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Bernstein Is Fast, Cowin Goes Faster

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Just moments after top fuel driver Kenny Bernstein rocketed down the quarter-mile drag strip at Pomona Raceway to claim the top qualifying position at the 42nd K&N; Filters Winternationals on Friday, Andrew Cowin knocked him into second with a blistering 4.49-second run, a track record.

Cowin is a 22-year-old Australian who lives in Huntington Beach and drives for team owner Darrell Gwynn. Cowin became only the sixth driver in NHRA history to go under 4.5 seconds. He went 324.98 mph at the top end, and his 277.89 mph at the one-eighth mile mark was unofficially the fastest in NHRA history. By comparison, a 275-mph run at a quarter-mile will earn a driver his top fuel license.

“I was hanging on like a fool,” said Cowin, the driver of the New York Yankee car. “I pinched myself about six times. It’s starting to hurt. I know it’s real.”

Gwynn replaced Mike Dunn with Cowin in the cockpit, and Ken Veney with Todd Smith as crew chief.

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“We’ve got a real good baseline now,” said Cowin, who dropped two cylinders late in the run. “That was my first full run in Darrell Gwynn’s dragster. Todd knows what he’s doing. I think we’ll do 330 [today].”

The final two rounds of qualifying begin at 11 a.m. for the first event of the season.

Cowin replaced Dunn--who finished fourth in the series--not only for his driving skills, but also “his youth and personality on the track,” Gwynn said. “He reminded me of myself, only more mature. I’m reliving some of my memories through Andrew.... This is the youth and enthusiasm tour.”

Bernstein, 57, the series champion on his Forever Red farewell tour, went 4.583 seconds at 326.16 mph, and Doug Kalitta’s 4.593 run Thursday held up for third. Clay Millican is fourth at 4.651.

Cowin was lined up alongside Cory McClenathan, who sat out last season and is driving for the new Henkelman & Baca team in the car he drove for Joe Gibbs. McClenathan, the worst qualifier Thursday, posted a solid 4.662 at 315.25 mph and is seventh.

“We want to do well, but we want to be realistic,” said McClenathan, whose effort came together in the last two weeks. “We just want to qualify.”

Funny car driver John Force of Yorba Linda lowered his top qualifying time to 4.749 seconds at 322.27 mph, despite almost putting his 2001 Mustang into the wall. He left driver-side tire marks about a foot from the concrete barrier at the halfway point.

Force’s teammate, Tony Pedregon of Chino Hills, moved past Whit Bazemore into second place in qualifying, clocking 4.809 at 322.65 mph. Bazemore’s 4.815 from Thursday was third, followed by Friday efforts from Del Worsham at 4.817 (318.09 mph) and Ron Capps at 4.852 (313.88 mph).

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The track record fell for the second day in a row in the pro stock ranks as Ron Krisher of Warren, Ohio, drove his Chevy Cavalier to the finish line in 6.815 seconds, 202.94 mph. He broke standards set Thursday by Jim Yates (6.825 seconds) and Kurt Johnson (202.88 mph).


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