BERNSTEIN GETS WIN AND POINTS LEAD: ASHLEY GRABS FIRST WIN OF THE SEASON AT HEARTLAND PARK TOPEKA TOPEKA, Kan.-Brandon Bernstein extended his recent dominance of the Top Fuel class Sunday at Heartland Park Topeka with his third win of...
BERNSTEIN GETS WIN AND POINTS LEAD: ASHLEY GRABS FIRST WIN OF THE SEASON AT HEARTLAND PARK TOPEKA
TOPEKA, Kan.-Brandon Bernstein extended his recent dominance of the Top Fuel class Sunday at Heartland Park Topeka with his third win of the last four national events, surging into the POWERade points lead in the process.
Mike Ashley joined Bernstein in the winner's circle of the 19th annual O'Reilly NHRA Summer Nationals presented by Castrol GTX with his first Funny Car trophy, while Pro Stock kingpin Greg Anderson collected his fifth Wally of the year's first eight races.
Usually Bernstein and final-round opponent J.R. Todd are each other's biggest cheerleaders, but on this day they were rivals, if only for a few seconds, as they streaked down the quarter-mile for the race title. In the end, Bernstein's rock-steady rail was quick enough to turn on the win light as the 15-time national event winner crossed in 4.582 seconds at 320.51 mph to Todd's 4.667 at 299.86 mph attempt.
"It's tough to race J.R. because we're such great friends," Bernstein said. "Together with Eric [Medlen] we have spent a lot of time together and now with Eric being gone the bond I have with J.R. is even more special. Plus, he's a tough guy to race, so we're very happy to get the win."
Bernstein started the day 23 points in arrears to "Hot Rod" Fuller and leaves town 56 points ahead. Fuller lost to Doug Kalitta in the first round.
Ashley qualified as the happiest winner on the property as he took turns hugging everyone he could find after climbing from his Dodge Charger. The fast-talking New Yorker has had an excellent racecar lately, reeling off three No. 1 qualifying efforts in a row coming into this event. He finally punched through for his first win Sunday by beating Jim Head with a 4.896-second run at 310.70 mph.
"I'm so emotional right now but I'll try to keep it together," Ashley said. "This has been such a journey and it all started a few years ago when [sponsor] Evan Knoll came to me and said, 'Let's do it.' We've been working towards this goal since then and Evan stuck with us through it all. This win is for all the dreamers out there. This is proof you can do anything you set your mind to."
Semifinalist Robert Hight managed to trim his deficit to points leader Ron Capps from 121 to 53 points. Capps failed to qualify for this event, his first DNQ in 56 races.
Anderson is running so strong these days that his last three opponents all took shots at the Christmas Tree in an effort to gain some sort of edge on the three-time champion. It didn't help as all three men -- Tom Hammonds, Jeg Coughlin, and Connolly -- red-lighted by a few thousandths of a second.
"Dave and Jeggy had taken the momentum at the last race and it was important for us to answer back," Anderson said. "We've all worked extremely hard since St. Louis to swing it back this way and it appears we've got our hot rod back. I can't remember the last time three people red-lighted against me in the same day. It may not have ever happened. It's good to get in everyone's head a little bit."
Anderson has now won the last eight finals he's participated in dating back to last year's Indy win. He's 5-0 on the 2007 season and 48-21 in his career.
Cagnazzi Racing pro Connolly, who won the last race in St. Louis over teammate Coughlin, falls to 10-12 in his career but maintained second place in the standings.