In the five events prior to the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, qualifying wasn’t a problem at all for Cruz Pedregon.
The two-time Funny Car world champion qualified fourth or better at Norwalk, Denver, Sonoma, Seattle and Brainerd. Pedregon won the pole position in his Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry at Sonoma.
Unfortunately for Pedregon, his strong qualifying trend didn’t continue at the U.S. Nationals on Friday and Saturday.
After three qualifying runs, Pedregon’s best was 4.731 seconds, which left him 20th in the field. Pedregron’s problems magnified when Sunday's qualifying at Lucas Oil Raceway was washed out.
Just when it appeared Pedregon was going to miss the biggest race of the year, and even worse, possibly get knocked out of the Countdown to the Championship, Mother Nature threw him a life preserver. On Monday morning, because rain had washed the rubber off the track, NHRA officials postponed the U.S. National until the next Saturday and Sunday at Lucas Oil Raceway.
“It’s feels incredible, I can’t even think of words (to say),” admited Pedregon. “It was a tough night (Sunday night). I talked to my team and I told them we misfired on some runs there. It would have been nice to get all the (qualifying) runs in, but we didn’t. We were already gearing up for Charlotte and then I got the news (Monday morning). I was just so happy. You would have thought I just won the race.
“I’m glad they made the call,” Pedregon added. “Obviously it is not great for everybody. I’m sure there are some fans who may not be able to come back, but NHRA made the right call. From what I understand, there were some water issues out on the track. I admire every Funny Car driver out here and car owner. But, for myself, a two-time U.S. Nationals champion, and one of the cars in the top 10 and Robert Hight (second in the points), I just think the fans are going to be in for a treat because you are going to have two cars that could potentially win the race in the field and that’s a good thing.”
Hight, the 2009 Funny Car world champ, was qualified 18th, and also gets another opportunity.
“The second chance is big, but it is not going to matter if we do not get my car fixed,” said Hight, who is part of the John Force Racing stable. “We have to look back at how we ran at the beginning of the year and get my car back on track.”
Unlike Hight, Pedregon wasn’t guaranteed a spot in the Countdown to the Championship as he came to Indy eighth in the points.
“I looked at the points and I had some of my team look at the points and I do not even know if there was a chance we would have been knocked out of the top 10,” Pedregon said. “There’s no question it would have been gut-wrenching and it would have been difficult. To be honest with you, you know what I was going to do, I was going to get a Coke and a hot dog and I was going to go about half track with some of my team and I was going to watch the race just like a fan and enjoy it. I wasn’t going to sit behind closed doors and pout. I was going to enjoy it and root my brother Tony (Pedregron) on.”
Cruz knows his team has to be smart when they return to Indy.
“There is a time and a place to go for a pole and certainly Q3 (Saturday night) that is the one run I would say was on us,” Cruz said. “We were just trying too hard as a driver and as a guy that set the car up. I felt bad for the team because we were trying too hard and the track just didn’t hold what we had. Now is the time to be smart. There are only two runs (Saturday) and anything can happen. The last thing we want to do is not take advantage of our second chance.”
Lee Beard, Cruz’s crew chief, also knows the team can’t take anything for granted when they return to Indy.
“You don’t ever have any control over the weather,” Beard said. “You have to just learn to accept that, but we are pleased with the outcome obviously. It was certainly not a good first couple of days of qualifying for us. One of things I will say about Cruz Pedregon when he goes to the starting line to qualify, he’s going up there to be in the top 3, not in the bottom half of the field. A lot of times that strategy works out very well for him, but unfortunately this weekend it didn’t, but we get a reprieve. Hopefully, during the week I can get him settled down a little bit and we can come out here with a little more conservative, ‘let’s get in the show type of attitude’ and go from there. For some reason, we just kept thinking we were going to get all five qualifying sessions in.”
Beard also has confidence in what the team is capable of accomplishing.
“We have real quick and fast race car,” Beard said. “It has a tremendous amount of power and you come into the U.S. Nationals with that type of a program and you want to beat your chest a little bit and show everybody how bad you are. Unfortunately it didn’t work out. We will re-evaluate things and probably come in here (to Indy) next week with a little bit smarter qualifying strategy.”
On Cruz’s last qualifying run Saturday night, his Camry got loose and hit the retaining wall. Beard said the damage will be fixed.
“We will fix it this week, it was a little bit of minor damage to the side of it; not any real big deal at all,” Pedregon said. “As far as the chassis goes, we are being extra careful there. We stripped it down here (Monday) and it is going up to Murf McKinney’s (Tuesday) to go back in his chassis jig and make sure it is perfect. We will put it back together and put it on scales and get it all set up so come Saturday it will be like a brand-new race car.”
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