Commerce: GM Racing Saturday summary

Tony Pedregon's Chevy Monte Carlo Leads Funny Car Field into Sunday Eliminator COMMERCE, Ga., May 16, 2004 - In his first Funny Car contest competing with the Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Tony Pedregon earned his second low qualifying position of the...

Tony Pedregon's Chevy Monte Carlo Leads Funny Car Field into Sunday Eliminator

COMMERCE, Ga., May 16, 2004 - In his first Funny Car contest competing with the Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Tony Pedregon earned his second low qualifying position of the season today at the 24th annual Summit Racing Southern Nationals presented by Pontiac. The defending NHRA POWERade champion captured his 27th career No. 1 qualifying start, and his first ever at this event with a track-record elapsed time of 4.765 seconds at 329.83 mph - the fastest speed produced by an NHRA Funny Car.

"I had a pretty good idea that this was something we could accomplish, and really in a relatively short period of time," said Pedregon. "I also understand the business side of drag racing. It's a tough sport, it's very humbling, it's very competitive, and I think what we're seeing right now is the result of all the hard work and testing we've been doing. It's also the continued support from GM Racing and their technology, and what Quaker State has put behind this team. I doubt if there are many people who thought our team could run a 329, and of all places, at Atlanta. Everything just sort of fell into place this weekend.

"Knowing how the Quaker State Chevy Monte Carlo performed last night, I was real excited to get out here this morning, but we were wondering about the conditions and if there would be enough cloud cover to back up the run. The biggest concern for us is to try and adapt to the conditions and establish a good raceday setup for Sunday. The end result is that we were able to stay on the pole and come back tonight with a nice run. The crew chiefs are doing an outstanding job and that's a very important aspect to what we're trying to accomplish."

The 39-year-old driver of the Quaker State Chevrolet has won twice at the Southern Nationals, including his first career victory in 1996 and last year's final-round decision over Johnny Gray. It was also the third time this season that a Chevrolet has earned low qualifying honors in Funny Car competition and the second time the feat has been accomplished by a Monte Carlo.

"Being the first to 330 mph in a Funny Car would be significant," said Pedregon. "But probably more important to the sponsors than to the individual that actually does it. No points are given out, but if the conditions are there then we would certainly go after it. If the forecast for tomorrow is accurate then maybe the conditions will be there. These cars are really amazing. Given all the power that they create, given the right variables, if everything happens correctly, then a lot of cars are capable of running 330 mph. With the Chevy Monte Carlo, we have the capability to be the first, and if the opportunity presents itself, we would try to throw another one at it.

"With the new body we did some things to the car that were a little different this weekend. We tested after Bristol (Tenn.) because we weren't happy about instantly smoking the tires. That's not the way we want to race. We made four runs, and we were very encouraged and somewhat confident coming into this race because of what we learned. We knew the Monte Carlo would be an improvement. But what we've been doing to the car complimented the aerodynamics of the new Chevrolet and what it provided to the setup of the car."

In addition to Tony Pedregon's position at the top of the qualifying ladder, there are seven Chevy Monte Carlo's in the 16-car field for tomorrow's eliminator. Tim Wilkerson is qualified in the No. 3 spot with a run of 4.806 seconds at 319.98 mph. It is the fourth time in the last five races that Wilkerson has been a top-five starter, and the fifth straight race since debuting his Monte Carlo that the Levi, Ray & Shoup Chevrolet has been positioned in the top half of the field.

"That 4.80 on Friday night was a good place to start," said Wilkerson. "We tried some things in the first round this morning and that's why the car smoked the tires. We came back tonight, and were a little too conservative because the track was a little better than we thought it would be. We're still trying to learn on every run. The new Chevrolet was probably a little better than we had originally expected. It doesn't seem to require as much fuel as the old car did, but for some reason it moves faster earlier, and I don't know if that's because of the lighter body or if it's the aerodynamics. In the middle of the racetrack though it seems to just take off.

"Every round is tough and it doesn't matter who you race. We proved last year that any qualified car can win, but we're in a good position for Sunday. I like our chances though and think that we've got an excellent opportunity to win the race. We can run as fast an anybody, and tonight, in the greasy conditions, the car did exactly what I told it to do. Maybe it will do what I tell it to do tomorrow."

Tommy Johnson's Skoal Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo will start from the No. 4 position, duplicating his season-best start in March at the CSK Nationals in Phoenix. Del Worsham's Chevrolet is qualified seventh, Phil Burkart's Monte Carlo is eighth, Cruz Pedregon is 14th and Ron Capps is 15th.

"We had some problems early in the season, not really related to anything," explained Johnson. "We had some bad parts that we didn't realize were hindering our progress. Once we got that figured out, the performance of the Skoal Chevy Monte Carlo went straight up. The guys hung in there though, got it figured out, and now the car has been the picture of consistency. Because of hard work and perseverance, everyone's confidence is back and we've got a racecar capable of winning on Sunday. Now when I go to the starting line, this car is going down the racetrack and will be within one or two hundredths of the quickest car, every round. Now we're a competitive racecar."

Greg Anderson's Pontiac SC/T Grand Am ran the quickest e.t. of the final Pro Stock qualifying session at 6.804 seconds. But that wasn't enough to continue a streak of 11 consecutive races coming into this event in which Anderson's Pontiac had been at the top of the qualifying ladder. This weekend, the defending POWERade champion will have to settle for the No. 3 spot behind teammate Jason Line, who is qualified second with a run of 6.802 seconds, and low qualifier Larry Morgan who led the field with a 6.796 e.t. It also marks the first time in 33 events dating back to the 2003 season-opening Winternationals in Pomona, Calif., that a GM-branded racecar has not been low qualifier in Pro Stock.

"At least that final run tells us we're headed in the right direction," said Anderson. "It took us three or four runs to get out of our own way, and that 6.80 was certainly not a perfect run, but much better than the rest. We got off on the wrong foot hurting the motor, but that's not our problem - we've got plenty of power to run good. It almost seems like we've never been here before, and we have a lot of experience here. We test here, we run good every year hear, so I'm not sure where we went wrong, but we took the wrong fork in the road somehow, and hopefully it looks like we're righting the ship. We should be in good shape tomorrow. We're trying to get our motor back together that we hurt on the first lap. If we get that back together and continue the trend we started during that last qualifying round, we should be in good shape tomorrow."

Jeg Coughlin Jr. has the quickest Chevy Cavalier in the field in the No. 4 position after running 6.806 seconds at 202.24 mph, and Bruce Allen is eighth in a Pontiac Grand Am.

"This is the best we've run in a long time," said Allen. "We didn't make a good run this morning in what was probably the best qualifying session, but that's certainly our own fault. Now we're running the back real well, we're making excellent progress and in most of the sessions so far this weekend, we were fourth or fifth quickest. We registered three 6.82 runs and a 6.83. Even on a bad run we posted the 6.82 and that's real positive."

Warren Johnson is qualified ninth in a Pontiac, Troy Coughlin is 11th in a Chevrolet, Ron Krisher is 12th in a Chevrolet, Kurt Johnson is 13th in a Chevrolet and Mike Edwards is 14th in a Pontiac. Steve Johns established a final bump e.t. of 6.840 seconds in a Chevy Cavalier, and the 16-car field was separated by only .044 (hundredths) of a second.

"The last lap was pretty decent," said Kurt Johnson. "The ACDelco Chevrolet ran strong to the 330 but fell off a little bit after that. We've got some kind of gremlin going on. We've been working with the chassis and we have that working real good, but we get to the 330 and it just falls off after that. We noticed it in testing in South Carolina on Tuesday. We thought the tires were just spinning or doing something crazy, but we came here and the problem seems to be magnified. When I put it in high gear I can hear it. Right now we're going over everything electrical to see if that's where the problem lies."

-gm racing-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Troy Coughlin , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , Ron Capps , Greg Anderson , Ron Krisher , Larry Morgan , Tommy Johnson , Cruz Pedregon , Bruce Allen , Tim Wilkerson , Johnny Gray , Jason Line , Mike Edwards , Steve J