Topeka: Tony Pedregon preview

Pedregon goes for three-peat in return to Heartland Park TOPEKA, Kansas (May 23-25) -- If two-time defending Funny Car champion Tony Pedregon could pick and choose where he wanted to qualify the Castrol SYNTEC Ford Mustang for this week's 15th...

Pedregon goes for three-peat in return to Heartland Park

TOPEKA, Kansas (May 23-25) -- If two-time defending Funny Car champion Tony Pedregon could pick and choose where he wanted to qualify the Castrol SYNTEC Ford Mustang for this week's 15th annual O'Reilly Summer Nationals at Heartland Park-Topeka, it's almost certain he wouldn't choose No. 1.

Sure, there's the $4,000 Budweiser bonus and a couple of extra points to be earned, but, everything else being equal, Pedregon isn't convinced that No. 1 is such a big deal.

He may be right.

Over the last three seasons, No. 1 qualifiers have won just 21 per cent of the time in Funny Car, Top Fuel and Pro Stock.

That hits home with Pedregon, the current NHRA POWERade points leader, who has reached the winners' circle just four times in 21 starts from the No. 1 spot.

This year, the only races he HASN'T won are those in which he has dominated Funny Car qualifying.

Pedregon didn't even reach the final round in the four 2003 races in which he led the qualifying, the most recent being last week's K&N Filters SuperNationals at Englishtown, N.J. He's won three races this year from the No. 3 starting spot and one after qualifying No. 2.

That mimics what he has done the last two seasons at Heartland Park. He won from No. 2 in 2001, beating teammate, boss and mentor John Force in the final, and from No. 3 a year ago (after beating Force in the semifinals).

"If anything, what qualifying No. 1 does is maybe it puts a little bigger target on your back," Pedregon said. "The bonus check is nice and you get a couple more points, but the reality of the situation is that everyone wants to take out No. 1, whether it's the No. 1 qualifier or it's the guy who's No. 1 in points."

That puts Pedregon, who's led the points for most of the year and who's qualified No. 1 nine times in the last 18 events, at the top of everyone's hit list.

Still, the 38-year-old Californian and Crew Chiefs John Medlen and Dickie Venables aren't planning to slow their car down in pursuit of the $400,000 POWERade championship.

"I still like our chances," Pedregon said, "and, after last week (when he fouled out in the semifinals), I'm even more motivated and determined. This is very much a team sport and right now, we have the best team.

"Everybody has budget, everybody has big financing. So what makes the difference? It's people," Pedregon said. "It's the knowledge. It's the resources. And the two guys who make it happen for this team, Dickie and Medlen, right now are at the top of their game so I will ask no questions. I'll just try to do my part."

Winner of 23 tour events, the most of any Funny Car driver who hasn't won a series championship, Pedregon remains focused on the big picture.

"Our goal hasn't changed," he said. "We came out here to win the championship. We came close last year, but a lot of teams have come close. I do think that last year's experience, challenging John at the end, made us a better race team. I know it taught me some things that I think will help us this year."

-www.johnforceracing.com

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , John Force , John Medlen