ENNIS, Texas — official release — NHRA photo — If taking momentum into the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship is an important factor in winning a world championship title, Funny Car standout Cruz Pedregon may not like his chances.
But if performing well under pressure and in big moments is just as important, then things may be lining up perfectly for Pedregon and his 10,000-horsepower Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry to make another run at a Funny Car title.
The two-time world champion hasn’t performed exactly the way he would’ve liked as of late. He entered the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship in eighth place in the points standings. But he has consistently risen to the occasion during the NHRA’s six-race playoffs and that includes a win a year ago in Dallas. Pedregon will try to make it two straight at the 29th annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals, which takes place at the Texas Motorplex, Sept. 18-21.
“We’ve been given a chance to reset all the points,” Pedregon said. “Whatever growing pains and challenges we’ve had, it’s all out the window. It’s kind of starting off like a second season for us, so that breathes new life into us. I think our team is ready for the challenge. I like this. This is crunch time. In the past years for some reason I do better when the pressure is on.”
Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel) Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were also last year’s winners of the event that will once again be televised nationally on ESPN2. It marks the second of six races in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship and the second of four straight race weekends to kick off the NHRA playoffs.
The continuation of eliminations for the Countdown opener, the Pep Boys NHRA Carolina Nationals, will also be completed during qualifying rounds of the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals. Three rounds of racing remain for both Top Fuel and Funny Car and all rounds remain for Pro Stock Motorcycle. Four pairs of Pro Stock cars also need to complete their first round runs.
Pedregon has finished in the top four each of the past three years and has six victories in 24 Countdown events, including wins at Dallas in 2013 and 2011. That late-season success in Dallas also bodes well for the fast start that Pedregon will need to open up the playoffs.
“The race track is challenging for a lot of teams but we’ve had success there,” said Pedregon, who has four wins and seven final round appearances at Dallas. “I think the hot conditions favor certain cars and it must favor our car.”
Since a victory at Englishtown, Pedregon has not been able to replicate that winning performance in 2014, advancing to the semifinals just twice in the past nine races. Pedregon fell in the first round of the last three events, including the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals and the Countdown opener at Charlotte, but he remains upbeat about how his team and car can perform down the stretch.
“I would assess our race team and race car as solid,” Pedregon said. “We’re ready to take what we’ve learned and apply it. We’ve had some ups and downs, but we’re in good shape. We have to keep our nose to the grindstone.”
But Pedregon also realizes that he needs to go rounds and pick up victories to claim a third world championship. Repeating his dramatic 2008 run to the championship, one that included three victories and four final round appearances in the Countdown, would be ideal, but it will be difficult against a star-studded Funny Car field headed by points leader and reigning world champion John Force.
Other championship contenders in the Countdown include two-time Dallas winners Del Worsham and Robert Hight, Courtney Force, Matt Hagan, U.S. Nationals winner Alexis DeJoria, Ron Capps, Tim Wilkerson and Tommy Johnson Jr.
That means nothing will come easy but Pedregon doesn’t expect anything different. He knows the arduous task facing him and as Pedregon, who has 35 career wins, has always done throughout a standout career he is embracing the challenge.
“We’re just going to approach each race and each round individually,” Pedregon said. “We’ll see where we stack up after the first race. We know we have to do better than we have the last few races if we even want to be a factor. We want to score as many points as we can and at some point you’re going to have to win lots of rounds.”