Gainesville: Final eliminations report

PEDREGON, SCHUMACHER, COUGHLIN AND GUIDERA EARN VICTORIES AT ACDELCO NHRA GATORNATIONALS GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Defending NHRA POWERade Series Funny Car world champion Tony Pedregon raced to his first victory of the season and 37th of his career...

PEDREGON, SCHUMACHER, COUGHLIN AND GUIDERA EARN VICTORIES AT ACDELCO NHRA GATORNATIONALS

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Defending NHRA POWERade Series Funny Car world champion Tony Pedregon raced to his first victory of the season and 37th of his career Sunday at the ACDelco NHRA Gatornationals.

Tony Schumacher, Jeg Coughlin and Matt Guidera also were winners at the NHRA POWERade Series race, the third of 24 in 2008.

Pedregon clocked a 4.921 at 315.27 in his Q-Horsepower Chevy Impala at the historic Gainesville Raceway quarter-mile dragstrip to edge veteran racer Gary Densham at the finish, whose Racebricks Impala trailed with a 4.924 at 309.13. In the first three elimination rounds Pedregon defeated Jerry Toliver, Ashley Force and Jim Head.

Pedregon, who escaped injury at Pomona, Calif. after suffering one of the most spectacular explosions in NHRA history, moved to fourth in the point standings with the victory.

"Winning is definitely the best medicine for this team right now," Pedregon said. "A little more than a month ago I was in the hospital with a burned hand. Today we were able to win the race and get this season turned around. We didn't get off to the kind of start (to the season) we wanted, but when you look at the quality of cars out here, you know why. You can't count on too many of these guys just folding up. It used to be not that many years ago you had one or two dominant cars; now you have a world-class field of 12 to 15 cars with all of the resources and talent. It's going to be a dogfight and every race is going to be important."

Pedregon's brother Cruz suffered a similar explosion in a first round win over Ron Capps. The 1992 NHRA Funny Car champ was OK and his Advance Auto Parts Impala team was able to repair the car in time for the next round, which he lost to Head.

"Those deals are always pretty scary," Tony Pedregon said. "When I saw the explosion and the car bounce around a little bit I was concerned, but then when I saw that there wasn't that much fire I felt a little better. Anything can happen in those situations, but as long as there's not much fire to contend with, Cruz is one of the best out here at driving under those conditions."

Schumacher claimed his 43rd career Top Fuel victory and third at this event with a performance of 4.603 at 325.37 in his U.S. Army dragster to defeat Brandon Bernstein, who finished in 4.665 at 323.27 in his Budweiser/Lucas Oil dragster.

"This is Gainesville, one of my favorite races, and you look at the full stands and it's a great race to win, but we're going to need to try some different parts to get back ahead because everyone is right there with us," said Schumacher, who beat J.R. Todd, Antron Brown and Larry Dixon in earlier rounds. "There were a lot of good cars and a lot of people running equal to us and every round was a battle. We really had to earn this one. I look at this trophy and it's a nice one, and we had really difficult cars to beat and it was one of the (tougher) ones to earn."

Coughlin took his first Pro Stock win of the season and 39th of his career by outrunning Jason Line in the final round. Coughlin powered his Jegs.com Chevy Cobalt to a 6.652 at 208.07 to hold off Line's Summit Racing Pontiac GXP, which posted a 6.656 at 209.10. Coughlin beat Ron Krisher, Greg Anderson and Johnny Gray in the first three rounds.

"The Gatornationals is definitely a marquee event on the NHRA tour so it feels good to win here," Coughlin said. "Beating Greg (Anderson) on a holeshot in the second round was certainly a turning point for us and we got a little fortunate in the semifinals after breaking a wheelie bar on the burnout. Then to have Jason Line, the last reigning champ, in the other lane (in the final) I knew we had our hands full and both of us put .65s on the board and put on a good show for the crowd."

Top qualifier Guidera earned his second career victory in Pro Stock Motorcycle by sweeping the season-opening race for bikes. Guidera finished in 6.949 at 191.54 on his Mohegan Sun Rocklin Motorsports Buell, and defeated Andrew Hines, who posted a 6.985 at 189.55 on his Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson.

Guidera's bike was consistently fast all day in earning early round wins over Hector Arana, Chris Rivas and Chip Ellis.

"This win is so much better than our first win," said Guidera, whose victory at Reading came on a mid-week afternoon after a three-day rain-delay. "I'm so happy with the No. 1 qualifier and that I didn't beat myself. We ran consistent all day but it was a lot different doing it in front of the packed grandstands. I was feeling it and trying to relax and stay calm with everyone waving at you and looking at you. They say the first one is always special but I don't know how this one could have been much better. Every win is great, but to come in and run like we did and kick everybody's butt all day long is great."

The NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series continues with the 21st annual O'Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals, March 28-30 at Houston Raceway Park, Baytown, Texas.

-credit: nhra

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jim Head , Antron Brown , Jeg Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Tony Pedregon , Ron Capps , Tony Schumacher , Greg Anderson , Gary Densham , Ashley Force , Brandon Bernstein , Johnny Gray , Chris Rivas , Jason Line , Andrew Hines , Jerry Toliver , Chip Ellis , Matt Guidera , J.R. Todd