Topeka: Summer Nationals final summary

Russell, T. Pedregon and T. Coughlin win at Topeka. TOPEKA, Kan. - Tony Pedregon scored his second Funny Car win of the year and second straight at Heartland Park Topeka Sunday, at the 14th annual O'Reilly NHRA Summer Nationals. Pedregon...

Russell, T. Pedregon and T. Coughlin win at Topeka.

TOPEKA, Kan. - Tony Pedregon scored his second Funny Car win of the year and second straight at Heartland Park Topeka Sunday, at the 14th annual O'Reilly NHRA Summer Nationals.

Pedregon blasted his Castrol Syntec Ford Mustang down the quarter-mile in 4.910 seconds at 320.58 mph to hold off Tim Wilkerson and his run of 4.999 at 302.69 in his Levi, Ray and Shoup Pontiac Firebird.

Darrell Russell and Troy Coughlin also were victorious in their respective categories at the $1.8 million race, the ninth of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Pedregon's 15th career win moved him into third in the standings giving team owner John Force and his three-car team the top three spots in the race towards the NHRA POWERade championship. Each of the three drivers (Pedregon, Force and Gary Densham) have two wins this year and there has been at least one member of Force Racing in every Funny Car final this season.

"It's pretty amazing how close our three cars are running this season," said the 37-year-old Pedregon. "Although, I'm trying to convince Force that his beef isn't with me, it's with Densham since he is still in the (points) lead. It just goes to show you that to have the resources, the experience, and the depth - it's really is nice to be able to rely on that sometimes."

Pedregon needed his best pass of the day to hold off No. 4 qualifier Wilkerson, who was making his first final round appearance since 1999. The youngest of the three Pedregon's had an opening round win over Dale Creasy Jr. and then drove past Johnny Gray before defeating his boss. For the first time since last year at Englishtown, N.J., all three vehicles advanced to the semifinals, with Pedregon defeating Force en route to the final.

"The race with John, man, it's hard to get happy over," said Pedregon. "You get a little drained over the course of the day and I wanted to have enough for Wilkerson. You try and get that all out of your head and just rely on the car. (In the final) I thought I was late leaving the starting line. Then right at the finish line my helmet fell down over my eyes and I kept asking over the radio if we beat (Wilkerson) because he just flew right by me. I couldn't hear what the crew was saying over the radio, so I thought I would watch where the television cameras went when I got out of the car."

Densham and Forced earned the same amount of NHRA POWERade points over the weekend leaving Densham atop the Funny Car standings, two points ahead of Force, heading to Chicago. Pedregon moved in front of Whit Bazemore who lost to Force in the first round.

Russell scored his third career win when he powered his Bilstein Engine Flush Top Fuel dragster to the finish line in 4.638 at 314.90 ahead of Larry Dixon who posted a 4.670 at 316.38 pass in his Miller Lite dragster.

"When you race that Miller Lite car, you expect him to be right there with you or way in front of you," said Russell, the 2001 NHRA Rookie of the Year. "I thought he broke or smoked the tires because a little past half-track I didn't hear or see him, and I was thinking we may win this thing. I just begging the car to stay together."

Prior to Sunday's final round, Russell was 0-2 versus Dixon in eliminations this season and 0-7 against him in his career.

"(Dixon) has just worked us over like there's no tomorrow," said Russell. "I didn't really think about that though. (Crew chief Wayne) Dupuy called the shot and he called it perfectly. The car just thundered through there. I couldn't believe how fast it was going."

It was Russell's second final round appearance since team owner Joe Amato hired Dupuy as the crew chief of the team following a disappointing start to the 2002 season. Russell qualified a season-best third and had round wins over Andrew Cowin, Melanie Troxel, and Cory McClenathan before facing Dixon.

"We had some problems internally," said Russell. "Joe made a business decision, even though it was a hard decision for him, he made it and it is paying dividends now. The whole group is starting to gel and we're getting to be more like a team. We have definitely made the turn and we are starting to go in the right direction now."

Coughlin became the ninth different Pro Stock winner in nine races as he recorded a pass of 6.924 at 198.44 in his Jeg's Mail Order Cavalier against fellow Chevy driver Mark Whisnant. Coughlin, who started the day from the No. 13 spot, defeated Greg Anderson on a holeshot, rookie J.R. Carr, and younger brother Jeg on his way to the final.

"It's not very fun facing my brother in the semi's, but it guarantees one of the Jeg's cars are going to the final," said Coughlin, whose other win came last season at Reading, Pa. "This is one of the most competitive classes out there. It takes an entire team effort to make that Cavalier run. It's a good feeling to win. My second victory feels just as good as my first. In fact it seems like it even feels better. I think a great race car, a great driver, and a great engine and maintenance program is needed to win in this category. And a little luck, of course."

Jim Yates moved ahead of Warren Johnson by 40 points in the standings marking the fifth different lead change this season.

The next NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series event is the fifth annual Chicagoland Dodge Dealers NHRA Nationals, May 30-June 2, at Route 66 Raceway.

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Troy Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Warren Johnson , Tony Pedregon , John Force , Joe Amato , Greg Anderson , Andrew Cowin , Gary Densham , Tim Wilkerson , Melanie Troxel , Johnny Gray , Mark Whisnant , J.R. Carr