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Bernstein On Top As Winternationals, Season Begin In Pomona

| , RacinToday.com Friday, February 15 2013

Brandon Bernstein moved to the top of Top Fuel provisional qualifying at Pomona on Thursday. (Photo courtesy of the Mello Yello NHRA Drag Racing Series)

Second-generation driver Brandon Bernstein continued the momentum from his win in November’s season-finale by racing to the qualifying lead in Top Fuel Thursday at the 53rd annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals presented by Super Start Batteries.

Gary Densham (Funny Car) and V. Gaines (Pro Stock) also were qualifying leaders at the 2013 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season-opener at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif.

Bernstein drove his Protect the Harvest/MAV TV dragster fielded by Morgan Lucas Racing to the provisional No. 1 spot with a 3.761-second 1,000-foot pass at 325.22 mph. If the performance holds, it will be the 15th pole of his career.

“The Protect the Harvest/MAV TV car came out of the gates real good,” said Bernstein, who won one national event en route to a fifth-place point finish in 2012. “It felt like a really good run. It’s nice to be in that No.1 right now but there’s a lot of racing left. That win at the end of the year gave us a tremendous boost of confidence. This weekend is going to be even tougher.”

Also in Top Fuel, seven-time world champion Tony Schumacher sits in the second spot with a 3.777-second pass at 326.08 mph – the event’s top speed – in his U.S Army dragster. Clay Millican holds the third spot after a 3.799-second pass at 325.77 mph in his Auto-Plus dragster.

“I think it was a fantastic run because you come in really not knowing the track and you watch most of the cars running fairly average, which throws you a curveball and you start turning knobs,” said Schumacher, second in last year’s championship to Don Schumacher Racing teammate Antron Brown. “We came off a great test session (in January) where we got down the track almost every time. We come back here and we run the exact same number we did testing.

“Repeatability wins championships, and that’s what this U.S. Army team is doing. What that tells me is when we practiced, we made changes, we understood what the changes would do, what we saw in testing was spot-on.”

Reigning world champion Brown, who clinched his first title at Pomona with Bernstein’s help during the season-finale, stood sixth after a pass of 3.834-seconds at 322.19 mph in his Matco Tools dragster.

Veteran Funny Car driver Densham powered his Densham Motorsports Dodge Charger to the qualifying lead with a 1,000-foot performance of 4.053-seconds at 307.09 mph.

“We’ve been very fortunate to qualify at every race and have a lot of fun doing it,” Densham said. “It was a good run. I feel I got the best team in drag racing. They do more with less than anybody out here and I think we’ve proved that every time we come out here. We’ll carry on the best we can. It’s gonna be a great weekend.”

Meanwhile, 2012 rookie of the year Courtney Force took the provisional second spot with a 4.071-second pass at 311.49 mph in her Traxxas Ford Mustang fielded by John Force Racing. Courtney earned his first career victory last year while finishing fifth in points.

Johnny Gray is third in his Pitch Energy Dodge Charger R/T at 4.087-seconds at 308.78 mph. Johnny and his sister, Terry Chandler, are sponsoring the DSR Funny Car this year in memory of their late father, John R. Gray, who founded Pitch Energy – named after Pitch, his dad’s favorite card game.

A portrait of the family patriarch adorns the rear quarter panels of the Dodge, as Johnny is dedicating his final, fulltime pro racing season to his father. “Yeah, I’m sure that was the fastest dad’s ever been,” Gray said. “Absolutely. I’m sure he loved it.”

Johnny, who turns 60 this year, is intent upon improving his career-best sixth-place finish in the 2012 Funny Car standings with crew chief Rob Wendland calling the shots. “It was a great way to open the season up,” Johnny said. “It chattered the tires a little bit out there and Rob said that’s what got me over the left. He said it wasn’t my fault, but I’ll still take the rap because I was driving it.”

Reigning Funny Car world champion Jack Beckman, winner of three national events in 2012, is seventh after posting numbers of 4.148-seconds at 309.13 mph in his Valvoline NextGen/MTS Mail for Wounded Warriors Dodge Charger R/T.

In Pro Stock, Gaines secured the qualifying lead with a quarter-mile pass in 6.538-seconds at 211.49 mph in his Kendall Oil Dodge Avenger.

“We had a really good end of last year and made a lot of progress,” said Gaines, who won one race en route to a seventh-place point finish in 2012. “We’ve got a hot car and a fantastic engine program. We’re looking forward to this year. For a single-car team to do what we’re doing, I think is phenomenal. It’s extremely gratifying when you’re doing it all yourself.”

Trailing Gaines after the first of four scheduled rounds of qualifying were former world champions Jason Line and Mike Edwards. Line was second at 6.541-seconds at 212.43 mph in his Summit Racing Chevy Camaro followed by Edwards, who posted a 6.545-second run at 212.26 mph in his Interstate Batteries/I Am Second Chevy Camaro.

Reigning world champion Allen Johnson stood 19th and last on the ladder after an aborted run of 13.855-seconds at 63.06 mph in his Mopar Dodge Avenger. That figures to be a temporary blip for Johnson, who clinched his first world title at Pomona last fall with a victory. Johnson won a class-leading seven races in 2012, led all pro-category drivers in round-wins with 55, earned 11 final-round appearances including five of six in the Countdown to the Championship, and posted a class-best 10 No. 1 qualifier positions.

“We just need to maintain the same consistency we had last year, continue to make good decisions and maintain strong engine and drivetrain reliability,” said Johnson, sporting the No. 1 decal on his Johnson & Johnson Racing hot rod. “The addition of Jeg (Coughlin Jr.), along with Vincent Nobile will certainly be an extra challenge for me, since all of us will be getting good horsepower from my dad (Roy Johnson). Our goal is to have all three Dodges in the top-five, maybe even in the first three positions, at every event. It will be up to the drivers to determine in which order.”

Qualifying continues Friday at 2 p.m. with the final two qualifying sessions set for Saturday at noon and 2 p.m. Eliminations are scheduled for Sunday at 11 a.m.

Thursday’s results after the first of four rounds of qualifying for the 53rd annual O’Reilly NHRA Winternationals presented by Super Start Batteries at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, first of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

Top Fuel _ 1. Brandon Bernstein, 3.761-seconds, 325.22 mph; 2. Tony Schumacher, 3.777, 326.08; 3. Clay Millican, 3.799, 325.77; 4. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.802, 325.37; 5. Morgan Lucas, 3.814, 325.06; 6. Antron Brown, 3.834, 322.19; 7. Sidnei Frigo, 3.890, 298.60; 8. T.J. Zizzo, 3.959, 270.48; 9. Terry McMillen, 3.962, 286.32; 10. Larry Dixon, 3.968, 244.74; 11. Leah Pruett, 4.018, 251.86; 12. Steve Torrence, 4.037, 229.12.

Not Qualified _ 13. David Grubnic, 4.045, 228.85; 14. Bob Vandergriff Jr., 4.488, 173.90; 15. Doug Kalitta, 4.584, 164.11; 16. Steve Faria, 5.592, 120.23; 17. Shawn Langdon, 5.800, 115.01; 18. Spencer Massey, 6.160, 103.54; 19. Steven Chrisman, 10.403, 83.38; 20. Brittany Force, broke.

Funny Car _ 1. Gary Densham, Dodge Charger, 4.053, 307.09; 2. Courtney Force, Ford Mustang, 4.071, 311.49; 3. Johnny Gray, Charger, 4.087, 308.78; 4. Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 4.093, 296.44; 5. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.097, 304.46; 6. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.104, 306.26; 7. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.148, 309.13; 8. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.190, 305.08; 9. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.221, 283.25; 10. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.232, 244.83; 11. Phil Burkart Jr., Chevy Monte Carlo, 4.280, 286.50; 12. Ron Capps, Charger, 5.115, 146.91.

Not Qualified _ 13. Tony Pedregon, 6.579, 101.92; 14. John Force, 6.626, 98.58; 15. Jeff Arend, 7.107, 95.17; 16. Robert Hight, 8.083, 86.25; 17. Todd Lesenko, 11.749, 63.41.

Pro Stock _ 1. V. Gaines, Dodge Avenger, 6.538, 211.49; 2. Jason Line, Chevy Camaro, 6.541, 212.43; 3. Mike Edwards, Camaro, 6.545, 212.26; 4. Erica Enders-Stevens, Chevy Cobalt, 6.555, 211.66; 5. Vincent Nobile, Avenger, 6.579, 210.57; 6. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.580, 210.64; 7. Greg Stanfield, Camaro, 6.585, 209.30; 8. Steve Kent, Camaro, 6.611, 208.84; 9. Chris McGaha, Avenger, 6.612, 209.04; 10. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.614, 209.69; 11. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, 6.617, 208.71; 12. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.619, 209.10.

Not Qualified _ 13. Warren Johnson, 6.619, 208.36; 14. Kurt Johnson, 6.621, 209.65; 15. Matt Hartford, 6.632, 209.79; 16. Deric Kramer, 6.635, 207.94; 17. Mark Wolfe, 11.378, 78.95; 18. Jeg Coughlin Jr., 12.335, 95.75; 19. Allen Johnson, 13.855, 63.06.

| , RacinToday.com Friday, February 15 2013
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