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MEDLEN HOPES TO KEEP HEAT ON FOES INSTEAD OF HIMSELF Castrol SYNTEC Driver Looks for Win in Toyo Nationals READING, Pa. -- Eric Medlen's 2006 season best can be described as explosive. The third year driver of the Castrol SYNTEC Ford Mustang has...

MEDLEN HOPES TO KEEP HEAT ON FOES INSTEAD OF HIMSELF
Castrol SYNTEC Driver Looks for Win in Toyo Nationals

READING, Pa. -- Eric Medlen's 2006 season best can be described as explosive. The third year driver of the Castrol SYNTEC Ford Mustang has been his own one-man ESPN2 highlight film, though not always in ways he planned or even imagined.

The 33-year-old twice has started from the top of the qualifying order this season, on each occasion posting the quickest quarter mile time of the entire event.

He won at Sonoma, Calif.; went to the semifinals or beyond eight times in the season's first 17 races.

Nevertheless, when commentators have characterized the 33-year-old California native as a "hot property" this year, more often than not, they've been speaking literally rather than figuratively.

In fact, as the NHRA POWERade tour moves this week to Maple Grove Raceway for the 22nd annual Toyo Nationals, Medlen's penchant for the flaming finish has all but taken him out of the race for the 2005 Funny Car championship, leaving him and a crew headed by his father, John Medlen, contemplating what might have been.

A tour winner and Top 5 finisher in each of his first three pro seasons, all with Team Castrol, he currently resides in fifth place, 231 points behind leader Ron Capps. It's a deficit from which he won't be able to recover unless all of those in front of him, including teammates John Force and Robert Hight, suffer a total collapse.

Still, the once aspiring rodeo cowboy doesn't lack motivation

"You want to have the best finish you can," he said, "and you want to show that when things are right, you can race with the best out there. So our goal in the next few races is simple: fix the mistakes we've made, win some races and move up (in the standings). I don't think fourth (place) is out of reach, maybe even third."

Third seemed an easily achievable goal just a month-and-a-half ago when his fifth career victory moved him to within 211 points of the lead with eight races remaining. Unfortunately, instead of catching fire, figuratively, in a drive to the championship, Medlen took a more literal path, riding out catastrophic engine failures in each of the last two races.

The last, two weeks ago at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, dealt a Crushing blow, sending the Indianapolis resident to the sidelines in the first round for the first time in 16 races. The effect of that stumble was magnified by the NHRA's assessment of a 15-point penalty for the time required for cleanup.

"If the thing catches on fire, you don't want to have an oildown," Medlen said, "but then again, it is race day and the only way to win is to keep your foot on the gas. There's a lot of things going through your mind, but the biggest thing is just to win."

The most frustrating thing for Medlen is that there hasn't been a single cause of the mechanical meltdown. Defective parts, lack of familiarity with a new engine/clutch/fuel combination, research and development and the inexperience of new crew members all have contributed to the situation.

"Make no mistake," Medlen said, "this is a team sport. It's part car, part driver, part Crew chief, part mechanics. All those components have to work together (for a team) to be successful. We've just been missing one part here, one part there.

"The secret is getting a group of guys that'll stay together long enough to make a difference," he continued. "Look at John? Most of those guys have been with him awhile. When Robert and I were working on John's car, we had a core group that was together 7-8 years. That's huge (and) that's our goal with the SYNTEC car. We've got good people, but there still is some mis-communication. But we're close."

It is because of the team's potential that Medlen likely will play a major role in deciding who does win the championship and that's what is keeping him in the game.

-credit: www.johnforceracing.com

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Series NHRA
Drivers Ron Capps , Eric Medlen , Robert Hight