Las Vegas II: Eric Medlen preview

MEDLEN SLIDES INTO ROLE OF 'SPOILER' AS POINTS RACE SPEEDS TO CONCLUSION Castrol SYNTEC Driver Fifth in a Five-Man Chase to $400,000 LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- For Eric Medlen, the pressure is off in the race for the 2005 NHRA POWERade Funny Car...

Castrol SYNTEC Driver Fifth in a Five-Man Chase to $400,000

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- For Eric Medlen, the pressure is off in the race for the 2005 NHRA POWERade Funny Car Championship -- and that could prove troublesome for the competition.

The second year driver of the Castrol SYNTEC® Ford Mustang rolls into The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for this week's fifth annual ACDelco Las Vegas Nationals in fifth place, 133 points behind boss and teammate John Force in the closest points chase in Funny Car history.

That doesn't mathematically eliminate the 32-year-old from the chase, but it's a deficit formidable enough to have transformed the native of Oakdale, Calif., from contender to spoiler.

"My job now is to help John win the championship," Medlen said. "When we were still in the hunt, you really didn't want to see (Gary) Scelzi or (Ron) Capps in the early rounds. That's not true any more. If we could get one of them in round one and the other in round two (at Vegas), that would be fine with me.

"If we can take them out early, that means they can't earn any more points. Not that it's going to be easy. Those are two bad hombres. But we've got a pretty good race car, too.

"It's exciting to be in this position because that's our job. Every year, our goal is to win the championship with one of these Fords. It doesn't matter which one, really. Robert (rookie teammate Robert Hight) was out there (in the lead) for awhile. Now John's back in front.

     "We probably won't win the championship for SYNTEC this year, but we still can
have a say in it.  That's our goal."

Medlen, last year's top Funny Car rookie after a breakthrough victory at Brainerd, Minn., that fueled a fifth place finish, has had an even better sophomore year, winning three times while becoming one of only seven Funny Car drivers to have broken the 4.70 second barrier.

"Our car has been running really well ever since the mid-season break," Medlen said. "My dad (crew chief John Medlen) and Jason Morton (the assistant crew chief) have been doing a really good job.

"I'm really proud of all the guys. We had a terrible first half of the season and it would have been really easy to just give up, but nobody did.

"They rallied around my dad and, finally, we were able to turn it around. No matter what happens in these last two races, I think we're going to have a good setup for 2006."

Indeed, Medlen slid dangerously close to dropping out of the Top 10 early in the season while his dad struggled with a promising but frustrating new combination.

Winless through the season's first 13 events, Medlen came to life on the Western Tour and, in one stretch, won three of four events to move prominently back into contention. Unfortunately, a first round loss two weeks ago at the Texas Motorplex, all but ended his title bid.

"The (next-to) last year I worked on John's car (as the clutch technician), we won this race," Medlen said of the ACDelco Nationals, "and the car we beat was this one (SYNTEC Ford), with Tony (Pedregon) driving. The next year (2003), I think Tony won both races at Vegas. So we have a lot of confidence coming in here with all three cars.

"Qualify 1-2-3 and put all three cars in the semifinals. That'd be a perfect weekend," Medlen said, "but I'd settle for sending John out of here with a three-round lead. It's still about winning the championship."

* * * *

Did You Know? Last year, after qualifying second, Eric beat Bob Bode in round one before losing to Force in the quarter addition to his driving duties, Eric supervises decal and paint applications on all cars in the John Force Racing stable including the Brand Source Super Comp dragsters Force's youngest daughters, Brittany and Courtney, will drive this weekend ....before he accepted a job at John Force Racing in 1996, Eric was contemplating a career in pro rodeo as the team roping partner of two-time PRCA World Champion Jerold Camarillo....Eric was a mechanic in the SYNTEC Ford for one season before moving over to Force's Castrol GTX Funny Car in 1997 where he worked first as a supercharger technician and later as the clutch specialist. He was part of the Austin Coil-led team that developed the backset blower that now is the standard in both the Top Fuel and Funny Car categories.

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Bob Bode , Eric Medlen , Robert Hight , Austin Coil , John Medlen