Las Vegas II: Tony Pedregon preview

Pedregon resumes title bid at wheel of special edition Ford. LAS VEGAS, Nev. A championship sealed with a Kiss. That could be the scenario for Tony Pedregon this weekend (Oct. 25-27) when he resumes his bid for the 2002 NHRA POWERade Funny...

Pedregon resumes title bid at wheel of special edition Ford.

LAS VEGAS, Nev. A championship sealed with a Kiss.

That could be the scenario for Tony Pedregon this weekend (Oct. 25-27) when he resumes his bid for the 2002 NHRA POWERade Funny Car title at the wheel of a special collector's edition of the Castrol SYNTEC Ford Mustang in which he already has won six times this season.

Commemorating thirty years of rock-and-roll with Kiss, the band identified by the lavish theater makeup worn by its members, Pedregon's Mustang probably would have attracted a wealth of attention under any circumstances.

However, the interest level has been greatly accelerated by the California driver's 320 mile-an-hour run toward a Funny Car title that for nine years has belonged exclusively to his boss and mentor, John Force.

Younger brother of 1992 series champion Cruz Pedregon, Tony trails Force by just 13 points entering this week's second annual AC/Delco Las Vegas Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, next-to-last event in the 23-race series.

Four races ago, the margin was 199 points. Now it's 13 less than one competitive round.

How close is it, really? Well, Pedregon was just .0015 of a second away from becoming only the third Funny Car driver in the last 13 years to lead the points in October. That was the margin by which the Chino Hills, Calif., driver was beaten by Tommy Johnson Jr. in the second round of the Oct. 15th O'Reilly Fall Nationals at Ennis, Texas.

Had he won that round, he would have led Force by no fewer than seven points and perhaps by as many as 47.

Still, no one has been anywhere near this close to Force since Cruz Pedregon's championship season. In fact, only once since 1992 has anyone else been within double digits of the sport's most prolific winner. That was in 1998 when Ron Capps trailed by 90 points with two races to go but lost by 135.

Although he finished second to Force in 1996, 1997 and 1999, Pedregon never was a real threat to win the championship. This year, though, has been different.

Since making a chassis change in mid-season, the talented Latino driver has won four of eight races including three of the last four.

He and Force share the season victory lead with six each but Force has struggled since winning three straight races in August and September. The 104-time tour winner has won just two rounds in the last four races while Pedrgon has dominated.

As a result, the SYNTEC driver finds himself in an unusual role at The Strip as virtually a co-favorite with his boss. Odds on Force winning Sunday's title are 7-2. On Pedregon, they're 4-1.

Nevertheless, Pedregon isn't quite ready to start spending his share of the $400,000 championship bonus. Catching Force is one thing, he said, passing him is quite another.

"You're talking about beating someone who has won 11 championships and more than a hundred races," said the one-time winner of the Auto Club "Road to the Future" Award. "And anyone who is a student of the sport knows that John is at his best when he's under pressure.

"To be honest, I'm trying not to think about (Force). We know we have the best race car right now, so if we pay attention to business and continue to perform like we have, then what will be, will be. But it's going to be a very interesting couple of races."

TONY at the Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway...

*Runner-up in his first appearance at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (2000 Nationals)

*After qualifying third, was beaten in the second round of last fall's inaugural AC/Delco Las Vegas Nationals.

TONY Highlights....

*Since 1995, has won more races (19) than any Funny Car driver other than John Force.

*Has beaten Force in three straight final rounds (2000 at Houston, 2001 at Englishtown, N.J., and Topeka, Kan.)

*Has won at least one NHRA POWERade tour event in each of the last seven seasons and is the only Funny Car driver other than Force to have won two or more races in six consecutive seasons.

*Runner-up to Force for the NHRA Championship in 1996, 1997 and 1999 and trails him by just 13 points entering this week's race. *This year has started a career high seven times from the No. 1 qualifying position. Has qualified No. 1 at each of the last three races and at four of the last five.

in 1996, Tony was the first winner of the Auto Club of Southern California's Road to the Future Award which identifies drag racing's rising stars ....when he's not driving the SYNTEC Ford, making appearances on behalf of sponsors or spending time with his two-year-old daughter, Cecily, Tony designs and paints custom helmets including those worn by John Force, Gary Densham, brother Cruz Pedregon, reigning Top Fuel champion Kenny Bernstein and Funny Car rival Tommy Johnson Jr....every Funny Car driver who has won three consecutive races in the NHRA series ultimately has won the championship. That streak will end this season in that both John Force and Tony Pedregon have won three races in succession....Tony owns the dubious distinction of having won more races than any driver who has not won a series championship (19)....Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, the founding members of the band Kiss, will serve as Grand Marshals of the AC/Delco Las Vegas Nationals....Tony has qualified No. 1 a personal record seven times this season including three times in a row.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Kenny Bernstein , Tony Pedregon , Ron Capps , John Force , Gary Densham , Cruz Pedregon , Tommy Johnson Jr.