Championship Drag Racing

NHRA Nationals
Las Vegas, NV
(April 6-9)

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Driver Profile
Phil Burkart

Burkart bounced in round one

Las Vegas, Sunday: Phil Burkart has had a terrific start to the 2006 NHRA POWERade season, going 6-4 at the first four races to grab the No. 4 spot in points, prior to this weekend in Las Vegas. Even with that solid start, Burkart was clearly looking for something different when he arrived at "The Strip" a few days ago. He got something different, alright, but it wasn't what he was hoping for. Instead of finding his way to his first final round of the year, Burkart found his day to be over after the first round, for the first time this year.

It all started well enough for the blue Checker, Schuck's, Kragen driver, when he streaked to a 4.773 on Friday night to secure himself a position in the top half of the field. The run was good enough for the No. 7 spot on Sunday, the second consecutive No. 7 position for the blue CSK driver.

"We were about where we wanted to be for race day," Burkart said. "We were pretty aggressive on Saturday, after the nice run on Friday night, and the last run was actually so aggressive we almost did a wheelstand out there. Still, the car was reacting to what (co-crew chiefs) Chris Cunningham and Marc Denner were telling it, so we felt pretty good about our chances on Sunday. The hard part to take was the fact we qualified in the top half, but still had Whit Bazemore to run on Sunday. That's a good team over there, and they'd had a rough start to the season. You never like to face teams like that, because you know the odds are building up that they'll have to whip someone soon."

Burkart and Bazemore nearly brought up the end of the first session, running as the seventh pair. They had seen one huge upset, when Tony Bartone took out the No. 1 qualifier Robert Hight, had seen their teammate Del Worsham win a squeaker over their other teammate, Mike Ashley, and had seen defending POWERade champion Gary Scelzi go out, again, in the first round. With lane choice, Burkart's team put him in the much favored left lane, and the race was on.

"We knew Del had won, which pumped us up," Burkart said. "We were on the same side of the ladder, and we could have met in the semi-final, so that was clearly the goal. If we could have both won a couple of rounds, we would have had a CSK car in the final round, guaranteed. To do that, though, you both have to win the first round. We ran after Del, so it was up to us to close the deal.

"I knew we'd need a solid A-to-B lap to win the round. Whit's team is way too good to make a dumb mistake against you, and you can't hope for something lucky to happen, so you go up there figuring you're going to have to run well to win. We expected to run well, but it just didn't happen."

Burkart did his part at the start, just as he has all year. He jumped out to a very slight edge as both drivers nailed the tree with very respectable numbers, and was ahead at 60-feet. Race tracks are 1,320 feet long, however, and this race was over just past that first timer at the 60-foot mark. Burkart's car first started to rattle the tires, then shook them. He pedaled the car quickly but it almost immediately smoked the tires, while Bazemore's machine tore down the track to a stout 4.833.

"It's easy to get mad because we smoked the tires, but you have to give them credit for the 4.83. That was a great run, and they did it without any trouble. We gave ourselves the trouble, but even if we had gone down there it would have been tight. A 4.83 was a great run, and it was about what we were aiming for, so it would've been a very tight race down there. Would've been, could've been, should've been, whatever. It wasn't, and we got to taste a first round loss for the first time this year. It didn't taste very good."

It was something different, and something distasteful, but hopefully it will be nothing more than a slight hiccup in an otherwise rewarding campaign. We'll find out the next move in three weeks, when the NHRA tour invades Bristol after a two-week layoff.

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