

Force and Bernstein last faced each other in 1989 at the SuperNationals in Englishtown, N.J., an event that Bernstein went on to win for his last Funny Car victory. Bernstein now holds a 13-8 mark against Force, including a 6-2 record in final rounds. Force's career record improves to 125-74, while Bernstein's falls to 69-51.

"Austin Coil [crew chief] has run this track a lot more than me from the old days of match racing and he really knows this place, whether it's hot or cool here," said Force, who now has 11 wins at Brainerd. "This season has been something. Early on I couldn't beat anyone, including that girl named Force, and I remember awhile back telling Coil we were pathetic. Something just had us snake-bit and we never did find what it was.

"Heading into Bristol John Medlen got into me and said I needed to start being the leader of this team. Eric [Medlen's] gone and it was time to get up and do our job. It was hard to get up for the fight but then the car came around and we got on a roll.

"This race took me back to 1978 when Kenny Bernstein was the king and he beat me and I told myself that one day I'd beat him. But then he left the class and I never got my chance."

Force has raced to the final round in four of the last five races and has moved all the way up to fourth in the POWERade points.

Five more Funny Car racers gobbled up positions in the Countdown to the Championship including low qualifier Mike Ashley, "Fast Jack" Beckman, Force, Tony Pedregon, and Gary Scelzi. There are six racers mathematically alive for the one remaining position currently held by Jim Head, who has a comfortable 83-point edge over No. 9 Tommy Johnson Jr.

Dixon gave Brandon a run for the Top Fuel trophy with a quick launch that gave him an early lead of .029 seconds. The two were dead-even at half-track before Brandon managed to sneak in front and take the win with a 4.525 at 329.91 mph in his Budweiser dragster to Dixon's 4.586 at 323.35 mph in the SkyTel rail. Brandon's elapsed time was the quickest of the weekend.

This was Brandon's fifth win of the season -- a career high -- and the 17th of his career. He improved his head-to-head mark over Dixon to 14-5 overall, including a 2-0 record in final rounds. Dixon falls to 2-2 on the year and 40-35 in career final rounds.

"That's a great team over there and they were running 4.50s all day just like us so we knew the final would be a tough race," said Bernstein, who also won this race last year. "It's wonderful to see the Budweiser car running so consistently because Indy will be here before you know it and we really want to be as close to perfect as possible when the Countdown starts.

"It was tough watching Dad lose right in front of us. I could see the big screen and I saw how close he was at the finish line. I know he wanted that one really bad and for as much jubilation as we're feeling on our side of the pit we're bummed out for them. I really wanted to get done with our race and give him a hug because I could see he was down. It'll happen one of these days, hopefully for both of us at the same time."

Bob Vandergriff became the sixth Top Fuel racer to lock-up a spot in the Countdown to the Championship field, leaving just two slots left. There are seven drivers vying for those final two positions now held by Whit Bazemore and Dave Grubnic.

One race after Greg Anderson scored his 50th career national event win, Coughlin collected his 50th victory by beating Anderson in the Pro Stock final. Coughlin left nothing to doubt, leaving with a strong .018- to .047-second reaction time advantage and then creeping away to win with a 6.667 at 205.94 mph in his Chevrolet Cobalt to Anderson's 6.669 at 207.24 mph in the Summit Racing Pontiac GTO.

Coughlin's 50 career wins have come in both the Pro and Sportsman categories. He has 37 Pro Stock wins, including three this year, and 13 sportsman wins in four different classes: Super Stock (seven), Super Gas (four), Competition (one), and Top Dragster (one). Coughlin is just the 11th racer in history to win 50 national events.

"This was big," Coughlin said. "To get our 50th win against the competition we run these days is special. Today's a great example of how tough it is; I had Allen Johnson, who's fourth in the points, Jason Line who's fifth, the big cowboy, six-time champion Warren Johnson, and then the best driver in the class over the last four years in Greg Anderson.

"Getting to 50 wins was one of my goals when I returned to Pro Stock. It's special to think that only 10 other people have achieved that mark in 50-plus years of drag racing. Fortunately, I've had a great hot rod with [team owner] Victor Cagnazzi and his entire team of technicians and mechanics and they've given me a car capable of winning races."

There are still three positions left to be filled in the Pro Stock portion of the Countdown as no one managed to secure a spot this weekend. Kurt Johnson, Warren Johnson, and Larry Morgan currently hold the final three spots with Morgan 55 points ahead of ninth-place runner Vieri Gaines.

Three-time and reigning Pro Stock Motorcycle champ Hines got bragging rights over teammate Krawiec with his wire-to-wire job here. Hines left with a .034 to Krawiec's .091-second start and just rode away for his 11th career victory, winning with a 7.009 at 188.20 mph to Krawiec's 7.077 at 183.94 mph. Both men ride identical Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson V-Rods.

"It's always a great deal when you can run your teammate in the final," Hines said. "It doesn't matter who wins or loses because the team has already accomplished its goal. It's so tough to get one bike to the final round these days, let alone to get both of them there. It was a great day for the entire Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines team."

Moving up to second place with his win, Hines was the only rider to clinch a spot in the Countdown to the Championship this weekend, leaving five open spaces. Krawiec's second final-round appearance in as many races has lifted him from 12th to eighth place in the POWERade points.

-credit: nhra

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jim Head , Jeg Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Tony Pedregon , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Greg Anderson , Larry Morgan , Tommy Johnson , Vieri Gaines , Allen Johnson , Jason Line , Mike Ashley , Andrew Hines , Bob Vandergriff , Austin Coil , Eddie Krawiec , John Medlen