As Cruz Pedregon seeks his third Funny Car victory -- and his first in 14 years -- at Sonoma, Calif., Sunday, he has learned what not to do as much as what to do.
And he said he's confident he has enough information about the track and the weekend's conditions for a better-than-average shot at winning this race -- called the Sonoma NHRA Nationals this season -- like he did in 1996 and 1998.
The Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry driver will lead the field, thanks to his track elapsed-time record of 4.028 seconds at 307.30 mph from Friday night. With valuable input from consultant Lee Beard, Pedregon managed to hold onto his low-E.T. status, setting up his first-round meeting with fellow Southern California native Jeff Diehl.
Had the order remained the same as it was after the third qualifying session earlier Saturday, he would have faced his brother Tony Pedregon in the opening round.
But Tony Pedregon, with only one more chance to qualify and climb back onto the 16-car grid, saw his parachutes drop out onto the track by mistake during his burnout. That ruined his chances to compete and go head-to-head with his older brother. Tony Pedregon joined debuting Funny Car driver Josh Crawford and Todd Lesenko in posting a DNQ.
"That was a real shame," Cruz Pedregon said.
This is the first time Pedregon has been the Funny Car top qualifier here at Sonoma, although this is his fourth No. 1 start this year and the 49th of his career.
"That's pretty cool. That's a great accomplishment," Pedregon said. "What I'm not so proud of is our win-loss record on race day. It's a mediocre 11-11 for the No. 7-ranked driver who's a California native.
Pedregon was runner-up this spring in the Four-Wide Nationals at Charlotte's zMAX Dragway, a sister track to this Sonoma raceway. But he said it's time to get a 30th overall Wally trophy.
"It's been time all year," he said. "We want to get over that hump. If we get to the finals, whatever happens after that is gravy. We want to make sure we're smart and we don't beat ourselves, like we have in the past. And I think that's going to be a challenge for us. "
Pedregon said he learned from his final qualifying pass, which yielded nothing beyond the lesson not to overpower the track.
"What happened to us just now, " he said, referring to the pass he had made minutes before, "we will not do tomorrow, I can guarantee you that. It doesn’t mean we're going to make it down the track. We just were pushing a little too hard in that first 60, 80, 100 feet or so. We'll learn from that and make those corrections.
"The fact that we missed on that was probably a good thing," he said, explaining that a driver can get overconfident in making decent-to-encouraging back-to-back runs.
So although he held onto the provisional No. 1 position, the day wasn't all that easy for him.
"On that first run we had a (4).14 with a cylinder out," he said, referring to his 4.148-second pass at 277.77 mph in the first of two Saturday chances. "That's a good indication that the car's wanting to run fast. "
He said he was elated about "the fact that we got down the track three out of four times in a nitro car."
Said Pedregon, "I feel good about our chances."
And why not? Maybe his mistakes from the weekend all are behind him -- and he recognizes what they were.
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