Norwalk: Series round 13 preview

BERNSTEIN, COPART/LUCAS OIL TEAM CONTINUE STEADY RISE IN TOP FUEL STANDINGS NORWALK, Ohio -- With a new sponsor to impress, it's probably a bit of an understatement to say the season didn't get off to the start that either Kenny Bernstein or his...


NORWALK, Ohio -- With a new sponsor to impress, it's probably a bit of an understatement to say the season didn't get off to the start that either Kenny Bernstein or his son and driver, Brandon, had hoped for -- three races into the 2010 season, the Copart/Lucas Oil dragster was in ninth place with just two round-wins.

So combine one of the most competitive driver/owners in NHRA and the demand to impress a new sponsor, with the undeniable fact that we are in an instant-gratification world, and you had the recipe for change.

Change for the sake of change can oftentimes have the reverse effect, but in this case Kenny Bernstein made a move that certainly has paid dividends. He elevated Todd Smith to crew chief on the Copart/Lucas Oil dragster after the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals and it didn't take long for things to click -- over the course of the last seven races the Bernstein rail has been to two final rounds (Atlanta and Bristol) and four semifinals (Las Vegas 1, St. Louis, Englishtown and Topeka) and not qualified lower than fourth at the last five races.

"We made our best qualifying effort of the season at Raceway Park," Bernstein said of the No. 2 at Englishtown. "We have every confidence we are on the cusp of a victory. We just need to roll the winning combination. We have a lot of momentum and we've got a lot of racing to do. We (are in the midst of a stretch of seven races in eight) weeks and we'll be digging deep."

The fourth race in that stretch of seven races in eight weeks, the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals, will be run this weekend (June 25-27) at one of the most fan-friendly facilities on the circuit, Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio. It is the 13th race in the 23-race NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season and it will be televised by ESPN2 HD.

Bernstein needs to "dig deep" to his first couple of years on the NHRA Full Throttle Series circuit, 2003-2006, to get back to the Winner's Circle that has strangely eluded him the last couple of years with the lone exception being Richmond, 2009.

After opening his career with a 10-1 mark in final rounds, he has had the exact reverse record in his last 11 final rounds, 1-10, including a pair of runner-up finishes at this weekend's venue, Summit Racing Motorsports Park.

"We have been the bridesmaid the past two years," said Bernstein. "It is a great accomplishment to get to the final round with the stiff competition in the Top Fuel class, but we are looking to take home the gold 'Wally' trophy this year. Our Copart/Lucas Oil team is running consistent, very competitive numbers and we're a threat every time we pull to the starting line. We're hungry for a win."

It's been an interesting and unwelcome turn in final-round fortunes for Bernstein, who opened his career as one of the Series best closers and lately has been nothing but snakebit in final rounds. Overall, he is 18-16 in 34 final-round appearances.

He'll look to get that turned around this weekend and a win might be enough to move him into the Top 5 in the Top Fuel standings -- he currently trails fifth-place Antron Brown by 47 points and fourth-place Doug Kalitta by 68 points.

Those two drivers will certainly be on Bernstein's radar this weekend, but so too will be points-leader Larry Dixon and the Al-Anabi team and second-place Tony Schumacher and the U.S. Army team as there's no reason to believe they won't be in the mix late Sunday afternoon in Norwalk.

In Funny Car, 14-time world champ John Force comes to Norwalk fresh off of his fourth win of the season to regain the top spot in the point standings in his Castrol GTX High-Mileage Ford Mustang. He is chasing his 15th series crown against a host of talented drivers including teammates Ashley Force Hood and Robert Hight, and Don Schumacher Racing's Matt Hagan and Jack Beckman.

Edwards continues to have the car to beat in Pro Stock competition. The defending world champ has won eight of the first 12 races and he's earned No. 1 qualifying positions at nine of the first 12 races. His biggest challengers include past world champs Jeg Coughlin and Greg Anderson, and Allen Johnson, who holds down the No. 2 spot in the standings. Young Rickie Jones, coming off of a runner-up at Bristol to get back into the Top 10, has proven to be a serious upset threat with his quick reactions at the starting line in his Elite Motorsports Pontiac GXP.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Hector Arana continues to lead the point standings in spite of the fact that he remains winless on the season. And with the way second-place Michael Phillips, resurgent Steve Johnson, and rookie L.E. Tonglet have been racing, that first win of 2010 won't come easily for him.

* SCHEDULE: Full Throttle Series qualifying sessions are scheduled for 4:45 and 7:15 p.m. on June 25 and Noon and 3:30 p.m. on June 26. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, June 27.

* TICKETS: Tickets are available for the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals. For tickets call Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park at (419) 668-5555 or visit

* ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 7 p.m. (ET) on Saturday, June 26. ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise NHRA Race Day, a 30-minute race preview show, at 4:30 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, June 27. ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise three hours of eliminations coverage beginning at 7 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, June 27.

* LUCAS OIL SERIES: The NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals also will feature competition in several categories in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series, where the future stars of the NHRA Full Throttle Series are born. Lucas Oil Series qualifying begins at 8:30 a.m. on Friday, June 25 and eliminations begin at 8 a.m. on Saturday June 26 and continue Sunday June 27.

* GET SCREENED AMERICA PRO MOD SERIES: NHRA's newest touring series will make its seventh start of the 10-race season at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals. The series features some of the world's fastest and most unique doorslammer cars, with an eclectic mix of vintage and late-model body styles, in quarter-mile competition.

-source: nhra

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Series NHRA
Drivers Antron Brown , Jeg Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Doug Kalitta , Jack Beckman , Ashley Force , Allen Johnson , Michael Phillips , Steve Johnson , Don Schumacher , Robert Hight , Matt Hagan , Rickie Jones , Todd Smith