Gainesville Pedregon Seeks Second Straight Victory

PEDREGON SEEKS SECOND STRAIGHT GATORNATIONALS VICTORY GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Cruz Pedregon must have felt like he was having a terrible case of deja vu at the NHRA season-opening AutoZone Winternationals. The perennial Funny Car...

PEDREGON SEEKS SECOND STRAIGHT GATORNATIONALS VICTORY GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Cruz Pedregon must have felt like he was having a terrible case of deja vu at the NHRA season-opening AutoZone Winternationals. The perennial Funny Car championship contender started the season in the same fashion as he did in 1998: by failing to qualify.

However, Pedregon's woes were quickly forgotten recently at Phoenix's Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals. The Interstate Batteries Pontiac Firebird driver proved the season-opening mistake wasn't going to become routine by posting a runner-up finish to archrival John Force.

There's more good news for Pedregon on the horizon. The Camarillo, Calif. driver now turns his focus to defending an event title in sunny Florida. Pretty soon what happened in California will be only a distant memory.

Pedregon will attempt to successfully defend his Funny Car title of a year ago at the 30th annual Mac Tools Gatornationals, March 18-21 at historic Gainesville Raceway. The $2.1 million event is the third of 22 events in the $40 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

"Pomona was just a fluke," said Pedregon, who finished third in the 1998 Winston standings with four victories and an elapsed time record (4.807 seconds). "It was a matter of unfortunate circumstances and before we knew it, we were out of (qualifying) runs. We realize now how important it is to get the car in on the first run. The way we performed at Phoenix was more like it. There's still a lot of rounds and a lot of racing to go. We like our chances at Gainesville."

Pedregon says he learned quite a bit from his disappointing experience at Pomona Raceway. Sometimes no matter how well you're prepared, luck will tip the table over.

"Looking back at Pomona, there wasn't one thing I could have done to get us down the track," Pedregon said. "I always look at the situations to see if there was something that I could've done when things weren't right, but nothing would've helped. We had mechanical problems. We had a clutch mechanism fail, smoked the tires and then a suffered a blower explosion in the final (qualifying attempt)."

Pedregon, the only other driver besides Force to win a Funny Car championship in the 1990s, says this could be his year once again. After successfully blending talents with crew chief Wes Cerny last year, he feels the combination will be right to end Force's current championship streak.

"Making the finals at Phoenix moves us up in the point standings and that's our primary goal," said Pedregon, who moved to sixth in the Winston standings following the runner-up effort. "That was a very important step for us after what happened at Pomona. If we can keep running like we are now and keep going to semifinals and final rounds, it won't be long before we're back in contention to win the Winston championship. We were very encouraged with our confidence-building performance at Phoenix and look forward to defending our title at the Gatornationals. Right now we have a full head of steam and are definitely going after the championship."

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Cruz Pedregon