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Grubnic both lucky, good in Top Fuel at Topeka

When he clocked the slowest winning time of Sunday's first round of the Dollar General Summernationals at Heartland Park Topeka against Bob Vandergriff, Top Fuel racer Dave Grubnic said, "What's important is winning."

Next, in the quarterfinals, opponent Steve Torrence's performance went from sizzle to fizzle and Grubnic won as Torrence crossed the center line. The Candlewood Suites / Optima Batteries Dragster driver for Kalitta Motorsports said, "We'll just keep taking these round wins."

Grubnic then got a free pass into the final round when semifinal foe Brandon Bernstein's car sprang a fuel-system leak after the burnout and was pushed from the starting line. Even then, Grubnic didn't make a clean, trouble-free pass. He clicked off the engine early because of tire shake and coasted into the final round with a 4.992 for once again the slowest winning time of the round. And he repeated his "just take it when you can get it" mantra.

But against Don Schumacher Racing dominator Spencer Massey in the final round, Grubnic knew he couldn't count on being lucky anymore. He had to be spot-on if he wanted the $50,000 winner's share of the purse and an end to his long winless streak that stretched to the March 2006 Gatornationals.

And he was. With a 3.893-second elapsed time at 319.07 mph, Grubnic ran down Massey, in the FRAM / Prestone Dragster, to win by about four feet, or .0097 seconds.

Grubnic earned his third overall victory and second at Topeka, joining two-time winner Morgan Lucas in chipping away at DSR's early-season stranglehold of the class.

It was Grubnic's first victory in 2,254 days, according to the calculations of one reporter, and the first for the Kalitta Motorsports Top Fuel team since Doug Kalitta captured the July 2010 Mopar Mile-High Nationals at Denver. (Jeff Arend won in the Kalitta-owned DHL Toyota Funny Car last April at Houston.)

"It's been a long time between drinks," Grubnic said, quickly saying that the dry spell hasn't been for lack of trying.

"My whole career has been like that with ups and downs," he said. "but sometimes you've got to go through these troughs to appreciate the peaks. And today is one of those peaks."

Seeing the win light come on in his lane, Grubnic said, "is like driving through a brick wall. All of a sudden those bricks disappear and you start smiling-- then you have to stop the car."

He did more than that. He thwarted Massey's bid for a repeat victory at Topeka and blemished Massey's record of being undefeated this year in final-round appearances. In the previous seven races, Massey had won all three times he reached the showdown.

Sunday's results also kept DSR from doubling in the winners circle. The Funny Car final was an all-DSR affair between Jack Beckman and Ron Capps.

"This win's not about me. It's about a whole group of people," Grubnic said. "I'm just up here, trying to represent them. It's a fantastic day."

He said his winless streak has weighed on his mind.

"I have thought about it a lot," Grubnic said, adding that to win is a "huge" relief. "We come out every weekend. Our goal is to win. To go that far without winning, it starts to affect you a little bit, but you still believe. You never stop believing. You still work at it and you do whatever you have to do to try and make those wins happen. And finally, eventually, you break through."

Said Grubnic, "I've had a lot of success here. Kalitta Motorsports has had a lot of success here. The reason why, I honestly don't know . . . if there are some hidden track characteristics conducive to the team or what it is. But we really don't care, as a team. We'll just take it wherever we can get it."

He credited his Connie Kalitta-led team.

"We drivers come up here (to the media center) and make these speeches, but it's all about my guys, my crew, Conrad," he said. "This sport is extremely labor-intensive. We're the total opposite of NASCAR. We're on the racetrack for about four seconds and we're in the pits for about 50 minutes. So the crew has to pull that thing apart and put it together perfectly every time. And that's what they did today. And that's what my guys do every day, every race weekend. So I really owe them a lot.

"And to Conrad for making the decisions today. It was very, very challenging for crew chiefs," Grubnic said. "When you look at some of the times that were run in first round, with low 70s, mid-70s, they were giving 70s away. Then to have conditions change as they did during the day, and for Conrad to come back and beat one of the top-running cars is an outstanding achievement.

"Again, that's him," the winner said. "He sat there and he stared at that computer. He analyzed the whole process of what we had to do and told me, 'I think we need to run a (3.)9-flat and we went up there and ran an .89. He was right on target with everything he did. So all the credit goes to him, to my guys, and to everybody that supports us. This week, with Candlewood Suites, I'm very fortunate to have a funded car with great sponsors." He named Red Line Oil and Rocky Boots among them.

Calling drag racing "a chess game," Grubnic, who has dabbled in the stock markets, as well, said the sport is a risk-reward proposition.

"What we have to do is look at our opponent and look at the conditions. If you feel you have to run a .70, then you do. It's all about running faster than your opponent and keeping the risk of smoking your tires as low as possible," he said.

"It's honestly a chess game. It's about analyzing your opponent and figuring out what you need to run at the least risk of smoking the tires," Grubnic said. "It's all about risk and reward. Depending on who we're racing, we might have to risk more."

Whatever Grubnic risked Sunday, the reward was beyond his wildest imagination.

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