MADISON, Ill. - For the first time since coming out of retirement, Kenny Bernstein drove his way to the No. 1 qualifying position in the Top Fuel category Saturday at the seventh annual Sears Craftsman NHRA Nationals at Gateway International ...
MADISON, Ill. - For the first time since coming out of retirement, Kenny Bernstein drove his way to the No. 1 qualifying position in the Top Fuel category Saturday at the seventh annual Sears Craftsman NHRA Nationals at Gateway International Raceway.
Bernstein was forced to come out of retirement when son Brandon was injured in an accident during the first round of eliminations in Englishtown, N.J. in May. Bernstein took the Budweiser dragster to the top spot of the 16-car ladder with a 4.596-second run at 323.12 mph.
Gary Densham, Warren Johnson and Shawn Gann led their respective categories at the $1.8 million race, the 12th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.
It is the 66th No. 1 qualifying position of Bernstein's career.
"It has been real tough for Brandon to sit at home and hopefully we can make him feel better by getting the win on Sunday," Bernstein said. "(Crew chief) Tim Richards made some good calls (during qualifying). We know this car has the power and the performance, we just have to harness it."
Bernstein is the defending winner at Gateway, earning the first victory at his sponsor's hometown track last season. Bernstein gave credit for the win to a lucky horseshoe given to him by his sponsors.
"We took the last lucky horseshoe out of the trailer in Columbus," Bernstein said. "They have run out of luck. This has been our second home for 24 years and the fans are very loyal to Budweiser and to our team."
Densham earned his second No. 1 qualifying position of the season and fifth of his career with a 4.858 pass at a track record speed of 316.97 in his Auto Club Ford Mustang.
"We are having a very good year, but quietly," Densham said. "(Crew chief) Jimmy Prock is playing with some new stuff and that is going to take a while to sort it out and yet the team is already doing a good job. We have a great team. We were looking to run in the mid 80s and we were surprised that more teams didn't step up to the plate and run similar numbers."
Densham said Sunday's eliminations will present a big challenge to all of the teams because the weather will be warmer during the first round of eliminations.
"The first round is going to be the biggest dice roll we have ever seen," Densham said. "We can't control the weather and it could be a little more hot and sticky than what we had today. But it doesn't change the fact that I have all of the confidence in Jimmy and the team."
Johnson earned the No. 1 spot for the third time this season and 130th time in his career. Johnson drove his GM Performance Parts Pontiac Grand Am to a 6.808 pass at 200.12 to pace the Pro Stock category.
Gann earned his second top spot of the season and fourth of his career with a track record time of 7.136 at 187.31 on his Suzuki to lead Pro Stock Bike.
Final eliminations begin at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday.