Points leader tries to complete full year without first round loss MADISON, Ill. (June 27-29) -- When Tony Pedregon rolls the Castrol SYNTEC Ford Mustang to the starting line for the first time at this week's seventh annual Sears Craftsman ...
Points leader tries to complete full year without first round loss
MADISON, Ill. (June 27-29) -- When Tony Pedregon rolls the Castrol SYNTEC Ford Mustang to the starting line for the first time at this week's seventh annual Sears Craftsman Nationals, it'll be like a mugging victim returning to the scene of the crime.
That's because Gateway International Raceway was the last track on which the veteran struggled before he began a sensational 12-month run that has put him in position to supplant boss and teammate John Force as the NHRA POWERade Funny Car Champion.
When Pedregon was beaten by Force in a tire-smoking first round last June, he could not have imagined what lay ahead.
Nevertheless, since that disappointment, the 38-year-old points leader has made 22 tour stops without losing a single first round race.
He's appeared in 12 final rounds, claimed 11 Budweiser No. 1 qualifying awards, won 10 events and generally wreaked havoc within the division.
Had he put together such a streak within the context of a single season, he already would have won the championship.
Consider that since last year's Sears Craftsman fiasco, Pedregon has earned almost 500 more POWERade points (2008 to 1510 for Force) and won 15 more racing rounds than anyone else in the division. As a result, he's driven himself into some pretty exclusive company.
The only other Funny Car drivers to have won more often in a 22-race stretch are Force (15 wins in 22 races during the 1996-97 seasons), Don Prudhomme (15 of 22 in 1975-76-77) and Kenny Bernstein (12 of 22 in 1986-87).
Nevertheless, more than anyone else, Pedregon understands that there still is work to be done if he is to join the company of older brother Cruz, the only driver other than Force to have won a Funny Car title in the last 13 seasons.
"We've had strong starts and strong finishes," Pedregon said, "but we've never put them together in the same season. Our goal this year was to be aggressive and maintain our focus. We got on a roll last year and right now my Crew Chiefs, John Medlen and Dickie Venables, are making all the right calls."
"Every time I go out there, I know I have a car that can win. What happened (at Gateway) last year isn't important. Everything's changed since then."
Indeed, Pedregon has been virtually untouchable.
After losing the championship to Force last November in the closest Funny Car race in 12 seasons, the second generation driver scarcely has paused to catch his breath.
On the way to six wins this season, he's posted two of the three quickest quarter miles over the last two seasons (4.739 seconds last February at Pomona, Calif., and 4.740 seconds last month at Topeka, Kan.) and become only the third driver to break the 4.74 second barrier.
All of that will mean little, however, if he doesn't win the championship.
"You wonder sometimes how many shots you actually get at something," Pedregon said, "(so) we're trying to finish the unfinished business from last year (when he lost the championship by a mere 78 points)."
"We don't want to look ahead. There are a lot of good cars out there and there are 12 races remaining. Right now, all we're thinking about is winning St. Louis (a feat he last accomplished in 2001)."