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PEDREGON LOOKING FOR MORE FUNNY CAR SUCCESS AT PENNZOIL NATIONALS DINWIDDIE, Va. -- With national event victories at the Mac Tools Gatornationals and Fram Nationals, a record-setting performance at Houston's Pennzoil Nationals, ...

PEDREGON LOOKING FOR MORE FUNNY CAR SUCCESS AT PENNZOIL NATIONALS

DINWIDDIE, Va. -- With national event victories at the Mac Tools Gatornationals and Fram Nationals, a record-setting performance at Houston's Pennzoil Nationals, followed by a $100,000 victory at NHRA's All Star Winston Invitational, and his name written atop the Winston Funny Car point standings, there's little doubt who's the hottest Funny Car driver in the NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series. Cruz Pedregon, from Moorpark, Calif., has officially put the worst season of his career behind him and with new crew chief Wes Cerny turning the wrenches, is also putting the Funny Car competition behind him. The Joe Gibbs-owned Interstate Batteries team will look to continue their dominance at the fourth annual Pennzoil Nationals presented by Trak Auto, April 23-26 at the Virginia Motorsports Park. The $1.6-million race is the sixth of 22 events in the $30-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series. Pedregon, who finished seventh in the Winston standings in 1997, a year that included a spectacular fire at Memphis and emergency appendectomy surgery before Topeka's Sears Craftsman Nationals, says so far the addition of Cerny has made the biggest difference in the team's performance. "Getting Wes was absouletly essential if we wanted to compete for the championship and go after the guy that's been winning every championship in the 90s, John Force," Pedregon said. "I believe certain crew chiefs fit into certain situations better, for whatever reason. I think that he's at his best with us. Picking Wes was a long, thought out process. Here we are sitting today with the national record and the best running Funny Car in the business. That's saying a lot because there are a lot of tough customers out here." Pedregon's Pontiac Firebird set NHRA national performance records at Houston, running the quickest Funny Car pass in history at 4.819 seconds, and established the speed mark at 317.23 mph. After not winning an event last season, Pedregon is happy to be back in top form. "I wake up in the morning and think how great it is to have a crew chief like Wes Cerny, and how thankful we are to have everything in place to compete for the championship," he said. "We've had some wins since 1992 (first Funny Car championship), but it hadn't been on the level that we would like. I'm just enjoying it this time around. But there are a lot of similarities -- we have a great car and we're consistent. I just hope the end result is the same." Pedregon has posted runner-up finishes during the last two races at VMP, a track that he says is among his favorites on the circuit. Last season he lost to Chuck Etchells in a close final round battle. The year before Force pulled away from Pedregon to win. With the team's recent performances, he feels very confident that he could claim his first win in Virginia. He says the pressure that surrounded the team for nearly two years has finally lifted. "There's really no pressure now that we've broken through with a couple of wins," Pedregon said. "Getting a win makes it a little easier to get more wins. It had been a year-and-a-half since we won and that's a long period of time, so the monkey's finally off our backs."

GENERAL INFORMATION * Schedule: Pro qualifying is at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. April 24. Qualifying continues at noon and 4 p.m. April 25. Final professional eliminations start at 11 a.m. April 26. Federal-Mogul competition starts at 10 a.m. April 23. * Tickets: Tickets are available for the Pennzoil Nationals presented by Trak Auto. Call Virginia Motorsports Park, (804) 862-3174, or Ticketmaster, (804) 262-8100, for ticket information. * On TV: ESPN2 will televise two hours of highlights and live final round coverage from the Pennzoil Nationals presented by Trak Auto on April 26 at 4 p.m. (EDT). ESPN2 will show two hours of same-day qualifying highlights on April 25 at 7 p.m. (EDT).

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Chuck Etchells , Cruz Pedregon