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ALREADY ADEPT AT TALKING THE TALK, MEDLEN TRYING TO WALK THAT WALK Castrol SYNTEC Driver a Legitimate Title Contender READING, Pa. -- Since first he burst into the Funny Car spotlight last year as driver of the Castrol SYNTEC® Ford...

Castrol SYNTEC Driver a Legitimate Title Contender

READING, Pa. -- Since first he burst into the Funny Car spotlight last year as driver of the Castrol SYNTEC® Ford Mustang, Eric Medlen has invited comparisons to boss and teammate John Force not as a driver, perhaps, but certainly as a storyteller.

The 32-year-old, a once aspiring rodeo cowboy and later a crewman on Force's Castrol GTX® Start Up™ Ford, has the same rambling, stream of consciousness, punctuation-challenged, no-need-for-a-second-question style that has made his boss the unchallenged favorite of the Fourth Estate.

Of course, when Medlen just talked like Force, it was amusing, even to rival drivers. Now that he's winning like his mentor, though, nobody's laughing, at least not anyone in contention for the NHRA POWERade Funny Car Championship.

In fact, Medlen rolls into Maple Grove Raceway for this week's 21st annual Toyo Tires Nationals as the hottest driver in the category.

Eighth in the standings and 213 points behind the leader at the mid-season break, Medlen has won three of the last six races to pull within 55 points of pacesetting Gary Scelzi, the equivalent of three racing rounds.

As a result, the former high school calf-roping champion has painted himself into a POWERade championship picture that already included Scelzi, Force, Ron Capps and rookie Robert Hight

Although he is fifth in a five-driver field, if he were to maintain his second half pace, Medlen would win the $400,000 championship going away. He has averaged 82.2 points per race since mid-season. That's 16 points more than Hight, 17 more than Scelzi and almost 19 more than Capps.

At that rate, the native of Oakdale, Calif., would finish with 1,528 points. Do the math with the other contenders and Hight would finish second with 1,501 points, Scelzi third with 1,497, Capps fourth with 1,453 and Force fifth with 1,365, just ahead of Tommy Johnson Jr. (1,314).

"Yeah, like that's going to happen," Medlen laughed. "You can make numbers say anything you want them to. All I know is that we're in the hunt. We've got a shot and that's all you want when you get to the home stretch.

"But look at the other guys (in the race). Three of them are sure Hall of Famers and Robert should be a shoo-in for Rookie-of-the-Year. I think maybe we surprised them a couple of times, but now they know we've got a car that can win on any day. It's gonna be a real battle from here on."

Medlen, last year's top Funny Car rookie, is encouraged by the fact that he's returning to a Maple Grove track on which he was the No. 1 qualifier a year ago. No. 1 once was a source of concern for the second year driver who failed to advance beyond the second round in his first three races as the quickest qualifier. This year, though, two of his three wins (Seattle and Brainerd, Minn.) were wire-to-wire affairs.

He hopes to add Maple Grove to that growing list.

"We really struggled in the first half while my dad (crew chief John Medlen) tried to get a handle on this new combination," he said, "but we never gave up. I really thought that if we could get to Indy (and the Labor Day Mac Tools U.S. Nationals) and be within 100 points of the leader, we'd have a chance."

Now Medlen hopes to turn that chance into a championship, a bookend for the one his dad claimed in 2003 when Tony Pedregon drove the SYNTEC Ford.

"It's turned into a five-race season," Medlen said, "and the team that makes the fewest mistakes is the one that's probably going to win. I think if we pay attention to detail and minimize our mistakes, we've got as good a chance as anyone else."

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Did You Know? Eric was a rodeo champion at Oakdale (Calif.) High School who, before becoming a crewman on the car he now drives (in 1996), was contemplating a pro career as team roping partner to two-time PRCA World Champion Jerold Camarillo, an Oakdale neighbor....last year, after qualifying No. 1 in his first appearance at Maple Grove Raceway, Eric was beaten in the second round by his predecessor in the SYNTEC Ford, Tony Pedregon....Eric was the supercharger technician on John Force's Castrol GTX Funny Car when it won at Maple Grove in 1997 and the clutch technician when it won again in addition to his driving duties, Eric supervises decal and paint applications on all cars in the John Force Racing stable.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Ron Capps , John Force , Eric Medlen , Robert Hight , John Medlen , Tommy Johnson Jr.