Atlanta: Pontiac winner report

COMMERCE, Ga., May 6, 2001 - Even though Tony Stewart drove his Pontiac Grand Prix to victory in last night's Pontiac Excitement 400 NASCAR Winston Cup race, he had nothing on the Pontiac driving contingent at today's Advance Auto Parts NHRA...

COMMERCE, Ga., May 6, 2001 - Even though Tony Stewart drove his Pontiac Grand Prix to victory in last night's Pontiac Excitement 400 NASCAR Winston Cup race, he had nothing on the Pontiac driving contingent at today's Advance Auto Parts NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway. Jim Yates drove his Pontiac Grand Am to victory to take the points lead in Pro Stock, and Frank Pedregon beat defending Funny Car champ John Force en route to his first win of the season. Mike Dunn also drove the Gwynn/Steinbrenner/Yankees GMC Dragster to his second win of the season to take over the top spot in points in Top Fuel.

The Pro Stock Finals was a repeat of last week's all-Pontiac Pro Stock final-round battle between Jim Yates and Greg Anderson at the Mac Tools Nationals at Bristol (Tenn.) Raceway. Anderson bested Yates last week for his first career win, but today Yates turned the tables in his third final-round appearance in the last four races and took over the Pro Stock points lead from Pontiac stablemate Warren Johnson.

But Yates' weekend almost ended early as he needed the last of four qualifying sessions to make it into the 16-car field, eventually qualifying in the 14th position. In Round 1, the Alexandria, Va., native used a near-perfect .404 holeshot to defeat Kurt Johnson. He bested George Marnell in Round 2 and Mark Pawuk in Round 3 before renewing acquaintances with Anderson and his Marnell & Black/Humphrey Motorsports Firebird in the finals. Anderson was No. 1 qualifier for the first time in his career with a track-record elapsed time of 6.884 seconds at 199.82 mph, and he defeated Jeg Coughlin, Bruce Allen, and Mark Osborne on his way to the final round.

In the finals Anderson tried to match earlier-round holeshots of .407 and .405, but the former crew chief for Warren Johnson jumped the start and fouled. Yates drove his Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Grand Am to a 6.959 seconds elapsed time at 199.43 mph. The first win of the season for Yates vaults the two-time Winston champion from fourth to first in driver points for the first time since March 1998.

"I actually thought I caught that light better than the rest of them," Anderson said. "Obviously I did, but just a little too much and they won't let you have those. But the guys have done a great job working on the car and we've definitely turned some heads these last few weeks, so we can't be too disappointed."

"It's nice to be in the points lead, but obviously way to early in the season to start talking championship" Yates said. "Plus this Pro Stock category is just so tough with so many guys that can win, just like Greg's (Anderson) been proving these last few weeks. But you can't even start thinking about winning a championship if you're not winning races, and we weren't winning races - so this one was good to get.

     "The team's been right there all week, they've been working hard the
whole time and they just don't give up.  That's what it takes to win."

Not to be outdone by Yates, Frank Pedregon drove the Checker-Schuck's-Kragen Pontiac Firebird to his first Funny Car win of the season over Ron Capps in the Skoal Chevrolet Camro, but he had to beat his teammate Del Worsham in the semifinals to do it. The personable Pedregon, brother of fellow racers Tony and Cruz, also beat 10-time Funny Car champ John Force in the first round on his way to his fourth career win.

"Both teams were wanting it so badly, everyone was shaking hands in the staging lanes before we ran wishing each other good luck, and I know the Red guys are disappointed," said Pedregon on beating his teammate Worsham in the semifinals. "They're not showing it though - they were right on top of the Blue Firebird as soon as it pulled into the pits, ready to go to work."

Pedregon beat Force in Round 1, Whit Bazemore in Round 2, and his Checker-Schuck's-Kragen teammate Worsham in Round 3 to reach the finals against Capps. In the title round Pedregon drove his Pontiac Firebird to a 4.902 elapsed time t 305.98 mph to Capps' 5.556 seconds run at 180.07 mph. The win moved him all the way to fourth in the Funny Car points standings.

"The last time I beat John Force in the first round was at Indy and I went on to win," added Pedregon. "I knew it was going to be tough, but I knew if we got past that round with all of the emotions from both teams, I knew we could go all they way. But when you beat John Force, you've done something."

Mike Dunn's win in the Gwynn/Steinbrenner/Yankees GMC Dragster moved him to the top of the Top Fuel points standings after seven races. Dunn beat Steve Smith in Round 1, David Grubnic in Round 2 and Larry Dixon in the semifinals before defeating Darrell Russell in the finals for his second win of the season. Dunn clocked a 4.591 elapsed time at 325.06 mph as Russell broke and was unable to make a pass in the final round.

"I hate to see what happened to Darrell (Russell) and I would've definitely liked to race against him, but when I saw he wasn't going to make it to the starting line and I had a single, I wasn't going to complain" Dunn said. "These things are so hard to win that you'll take them any way you can."

Jeff Gracia made his first career final-round appearance in the Panella Trucking GMC Sonoma against teammate and defending race champion Bob Panella Jr. in a Chevy S-10. Gracia bested Bart Price in Round 1, Randy Daniels in Round 2 and Greg Stanfield in Round 3 before fouling against Panella in the finals.

"It was a golden opportunity to beat three of the best guys in Pro Stock Truck history (Randy Daniels, Greg Stanfield and teammate Bob Panella), but I guess two out of three isn't too bad, not a bad batting average," Gracia said.

The next stop on the NHRA Winston Drag Racing tour is the 32nd annual Matco Tools SuperNationals presented by Racing Champions at Old Bridge Township Raceway in Englishtown, N.J., on May 17-20.

-GM Racing

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Stewart , Frank Pedregon , Bob Panella , Larry Dixon , Mike Dunn , Mark Pawuk , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , John Force , Greg Anderson , Jeff Gracia , Randy Daniels , Steve Smith , David Grubnic , Greg Stanfield , Bruce Allen , George Marnell