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Tony Pedregon Needs Win, Confidence As NHRA Playoffs Near

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, August 13 2010

Tony Pedregon heads to final race of the pre-playoff portion of the NHRA schedule in 10th place in Funny Car. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Tony Pedregon wasn’t exactly doing a Norman Vincent Peale thing this week as he talked about his chances of making the 2010 NHRA playoffs. No, positive thinking on the part of the former two-time champion was clearly being tested by fear of a slow Funny Car.

Asked about doing well in the final race of the Countdown to 10 – this weekend’s Lucas Oil Nationals in Brainerd, Minn., – and advancing to the six-race Countdown to One playoffs, Pedregon sounded more nervous than confident.

“I think in the end I’ll be up for it,” Pedregon, driver and owner of the Pedregon Racing Chevy Impala SS, said. “I only hope that we have a car that performs the way we need it to.”

Pedregon is the bubble boy in Funny Car this weekend. His hold on the final playoff spot is tenuous as he leads 11th-place Jeff Arend by 33 points. Hence is apprehension.

But Pedregon is also the more experienced, the more successful of the two contenders for the final spot in the playoffs, which are scheduled to begin Sept. 1 with the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.

He has won 43 Funny Car races in a career which started in 1995. There were the championships in 2003 and 2007.

Pedregon has competed in all three Countdowns and his worst finish in the playoffs is sixth.

But still, there was this uncertain tone in his voice this week.

“There’s some excitement,” Pedregon said. “There’s a little bit of drama. I think I’ll settle down when I get to the track. It should be business as usual.”


“Should be?”

The probable reason for the yips is the way the season has gone for Pedregon and his team.

Pedregon has been in the top 10 in points all year long. At one time, he was as high as fifth.

But that was in the spring of the year. In the final round at Las Vegas in April, Pedregon was beaten by John Force, his former team owner. Since then, Predregon’s fortunes have plummeted: He has just two round wins in his last 10 events.

Predregon knows he had better get a couple of round wins at Brainerd.

“We’ve managed to get through it,” he said. “We’ve managed to be competitive at all of the races, maybe not at the level that we once were. But that could change. I think that we’re probably just close to getting our problems sorted out. And we have to. We know that the clock is ticking.”

Pedregon won at Brainerd last year. It was his third victory of the season and it gave him a nice running start to the playoffs, where he wound up sixth.

Quite a change to this year.

“I did think about the contrast from last year to this year,” he said. “You know, last year we went into that Brainerd event with a crew chief change and leading the points. I do remember going into that final, you know, going into Indy, that was going to determine whether myself or Capps was in the lead.  Now I find myself just trying to stay in the top 10.

“You know, it’s just one of those things, I think the reality of it is that what it really reminds me of when I put things in perspective is that I’ve been pretty fortunate in my career.  I’ve been with some good teams. I’ve never struggled to make the top 10. I’ve always been in the top three or top five. I really view it as, you know, like any other business: You have ups and downs, and it’s tough to be on top all the time, especially when you’re limited and have limited resources.”

Arend also heads to Brainerd struggling. He has three first-round losses in his last three events.

But Arend drives for Kalitta Motorsports, a team which has more resources. In addition to those at Kalitta, he is getting help from super tuner Alan Johnson.

“Well, we’ve definitely got a little bit of an alliance going on with Alan Johnson and his team, which has helped a bit,” Arend, who is looking to get into his first playoff, said. “It’s not like he’s tuning our cars, but we’re able to work with him a little bit with the Top Fuel car and the Funny Car.  Obviously it’s showing in our Funny Car going to two finals this year.”

The competition for the final Countdown to One berth in Top Fuel is, basically, between Dave Grubnic and Terry McMillen.

Grubnic is 10th arriving at Brainerd Friday, 19 points ahead of McMillen.

Both have been in and out of the top 10 this season.

Grubnic kind of summed up the situation for all Countdown to One hopefuls this week when he said, “We got to take this one step at a time. But look at Robert Hight last year, just scraped into the Countdown and won the championship.

“I think it’s a good thing.  We’ve just got to keep our heads up, keep our confidence up and keep heading towards that goal.”

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, August 13 2010