Bernstein looks for grand exit at Nationals

Oct 22, 2002 8:31 AM

   The NHRA rips through Las Vegas for the AC Delco Nationals this weekend on the Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

   It’s the second to last event of the season for the NHRA and all the titles are still up for grabs. Odds on the drivers take center stage this weekend for the events because this is the only time wagers are accepted on the NHRA.

   ans, drivers, and crew members know the odds. The visit to Vegas gives an added incentive to meet the expectations placed upon them by the casinos or attempt to prove the odds wrong.

   This will be the last opportunity for fans to see the Bud King, Kenny Bernstein, race in Las Vegas. One of the all-time legends will call it quits after Pomona, leaving a tremendous void in the Top Fuel division.

   One could almost say that Las Vegas was the start of the rejuvenation process for Bernstein. Vegas was where he ended a two-year win slump en route to a championship. Since then, Bernstein has been Mr. Vegas and once again considered the top driver in the division.

   This year, Miller Lite’s Larry Dixon has been the dominant driver. Dixon currently holds a 108-point advantage over Bernstein for the title. With two solid performances at Vegas and Pomona, Bernstein could erase the deficit, but he’ll need some help from Dixon. Station Casinos Books installed Dixon a -200 favorite to win the championship prior to the Vegas race. It’s a longshot for Dixon to lose the title, but seeing Bernstein at +170 is worth a shot with all his Vegas success and veteran savvy.

   In the Funny Car division, John Force comes in leading by a mere 13 points over Tony Pedregon. Force, a 3-1 favorite, has yet to win at Vegas, one of the few venues that can lay that claim against the all-time Funny Car champ.

   The best longshot opportunity to cash looks to be in Pro Stock. Jeggy Coughlin Jr. is the points leader and best Vegas driver of the bunch. However, every driver has a legitimate shot at winning any event. This division always produces the most competitive races.


   NASCAR hits Atlanta

   The Winston Cup series rolls into Atlanta a bit earlier than normal because of a switch made at the end of last season with Miami. The Speedway Motor Sports executives thought it would be in their best interests to move their normal season finale date with Miami to improve on weather conditions.

   Ironically, in the initial year of the change, we have perhaps the greatest chase for the championship in Winston Cup history. The Miami area fans will be the winners in a few weeks.

   The Atlanta race could be similar to what occurred two weeks ago at Charlotte. The sister tracks are nearly identical in all facets.

   Jamie McMurray (25-1) won at Charlotte driving Sterling Marlin’s car. Marlin had a second place finish in this race last season and ninth this year in the spring. Do not count out McMurray because he’s only driving in his third Cup race.

   The Gibbs duo of Tony Stewart (8-1) and Bobby Labonte (12-1) will be dialed in. Labonte is tied with Bill Elliott for active career wins (5) at Atlanta. He won this race last season and finished second two weeks ago at Charlotte.

   Stewart has everything going for him right now. He’s on the verge of winning his first championship and comes off an excellent third place finish at Charlotte two weeks ago. He won the Atlanta spring race this year could pull off the first sweep since Elliott in 1985.

   Jimmie Johnson (10-1) has the right car for the 1.5-mile tracks, particularly at Charlotte and Atlanta. He’s only 82 points from the lead and believes this is the event he can gain some ground. Johnson finished third in the spring and sixth two weeks ago.

   Ryan Newman (10-1) is fast everywhere. If he gets in a groove with no problems, it’s lights out for everyone. There has never been a rookie jump into the Winston Cup series and been so constantly fast every week.

   This is a 500-mile race, however, which offers more opportunity for error. Newman finished eighth two weeks ago and 10th in his only Atlanta race.


   Top 5 at Atlanta:

   1) #18 Bobby Labonte 12-1

   2) #20 Tony Stewart 8-1

   3) #48 Jimmie Johnson 10-1

   4) #24 Jeff Gordon 8-1

   5) #12 Ryan Newman 10-1


   AC Delco Nationals predictions:

   Top Fuel: Kenny Bernstein 5-2

   Funny Car: Gary Densham 8-1

   Pro Stock: Greg Anderson 7-1