Loss of Points Lead Incentive Enough for Castrol SYNTEC Driver JOLIET, Ill. (Sept. 26-28) -- For Tony Pedregon, the former POWERade points leader, the season begins anew with this week's third annual CARQUEST Auto Parts Nationals at Route...
Loss of Points Lead Incentive Enough for Castrol SYNTEC Driver
JOLIET, Ill. (Sept. 26-28) -- For Tony Pedregon, the former POWERade points leader, the season begins anew with this week's third annual CARQUEST Auto Parts Nationals at Route 66 Raceway, an event he won a year ago.
"Basically, we're dead even," he said of his battle with Whit Bazemore for the NHRA Funny Car Championship. "Seven points? You can make that up in qualifying.
"For me and for Bazemore, it's become a five-race season. Whoever deals best with the pressure and with the conditions is going to win (the championship). It's as simple as that," said the 25-time tour winner.
Pedregon, who has won twice as many races as any other driver this season (six) and who has led the points after all but three events, is encouraged by the way his Castrol SYNTEC Ford performed a week ago at Memphis, Tenn.
Although Pedregon lost in the second round of the O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals, his first round time of 4.825 seconds was the quickest of the entire weekend and he lost with a time (4.947 seconds) that would have won any other race in the quarterfinals.
"We got our car back (up to speed) just in time for the stretch run," Pedregon said. "Everybody knows that we've struggled the last couple months, but I feel very good coming into (this week's race)."
Pedregon's bid is enhanced by the experience he gained in a similar duel with boss and teammate John Force a year ago, one in which he cut the 12-time champion's advantage to as few as 18 points before losing by 78.
"I learned a lot (in that battle) that I think will help me (now)," Pedregon said. "The main thing is to take the emotion out of it as much as possible and focus on doing my job.
"I think I got caught up in the emotion last year. Not that it's not an emotional situation. I'm in a position to win my first championship and be the first driver in 11 years to beat John," Pedregon acknowledged. "Bazemore is in the same position. So the mental and psychological battle is as important as who has the fastest race car."
Nevertheless, Pedregon figures to have a fast car. The 38-year-old veteran totally dominated last year's race, winning wire-to-wire after starting from the No. 1 spot at 4.765 seconds. That was one of 10 No. 1 starts in an 18-race segment during which his SYNTEC Mustang was clearly the class of the category.
That's the kind of performance Pedregon knows he needs down the stretch. He hasn't started No. 1 since June 15th when he led the field into the Pontiac Excitement Nationals at Columbus, Ohio, the last race he won.
"You win some races and it seems like everything went exactly as planned," Pedregon said. "Sometimes it's just your day. But to win a championship, you're going to have some adversity. Even in his best years, John went through some things during the season that were a test and the reality of the situation is that you're going to have to respond in a positive way to those challenges to get to the top. That's where we are right now."
The winner of more NHRA national events the last eight years than anyone other than Force, Pedregon finally ha driven out of the shadow of his mentor.
Barring a miracle that not even Force is anticipating, Pedregon this year will lead the team in victories for the first time, having won six races for the second straight season. To claim the championship, though, he likely will have to win a couple more.
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