Cruz Pedregon wins Showdown, Indianapolis field set

Cruz Pedregon Wins Funny Car Showdown, U.S. Nationals Field Locked In Cruz Pedregon claimed a $100,000 bonus Sunday afternoon in the U.S. Smokeless Showdown at O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis. The Funny Car bonus event was contested amidst...

Cruz Pedregon Wins Funny Car Showdown, U.S. Nationals Field Locked In

Cruz Pedregon claimed a $100,000 bonus Sunday afternoon in the U.S. Smokeless Showdown at O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis. The Funny Car bonus event was contested amidst the final two rounds of qualification attempts for The NHRA Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. Larry Dixon, Tony Pedregon, Allen Johnson and Matt Smith locked in number one positions for Monday's Big Go.

The U.S. Smokeless Showdown fielded the top eight Funny Car drivers based on points earned since the 2007 U.S. Nationals. The 2008 contenders included Pedregon, brother Tony, Ashley Force, Robert Hight, Tim Wilkerson, Ron Capps, Del Worsham and John Force.

Pedregon, who's been to three previous Showdown finals, was on a mission to win his first, beating brother/teammate Tony and Worsham before meeting Wilkerson in The Showdown final. Wilkerson had the advantage at 60 feet, but Pedregon pulled away with a winning run of 4.184 seconds, reaching 291.3 MPH.

"Tim Wilkerson is really a hero of mine," Pedregon shared. "He's not a fancy racer. He just comes out and gets the job done. I heard him next to me and I was just hoping the finish line would get here faster than it did. I probably drove to the quarter mile just to make sure he didn't get by me.

Not outwardly emotional, Pedregon admitted the win was substantial. "I used to win easy earlier in my career, but I've had a pretty long dry spell," Pedregon shared. "I thought maybe it's destiny I'm not ever going to win again, maybe I'd won my share of races over the years. This race is special to me. I'm going to enjoy it and I'm not even going to think about the race tomorrow."

Pedregon received his oversized check made out for $100,000 in victory lane. As he took his victory lap in the return lane, Pedregon was greeted by a precise skydiver landing in the narrow patch of grass between the return lane and the drag strip, delivering a briefcase full of $100,000 cash.

"When I've been in the finals before and watched the Budweiser Clydesdales go out to the winner, I used to think I'd like to be out there," Pedregon shared. "But this more than makes up for it."

The NHRA sweetened the pot, offering an extra $50,000 to Pedregon if he can sweep the Labor Day weekend by winning The U.S. Nationals on Monday.

Today was the last day for drivers to secure a position for the historic Indianapolis race. This weekend is also the last opportunity for drivers to lock into The 2008 NHRA PowerAde Countdown to the Championship with spots available in Top Fuel, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle. The Funny Car Countdown field was set prior to this weekend.

Funny Car legend John Force holds one of those spots in The Countdown, but for the second year in a row he will not be racing for the most coveted Wally of the year, failing to qualify for the field of sixteen. Force was clearly disappointed, but offered a silver lining in his usual exuberance, "Well I'm not personally racing, but my name is out there, John Force Racing, with Ashley [Force], Robert [Hight] and Mike[Neff]. I'll just be racing as an owner not as a driver."

The fierce competitor then admitted the sting of not making Monday's field. "Now I hurt inside. I feel like I let the fans down and that hurts the worst," he shared.

A former Force protege, Tony Pedregon leads the Funny Car class with a 4.073 seconds Low E.T, reaching a top speed of 301.9 MPH. "For us to set Low E.T. at this race is significant," Pedregon shared. "I'm really encouraged. It's going to be hot tomorrow and I think we have a pretty good crack at what tomorrow holds."

The defending Funny Car World Champion owns Wallys from several tracks, but has yet to win The U.S. Nationals. But does he consider a win in Indy that big of a deal? "It's bigger than I think sometimes," Pedregon shared. "My approach is to treat each race the same. When you get in the car and roll in to stage, you're really not thinking, you're working on instinct.

"But it dawned on me this morning when [ESPN] went to live TV that you can only fool yourself mentally so much," Pedregon continued. "There's no question if I could win this race, that would be a highlight of my career. With my approach and Dickie's [Gaines, crew chief], there isn't any reason we couldn't win it."

Cruz Pedregon is number two followed by Gary Densham, Mike Neff and Robert Hight. Matt Hagan, racing in only his second national NHRA event, clinched the number sixteen seed. Tommy Johnson Jr didn't make the cut, instead left to cheer on wife Melanie Troxel who secured the number six spot. Gary Scelzi also missed the show.

Larry Dixon maintained the Top Fuel pole with his 3.841 seconds Low E.T. "It's nice. It's a great place to start," Dixon said of sitting on the pole. "Obviously the big prize is tomorrow. We've done as much as we can do up until now. We'll see what we can do tomorrow.

"We really had unbelievable early numbers today which is encouraging," Dixon continued. "You don't want to say testing, but today is your chance to do everything and not have it cost you the event. Tomorrow everything is for real. We've prepared for the worst and hope for the best."

Morgan Lucas failed to make the Top Fuel field of sixteen for The Nationals. To add insult to injury, Lucas and the Lucas Oil Stadium dragster missed The Countdown to The Championship field as well. David Grubnic and Doug Kalitta instead secured the last two spots in The Countdown.

Allen Johnson held on to the number one Pro Stock seed with a 6.634 seconds Low E.T. "It's a dream of everybody to win Indy," Johnson said. "And to do it with my dad would really be awesome."

The Countdown field for Pro Stock will be decided during Monday's eliminations. If Warren Johnson can win his way to the final round, he will steal the tenth and final spot away from Greg Stanfield who failed to qualify in the top sixteen.

Matt Smith will try for his second U.S. Nationals Pro Stock Motorcycle win from the number one seed. The top spot has been a successful one for Smith, winning all four 2008 events where he secured the pole. "When we've been number one we've had a fast bike and a consistent bike," Smith shared. "It's important to qualify number one in our class."

Smith has been to three U.S. Nationals final rounds in a row. "This has been a good track for me," Smith said. "We're gonna try to win us another one. We'll see what happens tomorrow."

Hector Arana and Karen Stoffer are vying for the final Pro Stock Motorcycle Countdown spot, which will be decided during the first round of Monday's eliminations. As the fates would have it, the pair meet in the the first round, Arana holding the number two seed and Stoffer the number fifteen.

Opening ceremonies for The 54th Annual U.S. Nationals are scheduled to begin Monday morning at 9:30 am, including a special recognition of Pro Stock legend Bob Glidden, the winningest driver in the history of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. Glidden won a record nine times between 1973 and 1988. Eliminations start at 11:00.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Larry Dixon , Warren Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , Ron Capps , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Doug Kalitta , Tommy Johnson , Gary Densham , Bob Glidden , Cruz Pedregon , Greg Stanfield , Tim Wilkerson , Karen Stoffer , Ashley Force , Melanie Troxel , Allen Johnson , Morgan Lucas , Matthew Smith , Robert Hight , Matt Hagan , Mike Neff