SEATTLE, Wash. -- Last year, Eric Medlen finessed the Castrol SYNTEC Ford Mustang down the infamous left lane at Seattle Raceways, Inc., quickly enough to beat teammate Robert Hight in the final round of the Schuck's Auto Parts Nationals. That...
SEATTLE, Wash. -- Last year, Eric Medlen finessed the Castrol SYNTEC Ford Mustang down the infamous left lane at Seattle Raceways, Inc., quickly enough to beat teammate Robert Hight in the final round of the Schuck's Auto Parts Nationals.
That said, Medlen was as happy as anyone to learn that the track's owners had taken steps to eliminate the troublesome dip that had identified Seattle Raceways as a quarter mile track on which lane choice, especially in the early rounds, was likely to be the difference between winning and losing.
"I was glad to see it," Medlen said. "The biggest problem for us is that they did it so late, so close to the race, that it's probably going to take a little time to get rubber built back up on the track. The first couple of (qualifying) sessions, the first session for sure, you're probably going to see a lot of tire smoke (indicating a loss of traction).
"But maybe it's far enough down there that it won't make that much difference," he speculated. "We'll just have to see. That said, we have quite a bit of confidence going into the race because of our success last year. I'm really looking forward (to defending the championship)."
Medlen is entering a stretch in the season during which he was sizzling hot last year, winning three times in a four-race stretch that began at Seattle. The performance enabled the former crewman on boss John Force's Castrol GTX Ford to overcome a slow start and finish fourth in the NHRA POWERade driver standings.
The native of Oakdale, Calif., finds himself in a similar position this year. As he was a year ago, Medlen is winless entering the Schuck's Nationals, languishing in seventh place behind teammates Hight and Force, points leader Ron Capps, and the man from whom he inherited the reins of the SYNTEC Ford, Tony Pedregon, and two drivers who passed him last weekend -- reigning series champion Gary Scelzi and veteran Tommy Johnson Jr.
"We definitely need to make a move," he said. "We know we have a fast car but now we have to perform. This Western Swing (which began last week in Denver and ends next week in Sonoma, Calif.) is real critical. You do good in these races, it kind of sets the tempo for the rest of the year."
Although he has won four times in his career, Medlen never has won a race prior to Seattle. There's not particular reason. It's just the way it has worked out for 2004's top Funny Car rookie. "It's not from lack of trying," Medlen said. "The reality is that the guys work just as hard when we don't win as when we win, so I guess we need to go ahead and win."
Despite the fact that he is 265 points down to points leader Ron Capps, Medlen is not yet ready to concede the championship.
Last year, he arrived in Seattle 237 points behind the leader but was able to cut the deficit to just 71 points by the time the tour moved to Indianapolis for the Labor Day Mac Tools U.S. Nationals.
Picking up just 30 points a race, Medlen could go to Indy this year within 145 points of the lead. That would at least give him a shot at the championship Tony Pedregon won in the SYNTEC Ford in 2003.
"I won't tell you that we didn't dig a hole for ourselves, because we did," Medlen said after his second round lost last week at Denver, Colo., "but I don't think anybody in the top seven or eight is out of it yet. If somebody gets hot, like we did last year, it'll change the whole mix.
"The Western Swing has always been huge (in deciding the points race) and I think it will be again this year."