MEDLEN LOOKS FOR REDEMPTION WITH START OF 'SECOND SEASON' Castrol SYNTEC Driver Hopes to Follow 2005 Script DENVER, Colo. -- Barely on the radar at mid-season, Eric Medlen nonetheless could be the determining factor in the race for the 2006...
MEDLEN LOOKS FOR REDEMPTION
WITH START OF 'SECOND SEASON'
Castrol SYNTEC Driver Hopes to Follow 2005 Script
DENVER, Colo. -- Barely on the radar at mid-season, Eric Medlen nonetheless could be the determining factor in the race for the 2006 NHRA POWERade Funny Car championship that moves this week to Bandimere Speedway for the 27th annual Mopar Mile-High Nationals.
Although he didn't win a race in the first half, didn't one time reach the final round in his Castrol® SYNTEC® Ford Mustang, Medlen has enjoyed his greatest success in events that follow the mid-season break.
Last year, en route to a fourth place finish, he earned more points in the second half than any other Funny Car driver including eventual champion Gary Scelzi, runner-up Ron Capps and third place finisher John Force.
The highest-ranking non-winner in the Funny Car division (currently fifth), Medlen is moving into a part of the season in which he was dominant a year ago. In fact, he is he defending champion in three of the next five races and although he has yet to win the Mile-High Nationals, he's driving a car that won twice at Bandimere Speedway (1998 and 1999) with his predecessor, Tony Pedregon, at the wheel.
"We've had a fast race car all year," Medlen said. "But you need more than that to win in this field. Everybody out there is tough, but the whole team is looking forward (to the second half). Because of what we did last year, it's hard not to get excited about the possibilities."
Last year, Medlen won three times in four races (Seattle, Wash., Brainerd, Minn., and Memphis, Tenn.) following a disappointing first round loss on a 5,300 foot high Bandimere track considered the most challenging on the tour.
"This is the only race we run in these conditions," Medlen said. "We're at more than 5,200 feet, so it's hard for these 8,000 horsepower engines to breathe. Heck, it's hard enough for the drivers to breathe.
"But there are some things you can do to make it better. Guys like my dad (crew chief John Medlen), who've been racing up here for so long, they've managed to take a lot of the mystery out of the mountain, so to speak.
"They'll run higher compression, for one thing, and turn the blower (supercharger) a little faster so we can make more of our own air. Robert (teammate Robert Hight, driver of the Team Castrol/Auto Club Ford Mustang) ran 4.79 here last year to set the record, so we know what's possible."
Despite the fact that he enters the "second season" 283 points down to points leader Ron Capps, Medlen is not yet ready to concede the championship.
Last year, he came to Denver in eighth place, 213 points behind the leader, but cut the deficit to just 71 points by the time the tour moved to Indianapolis for the Labor Day Mac Tools U.S. Nationals.
Picking up 30 points a race, as he did in the first five races after the 2005 break, Medlen could go to Indy within 133 points of the lead. With six races comprising the stretch run, that would at least give him a shot at the championship Pedregon won in the SYNTEC Ford in 2003.
"I won't tell you that we didn't dig a hole for ourselves, because we did," Medlen said, "but I don't think anybody in the top five or six is out of it yet. If somebody gets hot like we did last year, it'll change the whole mix. The Western Swing always has been a major factor (in the points race) and I think it will be again this year."
The Western Swing concludes with races the next two weeks at Seattle and Sonoma, Calif.