NASCAR & Auto Racing

Bernstein leads Top Fuel qualifying in Virginia

DINWIDDIE, Va. – Fourth-place Brandon Bernstein’s bid to hold onto one of the four spots in the inaugural Countdown to 1 got off to a great start Friday night, leading Top Fuel qualifying in the Torco Racing Fuels NHRA Nationals.

The son of longtime star Kenny Bernstein blistered Virginia Motorsports Park with a 4.549-second run at 321.58 mph to outrun the four drivers looking to replace him in the final leg of the first round of the NHRA Playoffs.

The closest racer to Bernstein in the points, Bob Vandergriff, who entered the weekend needing to make up a 21-point deficit, broke right off the starting line, leaving him outside the field with two rounds remaining.

Tommy Johnson Jr. topped the Funny Car field with a solid 4.790 at 312, while Pro Stock points leader Dave Connolly showed the way in the factory hot rod class with a steady 6.649 at 207 mph.

Johnson isn’t a part of the Countdown but that didn’t stop him from putting his Skoal Chevy on the provisional Funny Car pole with a 4.790 at 312.06 mph. Johnson’s speed was the difference as John Force Racing pro Robert Hight also posted a 4.790, but he ended up second in his Ford after topping out at 307.58 mph.

The three drivers fighting to replace John Force in the Countdown to 1 field – Mike Ashley, Ron Capps, and Gary Scelzi had mixed results Friday. Ashley was fifth in his Torco Dodge with a 4.905. Capps was all the way down in 12th with a coasting 8.727, while Scelzi finds himself outside the top 16 with a best of 11.762.

Considering he’s won the last four races in a row, it surprised no one that Connolly has the quickest car in Pro Stock as his 6.649 at 207.24 mph in his Chevrolet Cobalt got the job done Friday night.

Connolly’s teammate at Cagnazzi Racing, fourth-place points earner Jeg Coughlin, is second on the grid with a 6.661 at 207.27 mph. The other players in the Countdown to 1 chase showed well with Larry Morgan earning fifth place with a 6.674, Allen Johnson taking sixth with a 6.677, Kurt Johnson grabbing eighth with a 6.689, Jason Line ninth with a 6.704, and Warren Johnson claiming 12th with a 6.708.