Madison: Final eliminations summary

Bernstein, Force, Coughlin and Savoie Earn wins at Sears Craftsman Nationals. MADISON, Ill. - Kenny Bernstein made his final stop in the St. Louis area one to remember. The defending Top Fuel champion earned his first ever victory at the home ...

Bernstein, Force, Coughlin and Savoie Earn wins at Sears Craftsman Nationals.

MADISON, Ill. - Kenny Bernstein made his final stop in the St. Louis area one to remember. The defending Top Fuel champion earned his first ever victory at the home track of his sponsor, winning the Top Fuel title Sunday at the sixth annual Sears Craftsman NHRA Nationals at Gateway International Raceway.

Bernstein turned in a 5.056-second pass at 293.22 mph in his Budweiser King Dragster to beat Andrew Cowin's 5.291 run at 263.87 in the NY Yankee Dragster.

John Force, Jeg Coughlin and Angelle Savoie won their respective categories at the $1.8 million race, the 12th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Bernstein is retiring at the end of the season and is currently second in the points to Larry Dixon. After four qualifying runs Dixon failed to qualify for the eliminations, allowing Bernstein to close the gap.

"This is a special one," Bernstein said. "It means a lot to us. We've always worked hard here and it is a real important one to win. I feel for Larry Dixon and that team because we have all been there. That team has been dominating and anything short of a win would have been a bitter loss for us."

Going into the weekend, Dixon's lead over Bernstein was 259 points. After the weekend, that lead was cut to 157 points.

"I would rather this happen with us in first place than last place because we had some points to give up," Dixon said. "You can't afford to do this every week, but it's still okay. At every race I try to qualify and then I'll try to look for the win. You can learn real fast not to take qualifying for granted."

Bernstein said the team was able to conquer the track that got up to 145 degrees because of the team. "The first three runs of the day the car was smooth as silk," Bernstein said. "This team is just so good and Tim Richards is doing a great job (as crew chief). This is probably the best team I have ever had.

"I am so excited over this win. I have not been this excited in a long time. Today it worked out for us." At most national events, Bernstein has been celebrating his final year of racing with special events. One such event is riding the Budweiser Clydesdale horses in front of the fans. Bernstein got a little luck from at least two of the horses.

"All year long we haven't had much luck this year and we needed a little," Bernstein said. "I told everyone that we didn't need a horseshoe from a Shetland pony, we needed a big one from a Clydesdale.

"We had a little luck all weekend long, but we got two horseshoes so when the luck runs out from the first one, we'll throw it away and bring out the second one."

Force earned the 101st victory of his career as he scored the automatic win off a Scotty Cannon red light. Force smoked the tires and went 8.837 at 87.98 in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang to beat Cannon's disqualified 5.053 at 295.85 in his Oakley Pontiac Firebird.

"I saw the red light, but it happened so quick and I wasn't sure if it was me or him," Force said. "I left and then my clutch hooked up and we smoked the tires. I was happy the red light was his."

The last time Force won a race was at the Houston event on April 14. Force's teammate Gary Densham has held the points lead over Force and his other teammate, Tony Pedregon has been in third place. The three Force Racing drivers are still in the top three spots, but Force took over the lead after Densham lost in the semifinals to Cannon.

"I'm mostly proud of the fact that my teammates and I are still in the top three spots," Force said. "(Del) Worsham was getting pretty close to Pedregon, so it was important that we took him out (in the second round). We've learned a lot from each other's car. When Densham smoked the tires, all of our guys came running up to my car and made all the right adjustments."

Force is an 11-time champion - winning nine consecutive Funny Car titles. Still, he is not overly excited about being back in the points lead.

"There is a long way before the end of the season," Force said. "Look at the Top Fuel category. I don't start thinking about the points until after Indy."

Cannon, the 1999 Rookie of the Year, has yet to win a national event. This is the second runner-up finish for Cannon this season.

"Scotty had me covered," Force said. "My heap went up in smoke. He is way overdue to win, we just got the win today."

Cannon took the blame for the loss. "No excuses, I messed up," Cannon said. "I didn't do anything to alter my starting line routine, but I was obviously more pumped and that resulted in my timing being off. I feel bad for (crew chief) Mike Neff and the Oakley crew. They gave me an excellent hot rod this weekend.

"The guys were supportive of me afterwards and I can't tell you how much that meant to me. That is a team that sticks together through thick and thin."

Coughlin became the 10th different winner this season in the Pro Stock category. Coughlin went 6.928 at 199.52 to beat Greg Anderson's 6.930 at 199.91 in a battle between Chevy Cavaliers.

"I feel great, no doubt about it," Coughlin said. "We're 12 races into the season and (brother and teammate) Troy (Coughlin) got a win in Topeka and now we have a win and it feels great. The Pro Stock category is unbelievably tough this season."

Coughlin said the victory did not come easily. "That race was so close that neither one of us knew who won," Coughlin said. "It was no walk I the park today. I came here last week to race my sportsman car and it was over 100 degrees (on the track) every day then too. I think that really helped us this weekend."

Savoie claimed her third win of the season. Shawn Gann fouled at the starting line and Savoie went on to win with a 7.187 at 184.83 on her CVEC Suzuki while Gann turned in a red-light run of 7.245 at 188.78 on his Mac Tools/Gann Speed Suzuki.

"It is so fun racing Shawn in the finals," Savoie said. "I know that he is due to win and I was just hoping that it was not going to come against me. This is great. It feels just as good as my first win. They never get old and I will never take a win for granted."

Savoie said she was surprised just how well the motorcycle ran in the heat. "I was very surprised by how much traction we got," Savoie said. "All of the credit goes to the motorcycle and (crew chief) George Bryce. The heat was almost unbearable."

The next NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series event is the Mopar Parts Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway, July 18-21.

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , Tony Pedregon , John Force , Greg Anderson , Andrew Cowin , Shawn Gann , Gary Densham , Scotty Cannon , George Bryce , Mike Neff