FRIDAY LEADERS REMAIN ON TOP AFTER A HEATED FINAL QUALIFYING ROUND

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By Rob Geiger, NHRA.com Break out the suntan lotion; summer has arrived. The fifth annual Chicagoland Dodge Dealers NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway heated up Saturday in a big way with temperatures soaring under clear skies. A Windy City crowd happy to shake the doldrums of a rainy spring welcomed the sunshine but it forced the world's best crew chiefs to dismiss any notions they had about shooting for track records. Instead, most of the fields from Friday's evening session remained intact and team's busied themselves by searching for a winning race day tune-up. Top Fuel leader Kenny Bernstein (4.56 at 325 mph) collected his second $4,000 Budweiser Low Qualifier check of the year for finishing No. 1 in his class. Sharing the nitro podium was Bruce Sarver, whose 4.76 at 316 from Round 2 Friday was the quickest Funny Car pass of the weekend. In the Pro Stock ranks, both Jim Yates and Angelle Savoie nailed down their third successive No. 1 qualifying efforts with Yates going 6.86 at 200 mph in his Pro Stock car and Savoie tripping the timers in 7.14 seconds at 186 mph on her Pro Stock Motorcycle. The majority of the jostling in the Top Fuel ranks occurred in the bottom half of the bracket with Bernstein remaining completely unchallenged at the top. The Budweiser King's 4.562 at 325.06 mph from Friday evening couldn't be topped Saturday as most teams struggled with the increased heat and its accompanying 1,100-foot change in adjusted altitude. This is Bernstein's second low qualifier honor of the season and the 63rd of his career. He'll begin his search for his third win of the year against No. 16 qualifier Scott Weis, who put his Race Girl dragster in the field in the final slot with a 4.935 at 296.96 mph. "We can do some things with this new tire that we were unable to do with the old tire so it's better," Bernstein said. "But I'm not sure any tire would have worked today with as hot as it got out there. This is what we're going to face in Columbus and St. Louis and Denver so we better get ready for it. In a way it was a blessing we did so well yesterday because we were able to start the test process with this new tires and see what they can hold. We need hot runs now to see where we're at exactly. "[Larry] Dixon's buried us all a little bit but we're not going to give up yet. We out-qualified him here so that will help a little tiny bit and we'll go from there. One step at a time." Mac Tools pro Doug Kalitta stayed in second on the strength of his 4.575 at 327.43 mph. Topeka winner Darrell Russell, the only driver to get down the track with respectable numbers during all four qualifying sessions, kept Joe Amato's Bilstein Engine Flush System dragster in third with his opening-round blast of 4.597 at 314.83 mph. Dave Grubnic finished fourth with a 4.608 at 303.09 mph. Points leader Larry Dixon posted his worse qualifying effort since the Reading, Pa., event last year. The eight-time 2002 finalist will search for his sixth win of the year from the No. 6 position after a best of 4.624 at 318.39 mph. Sarver's titanic 4.768 at 316.23 mph from Friday night was never in jeopardy Saturday and kept the Bakersfield, Calif., resident firmly on top of the Funny Car category. Sarver, who just returned to the seat three races ago, now has two low qualifier honors and a runner-up finish to his credit this season. This is his fifth career No. 1 starting position. "We backed the car down today to smooth it out and see if we could get all the way down with all eight cylinders firing," Sarver said. "It worked. We were slow but we did get down the track with a nice safe tune-up. Now we can slowly tune it up, which is way easier to do then tuning it down. "It's hard to say what the conditions will be like [Sunday] but I feel like we have tune-ups that'll work no matter if it's cool or hot. We'll certainly do what we can to maintain lane choice even though I haven't really been partial to one side or the other. It's still nice to have even if it's just for the mental edge it gives you. "This is another great day for Toyota and White Cap. I'm glad we were able to keep the No. 1 by our name and get some attention for them." Oakley pro Scotty Cannon stayed in second with a 4.800 at 319.37 mph. Mopar Parts driver Dean Skuza remained in third place with a 4.832 at 312.86 mph, and Whit Bazemore locked up fourth with a 4.833 at 320.97 mph, the fastest pass of the weekend. Joliet's own John Lawson stayed on the bump all day and will open Sunday's racing action yielding lane choice to Sarver. Lawson's best run in the Lucas Oil machine was a 5.025 at 306.26 mph. Of his 100 career wins, John Force has won only once when he started race day in the bottom half of the field. He'll try to do it again here from the No. 13 position after a best of just 4.958 at 309.49 mph. Force's first round opponent is longtime nemesis Bazemore. The heat wreaked havoc on the Pro Stock set and left the top 16 in the exact same order they were at Friday's conclusion. Jim Yates, who took over the points lead in Topeka, Kan., by a 40-point margin over Warren Johnson, tacked another four points onto his lead with his third straight No. 1 qualifier effort. His best pass in the SplitFire/Peak Pontiac Grand Am was his opening round 6.862 at 200.65 mph. "What we try to do is adapt to the conditions that are out there when you have to run and try to be the quickest of the round," Yates said. "A lot of guys will take days like today and try out new things. We don't do that. We test away from national events. We always strive to make the best run possible every time up there because on race day you never know what could happen and I want to be ready for any change that might come our way. "Supposedly, it's only a high of 70 tomorrow so we'll see completely different conditions once again. Of course the weatherman's been wrong all weekend but that's what it looks like right now. No matter what, we'll have this SplitFire/Peak car ready to race. I'd like to keep lane choice because there's a big bump in the right lane and I'm encouraged by the fact our best pass so far came in that lane. I kind of like the way this race is shaping up for us." After last week's unbelievable .025-second spread from the No. 1 to the No. 16 qualifier, Yates will enter race day with a slightly better .041-second edge over this week's final qualifier JR Carr, who coaxed a best of 6.903 at 200.17 mph out of his Agri Pack Pontiac Firebird. Winnebago driver Tom Hammonds (6.870 at 200.74 mph), Steve Schmidt Racing pro Mark Osborne (6.877 at 200.29 mph), and Speedco Truck Lube pilot Bruce Allen (6.877 at 199.82 mph) rounded out the top four. Gainesville winner Darrell Alderman and Topeka winner Troy Coughlin both missed their chance to race for the title of this event, as did usual hotshots Jeg Coughlin, Tom Martino, Larry Morgan, and Richie "The Kid" Stevens. Pro Stock results The action in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class featured the most movement Saturday although the principle players remained the same. Savoie and her CVEC Racing cohorts were the most impressive, lowering their elapsed time to 7.146 seconds at 186.07 mph to collect low qualifier honors for the third consecutive event. "Coming out of the burnout last night the bike was popping and we weren't sure why," Savoie said. "It turns out the metering rods in the carburetor were bad. The first two rounds of qualifying we were bogging pretty badly so we knew that last night's 7.21 was way slower than we were capable of. "When we got here today it was so hot that we thought the most we'd improve was to maybe a 7.18. When I went through the lights George [Bryce, team owner] said I ran a 7.14 and I had to ask him to repeat it because I didn't think I heard right. That was a pretty good run right there." Savoie will open her quest for career win No. 24 opposite final qualifier Fred Camarena, who slipped into the fray on his Race Girl Suzuki with a 7.365 at 181.79 mph. Shawn Gann secured second place with a 7.203 at 185.66 mph atop his Gann Speed Airtech Suzuki. Antron Brown continued his quest to stay in the spotlight and attract a sponsor with a third-best 7.205 at 184.72 mph. Matco Tools ace Craig Treble rounded out the top four with a 7.218 at 186 mph. For the first time in more than a year, popular rider Steve Johnson failed to make the field of 16. His best effort showed a 7.383 at 178.42 mph.
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