Phoenix: Tony Pedregon preview

Racing from front of the pack new experience for points leader. CHANDLER, Ariz. (Feb. 21-23) Racing from the front of the pack is a new experience for Tony Pedregon, but it's one with which the current leader in the NHRA Funny Car standings ...

Racing from front of the pack new experience for points leader.

CHANDLER, Ariz. (Feb. 21-23) Racing from the front of the pack is a new experience for Tony Pedregon, but it's one with which the current leader in the NHRA Funny Car standings hopes to become much more familiar this season.

That said, the 20-time tour winner and his Castrol SYNTEC Ford face a formidable challenge this week when the POWERade tour moves to Firebird Raceway for the 19th annual Checker/Schuck's/Kragen Nationals.

Not only has the Chino Hills, Calif., driver never reached the winners' circle at Firebird, it's one of only two tracks on which he hasn't even posted a winning record.

In 10 previous appearances at the desert track, the youngest of the racing Pedregons has posted a 7-9 record with no final round appearances and one DNQ.

That's not what one would expect of the driver who has won more Funny Car races the last eight years than anyone other than John Force, the 12-time series champion.

Is Pedregon concerned about his lack of production at Firebird? Not really.

"We have a lot of momentum right now," said the winner of the season-opening K&N Filters Winternationals, "and we tested well at Phoenix last month we ran 4.77 so we expect to be competitive.

"The secret, though, is not to take anything for granted. Our first goal is to get qualified. Once we do that, then we can set another goal. We're not going to look too far ahead and, certainly, it's too early to talk about the championship."

To his chagrin, Pedregon probably isn't going to be able to shake the title talk, even this early in the season. After all, he pushed his boss and mentor to the final race last year before settling for second place for the fourth time in seven seasons.

However, Force's margin of victory last year was just 78 points and that's the closest anyone has come to the 106-time tour winner since Tony's brother, Cruz, won the title in 1992.

Moreover, Pedregon made a statement in the opening race when he made six consecutive runs of 4.788 seconds or quicker, becoming only the second driver (after Force) to break the 4.80 barrier on all four elimination runs.

Included was a 4.739 second time that ranks as the fourth quickest in history, just .008 off of Force's existing national record.

The upshot is that Pedregon is the points leader for just the second time in his career at the wheel of a race car that has been widely regarded as the best in the sport since last July.

Contrary to common belief, the SYNTEC Ford IS NOT a clone of Force's Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang.

"We all share the same data," Pedregon said, "but each of our cars is a little different."

One of the big differences in Pedregon's performance is the head start he and his team had with current technology. They were the first of the three teams operating under the John Force Racing umbrella to get a McKinney Corporation chassis and the first to get the newest cylinder heads.

That small advantage may be all Pedregon needs to end his bridesmaid's run and add a second championship to Pedregon family bounty.

-www.johnforceracing.com

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , John Force