Charlotte: Cruz Pedregon final report

Runner-up finish places Pedregon's Advance Auto Parts team in first place CONCORD, N.C. (Sept. 15) -- Funny Car driver Cruz Pedregon earned runner-up honors at Sunday's inaugural Carolinas NHRA Nationals and moved into the championship points...

Runner-up finish places Pedregon's Advance Auto Parts team in first place

CONCORD, N.C. (Sept. 15) -- Funny Car driver Cruz Pedregon earned runner-up honors at Sunday's inaugural Carolinas NHRA Nationals and moved into the championship points lead for the first time since the Houston race in March.

Sunday's race was the first of six in the NHRA's Countdown to 1 that will decide the 2008 champions. Pedregon started the Countdown in fourth place but kept advancing his Advance Auto Parts Toyota Solara through the field at zMax Dragway while the other title contenders fell by the wayside. Although he missed getting the trophy by one thousandth of a second, his performance was enough to make him No. 1 in the world.

Prior to his one-race stint on top of the points after the Houston race earlier this year, Pedregon last led the national points after the Atlanta race in 1998.

"It's very satisfying and a real honor to be No. 1," said Pedregon, the 1992 Funny Car champion. "The 10 of us that qualified for the Countdown were bunched up and separated by just 10 points apiece prior to this race so we knew we had a very unique opportunity to make a move. Luckily, we were able to take advantage of the situation.

"We're only ahead by two points, but I've always said I'd much rather be the leader than one of the guys that's chasing the leader. We'll certainly take it. Five races from now, the leader will be the champ, and it won't matter if you're up by one point or 100."

Proving that consistency is key to drag racing success, Pedregon is the only driver in the top six that hasn't won a race this season. His lofty ranking is more a product of the incredible reliability that crew chief Rahn Tobler has tuned into his Advance Auto Parts-sponsored Toyota.

"Someone asked me if I'd be bummed out if we won the championship without winning a race," Pedregon said. "I was quick to answer that it wouldn't bother me a bit. We earned our place in the Countdown and we earned our No. 1 ranking. If we earn the championship without winning a race, I'll be just as happy as if we had won them all.

"It's incredibly hard to succeed at this level of drag racing and we've been able to win rounds race after race, regardless of conditions or new tires or different nitro rules or the track being moved up to 1,000 feet, none of that has made a difference to us. Rahn and the guys have found a way to adapt to every situation we've been in to date. I'm more proud of our performance every week than anything else."

The top five racers in the Countdown are separated by just 13 points, which is less than one round of elimination racing. Racers earn between 1-8 points in qualifying and 20 points per round on race day.

"I think every race from here on in will be this close," Pedregon said. "There will be a premium on going rounds every week and that plays right into our hands. We're not changing anything we're doing. We're just going to keep doing what got us here and see how it all shakes out in the end."

-credit: pr

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Series NHRA
Drivers Cruz Pedregon