Burkart bounced in round one
Topeka, Sunday: It was hotter than it's been all year, the wind blew incessantly at a pace special effects wizards would be proud of, and Phil Burkart lost in the first round. Other than that, it was a great weekend for the blue Checker, Schuck's, Kragen team. Did we fail to mention that CSK teammate Del Worsham saw his 97-race qualifying streak broken with a frustrating DNQ, or that Worsham Racing teammate Mike Ashley outran Eric Medlen in round one, but lost on a hole shot? You get the picture; there weren't too many Worsham Racing team members eager to stick around for a few extra days of "R & R" at this beautiful facility that treated them so roughly.
As has been the case at a number of events this season, the lone Friday night run was the critical moment for most of the Funny Car class. Here, where track temperatures routinely reached the 128-degree range during the day, and a consistent 20+ mph headwind was howling straight down the track, the Friday night run was truly a make or break session. Phil Burkart's 4.914 wasn't earth shattering, but it was solidly good enough to land him 10th after two laps. He would stay there throughout Saturday, just as the entire racing field remained locked in place while trying to run in the heat.
Noteworthy on Saturday was Burkart's final pass, a 5.007 during the hottest part of the day. That seemingly pedestrian number wouldn't have actually made the race field, as the bump stayed at 5.001, but it was the third-quickest pass of the final session, and it gave Burkart a great deal of confidence heading into race day.
"With these Friday night sessions, you have to do your best then and after that you just compare yourself to the rest of the field," Burkart said. "We ran the 4.91 on Friday night, but 5.01s were good on Saturday. To run that 5.00 when the track was up around 125-degrees was a real boost for us. An absolute perfect run out there on Saturday afternoon was about a 4.99, so we were right there."
On Sunday, the sun returned, bringing with it still hotter temperatures, and the switch remained locked in the "High" position on the wind machine. Burkart would face No. 7 qualifier Scott Kalitta in round one, and they would square off as the first pair of Funny Cars to tackle this challenging track.
As he nearly always does, Burkart got a sizable jump at the tree, reacting in .061-seconds to Kalitta's .125, giving the blue CSK car an early lead. That lead would evaporate fairly quickly however, as Burkart's car struggled to mount a charge while Kalitta stunned the audience with a terrific 4.939.
"Maybe we misjudged the track a little, or just didn't get the tires going enough at the hit," Burkart said. "Instead of slipping the tires and getting the drive shaft speed up, the tires just stuck and that pulled the motor way down. We never got the snap back in the motor after that, because it was just trying to labor through the slow start. Basically, without getting the tires to slip we couldn't create enough snap, which means we didn't have any momentum and we had a dog on our hands."
A disappointing 5.108 may, or may not, have qualified for AKC "dog status" but it was clearly a let-down after a stronger qualifying effort.
"This whole camp is pretty bummed right now," Burkart said. "With Del's surprising deal yesterday, and our loss here today, we're all just frustrated and mad and wanting to go back out there to get another shot. It doesn't work that way, though. Once you lose, they don't let you back out there. We just have to get our work done today, head back to our shop, and decompress for a couple of days.
"We're heading to Chicago in two weeks, which should be a lot different than this. I don't know if we'll see 4.6s, or even 4.7s, but we're heading to a fast track. I want to give the people at Heartland Park a lot of credit for all the great work they're doing here, it all looks great and it's going to get even better, but I hope they don't take it personally when I say I'm eager to get home and put this weekend behind me."
Frustration, disappointment, and a little anger perhaps. But other than that, it was a great weekend.
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