NHRA Top Fuel driver Brandon Bernstein projects professionalism and usually contains his emotions. But after Sunday’s semifinal round of the Dollar General Summernationals, he let some of them seep through his stoic shell.
“It sucks. That’s all it does — it sucks,” Bernstein said in the wake of his wasted chance against eventual winner Dave Grubnic, who had gotten one lucky break after another all day at Heartland Park Topeka. Bernstein clearly was not happy that he had added to Grubnic’s serendipity.
The moment wasn’t about Grubnic. It was all about Bernstein and his own MAVTV / Lucas Oil team and the utter frustration of being so poised once again for a victory, only to experience another disappointment.
He indicated he’s ready to get back in the car at next weekend’s Toyota SuperNationals at Englishtown, N.J., and build on the momentum. But he couldn’t help but grieve a bit about what might have been.
Bernstein hasn’t won in 55 races, not since October 11, 2009 in Richmond. So this latest hundred-dollar-bill-on-a-string trick had worn thin.
This time it was a fuel-system leak that gushed from underneath his dragster as he was about to back up from his burnout in the semifinal. One of his crew members whipped out a tool and tried to fix the damage there on the spot, and an NHRA safety crew tried to mop the spill, but official starter Mark Lyle had the team push the car from the starting line.
Even then, Grubnic didn’t make a clean pass. He clicked off the engine early because of tire shake and coasted into the final round with a 4.992-second E.T. Meanwhile, the MAVTV / Lucas Oil team discovered back in their pit that the fuel line had been rubbing up against something inside the car and had worn through during the burnout.
“And of course to add insult to injury,” Bernstein said, “Dave smoked the tires on his run. I knew that was coming.”
It was a Murphy’s Law kind of moment for him.
“The MAVTV car ran so great all weekend,” Bernstein said. “We really thought this was our weekend and we had the car to beat. It’s just unfortunate it happened when it did. It could have just as easily happened at any point during the weekend. It’s really disappointing. We wanted a win.”
“The guys did a hell of a job all weekend. The car was just great,” he said. “It just felt like it was our weekend. Unfortunately it wasn’t.
“It’s now two races in a row where we’ve gone to the semifinals,” Bernstein said. “Both of those races were there for us to win. It’s put a lot of confidence into the guys. They know we’ve got a great race car, and we’ll keep plugging at it until we break through for that win.”
After qualifying at Topeka, Bernstein said, “We’ve got a great, consistent race car. It seems like (crew chief) Joe Barlam and the guys have a good handle on the race car. It’s just repeating and going down the track, no matter the conditions.”
He’ll have to hold onto that thought at least for one more race.