Burkart is "strike one" in Team CSK's strike out
St. Louis, Sunday: After posting his best run of the weekend during the final qualifying session, Phil Burkart knew he was in good position heading into round one of eliminations, despite his "lucky" 13th ladder spot. After all, he had been building up to better and better runs, was feeling confident in his car, his crew, and himself, and it just felt right. And then along came Sunday. As the play-by-play announcer might have said, "Here's Burkart. Swing and a miss for strike one."
The Team CSK blue group had struggled with the Gateway track throughout qualifying, though that only made them part of the entire Funny Car contingent, as every team had difficulty managing the slick track and the tough conditions. In the end, he came into the fourth and final qualifying session sitting in the 15th spot, and knew he'd have to make sure of a clean lap to keep his spot in the field.
"We went into that last session, late at night on Saturday when the conditions here are as good as they get, and Gary Scelzi was outside the field," Burkart said. "So, you just kind of naturally assume he's going to get it done right in front of you, and that would leave us 16th and Timmy Wilkerson on the outside. We were paired with Tim as the second pair, so basically it came down to a little 'mini-race' right there. Usually, in qualifying you don't worry about what the other guy runs, but we knew if we outran Tim we'd be a lock for the field. It was a strange way to qualify, but we got it done."
That they did, as Burkart's team sent him on a 4.933 that not only got him in the show, but also jumped him all the way up to 13th. Burkart did his part, by wrestling the car off the center line at the top end, avoiding the horrible option of disqualifying himself on his last pass. The run earned him a first round date with Bob Gilbertson on Sunday.
The pro teams struggle with the schedule at this race. They're always over-anxious to get to the race track, even though they know full well that racing is an afternoon and evening affair here. It becomes even harder on Sunday, with a 3:00 start time, as the normal "race day routines" become useless. Racers are, after all, creatures of routine.
"It's tough here, and you end up really tired by the end of it," Burkart said. "We're so used to leaving the hotel at the same time, doing everything at the same time, and then you come here and you're always doing the math to figure out what time it would be if this was a normal race. To have round one at 3:00 throws everything off. You can't stay in bed that late, so you're walking in circles at the hotel, basically going nuts. We just want to get out there and race."
By the time mid-afternoon mercifully rolled around, Burkart was still walking in circles, though he was closer to the magic moment when thing finally come to a conclusion, "mano-a-mano," in round one. As one of three Team CSK cars in the field (along with Del Worsham and Jeff Arend, who was driving the Murray's car here,) Burkart led of the trio with his match against Gilbertson. He summed up the result succinctly.
"We never had a chance," Burkart said. "We just missed, we were too aggressive, and a 130-degree track that hadn't been that good all weekend, was way too slick for us to manage. We'd seen a lot of tire smoke by the time we ran, and I almost got on the radio to ask Chris Cunningham if I should be ready for that, but what the heck, there's no way of knowing. We didn't go up there trying to smoke the tires, and these guys are smart. It was just a mess, and we were way off what it needed. It smoked them right at the hit, and I tried to pedal it again a couple of times, but all it did was spin like we were running on ice. I saw Gilbertson going away out there, so there was no point in just tearing stuff up out of frustration. It was over. And then our other two cars went out, one after another, and the whole weekend was over. See ya later.
"You just want to scream, but nobody wants to hear that. You can't yell at the car, because it doesn't care. You know you're still smart, but it's all so frustrating. I mostly feel bad for Marc Denner and Chris Cunningham, and all the crew guys. They make great calls all the time, they were superb in that last qualifying session, and they work their butts off. We have a great team, with great chemistry, so we just have to bounce back. I'm done with strikeouts."
Next stop, Denver in two weeks. Upon arrival, look for the blue CSK team to make solid contact.
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