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Cruz Pedregon Is Giant Killing In Texas

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 24 2011

Cruz Pedregon is cruising at the AAA Texas Fall Nationals this weekend. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

ENNIS, Texas _ Cruz Pedregon realizes all the numbers, team-wise, are against him every time he straps into his nitro Funny Car.

The four-car juggernaut fielded by Don Schumacher Racing and John Force Racing’s three-car armada present a formidable road-block on many fronts for a single-car team like Pedregon’s. “The Cruzer” figures that’s unfair enough – so let’s race.

That mindset helped propel Pedregon to the top of the Funny Car ladder at the close of qualifying Saturday for today’s 26th annual AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals, the second of six races in the NHRA Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship.

A two-time world champion, Pedregon claimed the pole with numbers of 4.086-seconds and 307.86 mph in his Snap-On Tools Toyota Solara. In the process, he basically stole the spotlight from Countdown points-leader Mike Neff of JFR and Matt Hagan, last weekend’s record-setting winner for DSR at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C.

“They bring a lot, no doubt about it,” Pedregon said of the rival camps. “But I feel like they’re no better than we are. If you look at the average elapsed times…we’ve been probably the best car out there. I know Hagan had a stellar last weekend but I’ll put our car against anybody out here.

“We don’t have the depth but we don’t worry about that. We worry about what we do have. They can’t buy experience – we have a lot of it. And they can’t outwork us. We don’t feel like there’s any issues there. It takes one good car to mow through the field, and hopefully it’s ours.”

Meanwhile, Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock

Top Fueler Tony Schumacher is chasing first win of the season in Texas. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

Motorcycle) also emerged as top qualifiers heading into Sunday’s finals, scheduled to start at 11 a.m., CDT.

Pedregon, who turned 48 on Monday, said the four solid runs he laid down during qualifying on Billy Meyer’s all-concrete drag strip left him “so happy I can’t even put it into words.

“It’s one thing to make a good run, or a great run, and it’s another thing to bang (them) out with the heat – something we really haven’t done. I’m hoping that’s going to show well for us (Sunday), because we’ve been good at making one or two good runs and we kind of fizzle-out in the race. Even though the heat is out there, Texas Motorplex still has got plenty of grip.”

Pedregon has posted two victories in six finals at The Plex during his career, the most recent win in 1994. “I remember coming here with the McDonald’s car and later with Joe Gibbs, and we brought some good cars here,” said Pedregon, who earned his fifth No. 1 of the season and 44th of his career. “But this is probably one of the best cars I’ve ever had here, and we’re going to try like heck to close the deal. There’s a lot of competition, and there are some interesting first-round matchups with points implications that could be good for us, but we need to do our part, too.”

Pedregon also is counting on brother Tony, another two-time champion who qualified 10th, with helping him advance his points position. Cruz exited zMAX Dragway fourth in points – behind leader Neff, Hagan and DSR’s Jack Beckman.

“There is plenty of time,” Pedregon said, “but the biggest thing is you’ve got to stop the cars that are No. 1 and 2 because they have a capability of continuing to go to the late rounds. It’s not too late but you don’t want to lose any more ground to those guys.”

A pivotal first-round pairing will see Neff meet Hagan. Neff will have lane-choice as the No. 5 qualifier

Jason Line will start eliminations from P1 on Sunday.

and is looking to exact some revenge for his final-round loss against Hagan and his DieHard Dodge Charger R/T at zMAX Dragway.

“We raced last week in the final round and now to be matched up in the first round it’s going to feel like a final to race him,” said Neff, driver of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. “He is right on my butt in points and it’s going to be a do-or-die moment in this Countdown.” Neff is 1-1 vs. Hagan, having beaten him in the semifinals of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals before dropping a close race in the final at Concord.

In Top Fuel, Schumacher – a seven-time world champion – hopes the Motorplex will be the cure for his 0-for-17 season. Second to Del Worsham of Al-Anabi Racing at the close of qualifying Friday evening, Schumacher moved into the pole position during Round 3 Saturday with a 1,000-foot pass in 3.863-seconds and 319.07 mph.

Those numbers held during the final session, securing Schumacher’s third pole at The Plex. More importantly, Schumacher is a five-time winner here – including his first career NHRA victory in 1999 and in 2009 and 2010. Schumacher has racked-up 67 career wins during his tenure at Don Schumacher Racing, the team owned by his father. Coincidentally, Saturday’s pole was Schumacher’s 67th and will serve as added motivation.

“Yes, I have to win because I’ve always said I don’t want to be the No. 1 qualifier more times than my wins,” said Schumacher, driver of the U.S. Army dragster. “I just tied it at 67 and have to win the race…and win the rest of the season to move on. I’m comfortable. I’m looking forward to getting here and running Scott Palmer first. Got to beat him and see what happens.”

Schumacher recorded his most recent win at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway during last year’s Countdown. He hasn’t been shut out of the win column for an entire season since 2001, when he finished eighth in points and had only one runner-up result. Since then, he has averaged seven victories per season.

Worsham, the season-long points-leader who was overtaken by DSR’s Antron Brown last weekend at zMAX Dragway , qualified second at 3.869-seconds and 318.54 mph. Fort Worth’s Spencer Massey, driver of the FRAM/Prestone dragster fielded by DSR, is seventh at 3.905-seconds and 316.60 mph. And Brown – who lost traction on both his runs Friday – moved to 11th on the 16-car ladder Saturday at 3.947-seconds and 311.63 mph.

Schumacher, fifth in Countdown points as the weekend began, dismissed the suggestion that he is desperate for a win.

“I’m desperate for a win every time I show up for a race. Can’t try any harder,” said Schumacher, a six-time runner-up this season. “We’ve been beat by unique and crazy ways this whole season. I think you win championships by recognizing that things are going to happen. You don’t point fingers, you don’t fire people. You build them up and let them know they’re doing a great job and that’s exactly where we’re at right now.

”We can win a championship several different ways. We’ve done it every way you can, with the exception of not winning a race. So, let’s not try that.”

In Pro Stock, Countdown points-leader Line retained the No. 1 position he earned Friday night via his track-record elapsed time of 6.553-seconds and speed of 211.20 mph. Line, driver of the Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac GXP, notched his career-best fourth consecutive pole but first at the Motorplex. KB Racing teammate Greg Anderson, the four-time/reigning world champion , remained in the No. 2 spot in his GXP at 6.559-seconds at 210.67 mph.

Mike Edwards, the 2009 “factory hot rod” champion, sits third in his Penhall/K&N/Interstate Batteries Pontiac at 6.561-seconds and 211.16 mph – numbers that drew Line’s attention.

“For the first time in a long time we don’t have the best car going into Sunday,” said Line, the 2006 champion. “Mike made a couple of really good runs today. My car, we tested a little something (setup-wise) just to do it, a possibility for (Sunday). But obviously it was not the direction we need. Mike’s got probably the better car right now, so we got our work cut out for us.”

Rookie Hector Arana Jr. replaced factory Harley-Davidson rider Andrew Hines atop the Pro Stock Motorcycle ladder with a track-record 6.828-second ET and 195.42 mph pass in Round 3 aboard his Lucas Oil Products Buell.

“We found our tune-up and we’re back to where we need to be,” Arana Jr. said. “We did a couple of little tune-up adjustments and the bike finally came to us. The power was always there; we were just kind of lost leaving the starting line. We got that straightened out and we’re back on the pole.”

Arana’s father, the 2009 world champion, is third at 6.856-seconds and 195.76 mph aboard his Lucas Buell.

Countdown points-leader Eddie Krawiec, the Pro Stock Bike winner at zMAX Dragway, is sixth on the basis of his Friday pass of 6.867-seconds at a track-record 195.79 mph aboard his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines H-D V-Rod. “This is a statement year for us,” said Hines, a three-time world champion. “We want to come out and win this championship again. Luckily, we’ve got two great V-Rods going into this Countdown.”

Sunday’s first-round pairings for professional eliminations for the 26th annual AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals at Texas Motorplex, the 18th of 22 events in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series. Pairings based on results in qualifying, which ended Saturday. DNQs listed below pairings.

Top Fuel — 1. Tony Schumacher, 3.863 seconds, 319.07 mph vs. 16. Scott Palmer, 4.088, 281.13; 2. Del Worsham, 3.869, 318.54 vs. 15. Chris Karamesines, 4.052, 299.40; 3. Rod Fuller, 3.880, 319.52 vs. 14. Terry McMillen, 4.037, 295.53; 4. Brandon Bernstein, 3.882, 312.35 vs. 13. Steve Torrence, 3.999, 306.05; 5. Larry Dixon, 3.888, 318.17 vs. 12. David Grubnic, 3.974, 292.20; 6. Doug Kalitta, 3.898, 316.67 vs. 11. Antron Brown, 3.947, 311.63; 7. Spencer Massey, 3.905, 316.60 vs. 10. Shawn Langdon, 3.922, 310.84; 8. Bob Vandergriff, 3.910, 315.78 vs. 9. Troy Buff, 3.913, 306.46. Did Not Qualify: 17. Morgan Lucas, 4.140, 222.33; 18. Rob Passey, 4.423, 248.29.

Funny Car — 1. Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Solara, 4.086, 307.86 vs. 16. Todd Simpson, Chevy Camaro, 4.584, 238.43; 2. Johnny Gray, Dodge Charger, 4.141, 303.78 vs. 15. Paul Lee, Chevy Impala SS, 4.257, 296.63; 3. Jon Capps, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 4.152, 296.44 vs. 14. Jeff Arend, Solara, 4.214, 298.34; 4. Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 4.154, 304.32 vs. 13. Melanie Troxel, Solara, 4.208, 296.76; 5. Mike Neff, Mustang, 4.163, 303.50 vs. 12. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.200, 300.40; 6. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.165, 304.67 vs. 11. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.187, 299.80; 7. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.167, 302.62 vs. 10. Tony Pedregon, Impala SS, 4.186, 300.60; 8. John Force, Mustang, 4.173, 301.40 vs. 9. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.178, 295.14. Did Not Qualify: 17. Alexis DeJoria, 5.349, 294.37; 18. Terry Haddock, 6.521, 102.90.

Pro Stock — 1. Jason Line, Pontiac GXP, 6.553, 211.20 vs. 16. Warren Johnson, GXP, 6.616, 209.04; 2. Greg Anderson, GXP, 6.559, 210.67 vs. 15. Chris McGaha, GXP, 6.610, 209.17; 3. Mike Edwards, GXP, 6.561, 211.16 vs. 14. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, 6.607, 209.23; 4. Vincent Nobile, Dodge Avenger, 6.574, 210.67 vs. 13. Steve Kent, GXP, 6.605, 209.10; 5. Ronnie Humphrey, GXP, 6.575, 209.88 vs. 12. Ron Krisher, GXP, 6.602, 210.54; 6. Allen Johnson, Avenger, 6.581, 210.44 vs. 11. Kurt Johnson, GXP, 6.601, 209.26; 7. Erica Enders, Chevy Cobalt, 6.587, 209.98 vs. 10. Rodger Brogdon, GXP, 6.597, 209.46; 8. V. Gaines, Avenger, 6.590, 210.01 vs. 9. Greg Stanfield, GXP, 6.595, 209.82. Did Not Qualify: 17. Shane Gray, 6.625, 208.97; 18. Paul Pittman, 6.764, 205.04.

Pro Stock Motorcycle — 1. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.828, 196.02 vs. 16. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 7.013, 192.80; 2. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.850, 196.62 vs. 15. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.995, 192.47; 3. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.856, 195.76 vs. 14. Michael Phillips, Suzuki, 6.964, 197.22; 4. Matt Smith, Buell, 6.864, 194.86 vs. 13. Shawn Gann, Buell, 6.960, 191.02; 5. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.865, 195.53 vs. 12. Michael Ray, Buell, 6.953, 191.70; 6. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.867, 195.79 vs. 11. Mike Berry, Buell, 6.950, 191.13; 7. Chip Ellis, Buell, 6.891, 192.99 vs. 10. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.930, 192.99; 8. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.915, 194.04 vs. 9. Angie Smith, Buell, 6.916, 193.54. Did Not Qualify: 17. Bailey Whitaker, 7.016, 190.65; 18. David Hope, 7.046, 191.38; 19. Justin Finley, 7.046, 190.59; 20. Joe DeSantis, 7.064, 190.38; 21. GT Tonglet, 7.709, 189.73.

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 24 2011
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