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NHRA: Cruz Pedregon Ready to Regain Early Season Winning Form

21 July 1998

SONOMA, Calif. -- At the NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series midseason break, there remains little debate about which Funny Car driver had the quickest hot rod over the course of the first 11 races. Cruz Pedregon's Interstate Batteries Pontiac Firebird was definitely the class of the field, showcasing its evident performance advantage at just about every race. Among the highlights: Seven No. 1 qualifying positions, only one qualifying effort worse than third, and a record-setting 4.819 second quickest elapsed time in NHRA Funny Car history.

However, thanks to the typical bad luck, bad breaks and just plain freaky nature of racing, there's still a Winston title chase underway. In fact, with as many as six drivers within striking distance of Winston leader John Force, it's shaping up to be a battle for the ages.

While Pedregon made it look like he had every intention of running away with the title during the first five races -- posting two victories during the stretch -- his efforts on Sunday have declined over the course of the last seven races. In fact, the Moorpark, Calif. driver hasn't advanced past the second round since winning Atlanta's FRAM Nationals.

Pedregon will try to get back in a winning groove at the 11th annual Autolite Nationals, July 24- 26 at Sears Point Raceway. The $1.4 million race is the 13th of 22 events in the $30-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

"We know we have the performance to compete with any car out there," Pedregon said. "We need to avoid mistakes on race day and take advantage of our performance. Even though we stumbled at recent races, we are still within striking distance of the leader. This is the most competitive the Funny Car category has been in a long time. It's great for the fans, and that's what it's all about."

While the car's performance hasn't missed a beat during qualifying, Pedregon has hit a brick wall during eliminations. The slump has included first round losses to Chuck Etchells, brother Frank and Cory Lee.

"I'm just happy the team has been able to maintain a high level of performance despite what's been happening on race day," Pedregon said. "We've been able to qualify No. 1 or No. 2 at about every race. The car never ceases to amaze me. If we keep doing that every single week, eventually we're going to turn that into wins on the race track. But don't forget, we know how to win because we've been able to do that two times already this year."

Those victories officially put the Joe Gibbs-owned team on the road to recovery from a nightmare 1997 season where Pedregon posted his worst Winston points finish ever (7th), and failed to win a race for the first time in his career. Now, with 11 races remaining on the schedule, Pedregon is in position to battle with Force, Etchells, Ron Capps and Tim Wilkerson for the Winston championship.

"It's been a total team effort this season," Pedregon said. "The program has been completely better and a big part of that success has been the addition of Wes Cerny (crew chief). We are sitting here today with the national record and one of the best running funny cars in the business. That's saying a lot because there's a lot of tough customers out here."