Joliet: Dixon No. 2 for finals

JOLIET, IL (June 2) -- Cool temperatures, sporadic rain and crafty tuning collided at Route 66 Raceway Saturday as Larry Dixon drove the Don Prudhomme-owned Miller Lite Dragster to a strong No. 2 qualifying position with a season-best run of 4.504...

JOLIET, IL (June 2) -- Cool temperatures, sporadic rain and crafty tuning collided at Route 66 Raceway Saturday as Larry Dixon drove the Don Prudhomme-owned Miller Lite Dragster to a strong No. 2 qualifying position with a season-best run of 4.504 seconds at a career-best speed of 326 mph on the final day of qualifying at the Fourth Annual Lucas Oil Products NHRA Nationals,

Dixon entered today's qualifying rounds as the No. 2 seed, having just missed Friday's best Top Fuel elapsed time by .001 of a second. Dixon would need to be patient again this morning as weather delayed the schedule approximately one hour later than originally planned. It was well worth the wait as Crew Chief Dick LaHaie made a perfect call as Dixon posted a Route 66 Raceway track record elapsed time of 4.504 seconds, which also served as his season best time. The cool air also provided for additional horsepower as his speed of 326.00 mph established a new career-best top speedmark. His previous best speed was 324.75 mph recorded earlier this year at Houston Raceway Park. The lap also gave Dixon the pole after thethird of four qualifying sessions.

"Yeah, the clutch trouble we hadin Englishtown, which then carried over to Topeka, well, we finally fixed it,"said Dixon. "We proved that by running in the 50s again which was really nice."

Dixon's second run of the day, and final attempt at qualifying before Sunday's elimination rounds, did not improve his time or speed marks, but did give the Miller Lite Team some confidenceheading into their first round meeting tomorrow against Bobby Baldwin. The lap of 4.546 seconds at 324.44 mph put thefinishing touches on another strong qualifying effort for Dixon's squad whichhas now qualified among the top three Top Fuel cars after eight of the 10 events so far this year.

He would not be able to earn his ninth career pole position however as Kenny Bernstein ran the quickest lap in the history of NHRA Drag Racing with a pass of 4.477 seconds at 330.88 mph to take the top spot on the qualifying ladder.

"I didn't really think much about the pole because I knew that Friday's times would not stand anyway," said Dixon. It was a real nice run and it felt good in the car. There were acouple of areas where Dick LaHaie thought we could pick up the pace a little and try to fix some small stuff. When you run a 50, there isn't a lot that you can say is going wrong, but there weresome things we still wanted to improve on."

As far as the new elapsed time mark (which Dixon currently owned as the first driver to surpass the 4.5-second mark with his 4.488 second pass in 1999), Dixon knew that there was a strong chance a new record would be made.

"The conditions were there for it and it was just a matter of which one of four cars could actually do it, including us," said Dixon. "He (Bernstein) was the one that was able to take advantage of it. As far as tomorrow goes, if we can maintain the consistency that we had during qualifying, we should go deep in the elimination rounds."

Dixon's runner up finish in 2000 was the closest he has come to winning an NHRA Top Fuel title in the three-year history of the relatively new Route 66 Raceway. He has reached three final rounds this season, including a win at Gainesville, FL, and currently sits just 19 points behind Bernstein in the Winston points race. Friday and Saturday's qualifying rounds will be televised tonight on ESPN2 from 8:00-10:00 PM ET, while the finals will air Sunday from 5:00-7:00:00PM ET.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , Don Prudhomme , Dick LaHaie