CRUZ PEDREGON, CONNOLLY DRIVE WAY INTO CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENTION Schumacher continues record-setting season with 14th win DINWIDDIE, Va. -- Funny Car driver Cruz Pedregon and Pro Stocker Dave Connolly closed out clutch wins on Sunday at the...
CRUZ PEDREGON, CONNOLLY DRIVE WAY INTO CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENTION
Schumacher continues record-setting season with 14th win
DINWIDDIE, Va. -- Funny Car driver Cruz Pedregon and Pro Stocker Dave Connolly closed out clutch wins on Sunday at the Virginia NHRA Nationals to go from afterthought to legitimate challenger in the race for the 2008 NHRA POWERade Series championships.
The other winner at the fourth of six races in the NHRA Playoff, the Countdown to 1, was Top Fuel ace Tony Schumacher, who continued his record-breaking season with his 14th win and first at Virginia Motorsports Park (the only two remaining tracks where Schumacher has yet to win are Topeka and Atlanta).
Pedregon, the 1992 POWERade Series world champion, defeated first-place Tim Wilkerson in the semifinals and second-place Jack Beckman in the finals -- Pedregon running a 4.113 at 296.44 in his Advance Auto Parts Toyota Solara to Beckman's 7.503 at 88.14 in his Valvoline/MTS Dodge Charger -- en route to his first win in more than two years (Las Vegas 1 in April 2006).
"I don't think I'm going to sleep tonight. I'm enjoying this so much. Just a great day," Pedregon said. "(Crew chief Rahn Tobler and I have) managed to get to this point in a very short period of time. For him to find his rhythm in a Funny Car this quick shows (how good he is). What a difference he's made."
With the win, his first win at Virginia Motorsports Park in four final rounds, Pedregon climbed all the way from sixth to third place -- passing Ashley Force, Robert Hight and Tony Pedregon -- and he closed to within 69 points of Wilkerson after entering the weekend 115 points out of first.
"We're in the hunt," Pedregon said. "We just need to do our thing and then have to hope that Wilkerson goes out (early)."
With two races left, Las Vegas (Oct. 30-Nov. 2) and Pomona, Calif. (Nov. 13-16), Wilkerson leads Beckman by 51, Cruz Pedregon by 69, Tony Pedregon by 91, and Hight by 92.
In Top Fuel, Schumacher's 3.811 at 316.08 in his U.S. Army dragster was just good enough to get around Hillary Will's 3.847 at 307.09 in her Palm Beach International Raceway dragster, completing a day that included a critical second-round win over then-second-place Antron Brown.
"Winning against Antron second-round, the fans have to enjoy that, that was the ultimate crunch-time moment," Schumacher said. "The final round there, I felt like I left a little bit on the table, I went in a little deep so I don't feel like I performed my best ... Alan pulled that one off, the whole Army team pulled that one off," Schumacher said.
His 14th trip to the winner's circle this season -- and 55th of his career -- pulled him within arm's length of Greg Anderson's all-time NHRA POWERade Series records for round-wins (76) and race-wins (15). With two races left, Schumacher is at 71 round wins and 14 race wins.
"There's still records out there and I don't want to leave any of them open because I don't think there will ever be another team like this," Schumacher said.
Schumacher eliminated all but Hillary Will (-212) from championship contention and all he'll have to do at Las Vegas to clinch his fifth straight and sixth overall POWERade Series world championship is qualify.
In Pro Stock, Connolly defended his Virginia NHRA Nationals race win with a 6.574 at 209.33 in his Lucas Oil/Charter Communications Chevy Cobalt to Jeg Coughlin's 6.611 at 208.86 in his JEGS.com Chevy Cobalt.
"Coming to Virginia, this is becoming like a home track for us," said Connolly, who won for the fourth time this year and 21st time in his career.
The win vaulted Connolly to within 77 points of Cagnazzi Racing teammate Coughlin.
"This was do or die. If we didn't win today, we didn't have any chance to win the championship," Connolly said. "Here we are in third place and we still have a title shot."
Meanwhile, Coughlin still emerged from the weekend better off than he entered it. In fact, he more than doubled his lead over his closest pursuer, Kurt Johnson, who entered the weekend 32 points behind and by day's end was 74 points behind.