Bristol: Whit Bazemore preview

Bazemore in thick of Funny Car battle going into Bristol BRISTOL (Tenn.) - Whit Bazemore has history here at Bristol Dragway. The driver of the Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dodge Stratus Funny Car has fond memories of this track surrounded by the...

Bazemore in thick of Funny Car battle going into Bristol

BRISTOL (Tenn.) - Whit Bazemore has history here at Bristol Dragway. The driver of the Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dodge Stratus Funny Car has fond memories of this track surrounded by the hills of Tennessee (see www.bristolmotorspeedway).

He visited here as a teenager growing up in Atlanta and competed here under IHRA sanction. Most significantly, since the NHRA arrived here in 2001, Bazemore has reached the Funny Car final round twice in the last three years, parlaying one of those into a victory in 2002.

Last year, he was runner-up to Del Worsham after defeating Tony Pedregon in the semifinal. This jump-started a year-long battle between Bazemore and Pedregon for the 2003 Funny Car championship. The title chase went down to the final round in the next-to-last race in Las Vegas, where Pedregon edged out Bazemore for the win and the Funny Car crown.

This weekend, Bazemore arrives at Bristol Dragway sixth in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series Funny Car point standings (and ahead of Tony Pedregon) and ready to pick up on the momentum he and his crew chief Lee Beard had gained at the fourth race of the season, the SummitRacing.com Nationals at The Strip in Las Vegas.

The Indianapolis resident and two-time U.S. Nationals champion charged through the Funny Car field by first defeating points leader Worsham, then John Force teammates Gary Densham and Eric Medlen to make it into the final round for the first time in 2004. Unfortunately, because of a mechanical problem, he lost to Phil Burkart.

The following race in Houston produced a hiccup on Bazemore's route to his first Funny Car title after two championship runner-up finishes in 2001 and 2003, as he was ousted in the first round by Worsham. He's undaunted, however, and is just 133 points out of first place and just 48 short of second. A strong performance by Bazemore in Bristol could result in a major reshuffle of the top 10.

Being consistent takes center stage here at the O'Reilly NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals, he says. "The championship battle is close, but we're not even thinking about it right now," he said. "Our objective is to develop some consistency with the Matco Tools Dodge and take advantage of the performance that we've shown that we have. The biggest thing for our Matco Tools team is we've got to win rounds. We have to stop the first-round losses. We've just been so inconsistent, so up and down this year, that's why we're not further ahead.

"Everyone on the team is focused and everyone on the team has the same m.o. and the same desires. So we're working hard to make that happen. And it will happen.

"We're going to start in Bristol, and try to get our car to respond and run better," Bazemore added. "Plus we're coming up on better tracks. That should help us too. We like good tracks."

NHRA recently mandated that only the new Goodyear D2096 tire may be used in the Nitro classes. "The new Goodyear tire is going to throw everybody a little bit of a curve ball," said Bazemore, "but it works better on good tracks. Bad tracks are going to be the problem this summer for everybody.

"It's important to win a race right now. We've had a poor first quarter (two second-round losses, two first-round losses and one runner-up finish). As far as the championship goes, it is still within reach, but we can't have a poor second quarter. I don't think we will. Before last week, we were making good progress and we had good momentum going our way. We're just going to ignore last week in Houston and move on."

Nitro qualifying is on Friday, April 30, at 5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and continues on Saturday, May 1, at 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. Final eliminations on Sunday, April 2, begin at noon.

ESPN2 will air qualifying coverage on May 1, at 7:30 p.m. ET. Eliminations are scheduled for 4:00 p.m. ET on May 2, with repeat coverage on May 3 at 3:00 p.m. ET and May 9, at 5:00 p.m. ET.

-dsr-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Gary Densham , Phil Burkart , Eric Medlen