Cruz Pedregon has been around this sport long enough and been in enough championship battles to know when it’s time to panic. And even with just three races remaining for him to claw his way uphill into the Countdown to the Championship field, “the Cruzer” isn’t ready to consider the Magic Dry Organic Absorbent NHRA Northwest Nationals a “must-win” situation.
The two-time world champion sits in the 11th spot, 139 points behind Tim Wilkerson, and he knows that time is running out, but he’s heartened by the performance of the Snap-On Charger the last few races, including a No. 1 qualifying spot in Epping.
“Our car is right there; we just need to minimize the self-inflected wounds,” he said. “I red-lit last weekend in Sonoma in a car that was going to go to the semifinals. Like everyone else, I’m usually good for one red-light a season and that was a bad time to have it, especially after Tommy [Johnson Jr.] dropped a cylinder and only went 4.08 and we went 3.99 shutting it off early. In Denver we went to the semi’s but spun the tires after the track got hot. It’s just little things.”
Pedregon doesn’t have to make it all up in one chunk, and with the regular-season-ending Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals offering a points-and-a-half format, he knows there’s still time for him, crew chief Glen Huszar and assistant crew chief Nick Casertano to close the gap.
“I know we’re running out of races but it only takes one or two round wins here and there and have the other guys not going rounds to make a big difference,” he said. “I’ve seen it happen so many times. If I hadn’t messed up in Sonoma we could have had two semifinals in a row so I know we can do that again."
Pedregon is well aware that he’s had a series of off-par campaigns the last five years, falling from a trio of tour-four finishes in 2011-2013 to a sequence of 10-9-12-10-12 finishes, but feels like all of the signs are pointing towards better performance.
“We struggled for a lot of races scuffing pistons, but we finally figured that out,” he said. “I feel like we can make a good run for it. Our car is running better than the results show.”
A trio of three-second passes in qualifying in Seattle indicates he may be on to something, and he's got an important first-round date with new rival Shawn Langdon, who sits ninth while Wilkerson has the always tough Ron Capps in the opening frame.