Points leader tries to reclaim momentum in drive for Funny Car title MEMPHIS, Tenn. (Sept. 19-21) -- Buoyed by a strong showing in the one qualifying run completed before rain postponed last week's Keystone Nationals at Reading, Pa., a more...
Points leader tries to reclaim momentum in drive for Funny Car title
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (Sept. 19-21) -- Buoyed by a strong showing in the one qualifying run completed before rain postponed last week's Keystone Nationals at Reading, Pa., a more confident Tony Pedregon will roll to the starting line Friday to begin defense of his Funny Car championship in the 16th annual O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals at Memphis Motorsports Park.
"That was a morale booster," Pedregon said of last Friday's 4.803 second quarter mile that put him and his Castrol SYNTEC Ford Mustang at the top of the qualifying order in a race that will completed Oct. 3-5.
"No doubt, we've struggled the last month," Pedregon said, "but we haven't been that far off (of the form that made him the category's performance leader for more than a full calendar year).
"Now, we're back in a comfort zone (competing in back-to-back-to-back races he won a year ago) and I feel really good about our chances."
Pedregon, the 38-year-old Latino driving star who has been the Funny Car pacesetter for all but two races this year, leads second place Whit Bazemore by 57 points entering this, the 18th race in the series. Boss and teammate John Force is another 152 points back in the Castrol GTX® High Mileage Ford.
After running away from his rivals by winning six of the season's first 12 races, Pedregon has survived beyond the first round just one time in five subsequent events.
The 25-time tour winner knows he'll have to do much better if he is to be the driver who ends Force's reign of terror in the Funny Car class, one that has resulted in 10 consecutive championships.
"In any season, you're going to have ups and downs," Pedregon said. "That's the nature of sports. We've been up, we've been down and I feel like now we're headed back up again."
Runner-up to Force for the series championship four times in the last seven seasons, Pedregon began to drive out of his mentor's shadow little more than one year ago when consecutive wins at Reading, Memphis and Joliet, Ill., set up a sensational stretch run in which he once pared the margin between the two to just 18 points.
This year, though, the roles have been reversed.
Whereas Pedregon trailed Force by 199 points entering the final six races of the 2002 season, this year he leads his boss by 209 at the same juncture.
"I'd rather be here than there," Pedregon said of the dynamics of having the lead. "You always want to be in a position to control your own destiny. You don't want to come down to the last three of four races having to rely on somebody else to win or lose. Whether it's Bazemore or John or Del (Worsham) or Tommy Johnson, we want to beat 'em on the track. That's our mind set.
"It starts with qualifying," he continued. "If you make a good run (on your first attempt), it opens up a lot of possibilities. Then you can push things a little. The last thing you want to do is to come up to the last qualifying run either not in the show or in the slow half (of the field). We've been there and it's no fun, so our first job this week is to get solid in the show.
"Once we've done that, then we can focus on winning the race. It's easy to get ahead of yourself. We're trying to take it a step at a time."
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