Cruz Pedregon makes fastest run in NHRA Funny Car history

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For the second straight race weekend, history was made in the National Hot Rod Association during Friday night’s qualifying for the Toyota Summernationals in Englishtown, N.J.

Two-time former series champion Cruz Pedregon recorded the quickest run in Funny Car history, covering the 1,000-foot track at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in 3.959 seconds (at 310.48 mph).

Pedregon’s time will become an NHRA national record if he can certify (also known as “back up”) the run by posting another time within one percent of the mark during the remainder of the weekend in Saturday’s two final qualifying attempts or in Sunday’s final eliminations.

Pedregon has history on his side at setting the record, having four career No. 1 qualifying efforts and two wins at Englishtown.

“It would mean more than words could say,” Pedregon said about possibly setting the national record. “Even if we don’t back it up, to have the quickest time slip for Funny Car is an honor. It’s something that my team and I have worked really hard for.”

Pedregon eclipsed fellow Funny Car driver Ron Capps’ mark of 3.964 seconds, which had stood as the fastest run prior to Friday, and was also set at Englishtown, in 2012.

In addition to seeking the elapsed time mark, Pedregon is also in pursuit of his first win of the season. He’s coming off his first final round appearance – last week at Topeka, where he lost to Courtney Force due to mechanical failure.

Force made NHRA history by earning the 100th win by a female driver in the sanctioning body’s pro ranks.

“We’re on a roll right now, and had it not been for a supercharger issue that we had (at Topeka), the car should have run another 4.09 (seconds) without even a problem,” Pedregon said. “We came out here, unloaded, 4.05 and then 3.95.

“We’re not doing anything different. I guess all those tire smokes, cylinder dropping, and all those runs, they teach you something. We’ve got to get it right eventually.”

Del Worsham also reached the finish line with a 3.959 second effort (at 321.04) on the run prior to Pedregon’s, but the latter driver was slightly quicker, thus giving him the quickest elapsed time mark for now.

Other top qualifiers in Friday’s sessions were Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Kalitta led the Top Fuel field with a best run of 3.756 seconds at 327.03 mph. He’s the current points leader in the class coming into this weekend.

“It’s always good qualifying up front,” said Kalitta, who is seeking his second win of the season. “It just kind of sets the stage for how things are going. I’m just real proud of my guys. They’re working their butts off on this thing, and they’re just really making it run well. That was definitely a good start for today with qualifying so far.”

Having won last weekend at Topeka, Johnson is going for his second straight race win (and potentially fourth overall) in Pro Stock. He led all drivers in his class with a best run of 6.502 seconds at 213.00 mph.

“We picked up where we left off last week but we had completely different conditions,” said Johnson, whose Topeka win was his third of the season. “Last week it was warm and here it was a lot cooler. That’s a testament to my Mopar Dodge crew. Hats off to them.”

As for Pro Stock Motorcycle rider and New Jersey native Krawiec, he set a track record with a 6.801 second run at 197.80 mph.

“I try not to treat this race any differently than usual, but that’s easy to say and hard to do,” Krawiec said. “I like to spend time with my friends and family, but obviously I still have a job to do. Still, it’s always a really good thing to come back here and race.”

Qualifying continues on Saturday at 12:45 and 3:15 p.m. ET. Sunday’s eliminations are scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. ET.

 

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Friday’s results after the first two of four rounds of qualifying for the 45th Toyota NHRA Summernationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, ninth of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Qualifying will continue Saturday for Sunday’s final eliminations.

Top Fuel — 1. Doug Kalitta, 3.756 seconds, 327.03 mph; 2. Steve Torrence, 3.777, 324.51; 3. Brittany Force, 3.777, 324.44; 4. Tony Schumacher, 3.784, 316.75; 5. Antron Brown, 3.786, 313.73; 6. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.792, 320.66; 7. Richie Crampton, 3.794, 321.73; 8. Bob Vandergriff, 3.804, 319.75; 9. Leah Pritchett, 3.812, 314.75; 10. Morgan Lucas, 3.833, 319.82; 11. Terry McMillen, 3.841, 321.19; 12. Spencer Massey, 3.865, 315.86.  Not Qualified: 13. Dom Lagana, 3.983, 276.52; 14. Shawn Langdon, 4.022, 223.65; 15. J.R. Todd, 4.533, 166.95; 16. Clay Millican, 6.532, 99.62.

Funny Car — 1. Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 3.959, 310.48; 2. Del Worsham, Camry, 3.994, 321.04; 3. Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 4.014, 316.45; 4. John Force, Mustang, 4.015, 310.48; 5. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.027, 314.31; 6. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.030, 319.07; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 4.048, 311.27; 8. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.054, 313.58; 9. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.055, 305.49; 10. Jeff Arend, Charger, 4.071, 310.63; 11. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.074, 307.65; 12. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.080, 308.50.  Not Qualified: 13. Chad Head, 4.093, 310.13; 14. Bob Tasca III, 4.129, 303.64; 15. Tony Pedregon, 4.160, 260.31; 16. Mike Smith, 4.364, 84.68; 17. Terry Haddock, 4.383, no speed.

Pro Stock — 1. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.502, 213.00; 2. Rodger Brogdon, Chevy Camaro, 6.508, 213.00; 3. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.516, 213.40; 4. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.520, 213.27; 5. Jeg Coughlin, Dart, 6.520, 212.66; 6. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.539, 213.33; 7. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.561, 212.76; 8. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, 6.611, 208.46; 9. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 7.792, 128.80; 10. John Gaydosh Jr, Pontiac GXP, 8.593, 120.29; 11. Val Smeland, Chevy Cobalt, 10.061, 86.65; 12. Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 12.160, 71.90.  Not Qualified: 13. Dave Connolly, 13.456, 98.72; 14. Chris McGaha, 14.718, 77.19; 15. Kenny Delco, 17.677, 45.94; 16. V. Gaines, 19.577, 57.43.

Pro Stock Motorcycle — 1. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.801, 197.80; 2. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.835, 194.94; 3. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.849, 194.58; 4. Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 6.871, 193.82; 5. Shawn Gann, Buell, 6.872, 195.17; 6. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.883, 192.30; 7. John Hall, Buell, 6.884, 194.18; 8. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.929, 193.29; 9. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.933, 192.08; 10. Chaz Kennedy, Buell, 6.961, 191.32; 11. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.975, 195.59; 12. Angie Smith, Buell, 6.991, 170.54.  Not Qualified: 13. Michael Ray, 6.992, 190.83; 14. Justin Finley, 7.064, 192.25; 15. Junior Pippin, 7.074, 186.48; 16. Adam Arana, 7.133, 153.21; 17. LE Tonglet, 7.360, 189.82; 18. Elvira Karlsson, 7.382, 141.68; 19. Matt Smith, 12.980, 81.36; 20. Joe DeSantis, 16.784, 43.53.

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INDYCAR: Zach Veach ready for stronger second half of season

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If you hear Zach Veach humming or even singing The Beatles’ “Penny Lane” this weekend at Road America, there’s a jolly good reason for it, as they say in England.

Much like the way teammate Alexander Rossi has nicknamed his car “Baby Girl,” Veach has nicknamed his road and street course car “Penny Lane,” thanks in part to his girlfriend being a huge Beatles fan who has helped Veach also become a fan.

The Stockdale, Ohio native also has a nickname for his speedway car: “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.”

Veach has had a tough rookie season in the Verizon IndyCar Series. He comes into this weekend’s Kohler Grand Prix in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, ranked 15th in the standings with 147 points, but an already massive 210 points behind series leader Scott Dixon.

He could easily sing The Beatles’ “Help!”, given how the season has gone so far.

The 23-year-old Veach’s best finish – and only top-10 showing thus far in 2018 – has been fourth at Long Beach – in “Penny Lane” of course, a finish he hopes to equal, if not improve upon, Sunday in central Wisconsin.

He’s struggled since Long Beach, though, failing to finish higher than 12th in the following six races: 13th at Birmingham, 23rd in both the Indianapolis Grand Prix and Indy 500, 12th and 13th at Detroit’s Belle Isle and 16th at Texas.

He also finished 16th in each of the season’s first two races at St. Petersburg and Phoenix.

But Veach hopes to be singing another Beatles song on the 4.048-mile road course: “Twist and Shout” in hopes of having a strong finish on the twisting 14-turn kettle moraine course.

Zach Veach, driver of the #26 Relay Group 1001 Honda, practices for the DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 8, 2018. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Veach has a good reason to be optimistic for success at Road America.

“Road America has actually been pretty good to us in USF 2000 and Indy Lights,” Veach said. “I think we have four or five podiums there. In 2016 (racing for Belard Auto Racing), we set the track record in Lights, won the first race and finished third in the second. I’m hoping that speed continues (in Sunday’s IndyCar race).”

While he acknowledges this season’s struggles thus far, Veach also knows he’s learning and improving.

“I think the biggest thing is the braking capabilities of the Indy car,” he said. “You’re going from steel rotors (in Lights) to carbon pads. Honestly, it feels like you can brake 150 feet deeper going into a corner with an Indy car, but at the same time, you’re also going into that corner 40 to 50 mph faster in an Indy car than in a Lights car.

“Our first year in Indy Lights wasn’t anything spectacular, and then we came back and almost won a championship. I think that’s just the way I go about things. I take inches at a time instead of miles, but I feel like we’re getting to that point where we need to be in IndyCar.”

Veach is no stranger to Andretti Autosport, having raced with the team from 2010 to 2014 and then signed a three-year contract to drive in the Verizon IndyCar Series last fall.

“To have the opportunity to race with Andretti is almost perfect for me as far as growth and development,” Veach said. “With the three teammates I have and the skill and experience they have, it’s allowed my learning curve to accelerate that much quicker.

“That’s the tough thing. It’s a rookie season and when I look back at it and look at numbers, you may say things didn’t look good at certain races. But when I look back at them, I say to myself where that’s when I did my best fuel save, or that’s when I figured out how to fix an issue with braking. There’s so much I’ve picked up.

“But I feel like these last two race weekends have been arguably the most comfortable I’ve felt. Detroit, I was looking so great for 12th and 13th, and Texas, racing from 16th to 3rd and then I made a mistake (finished 16th). I finally feel confident enough to say I can race these guys and can race them hard and the car is finally starting to feel small, if you want to say that, like I’m driving the car instead of being stuck behind somebody else.”

While he’s learned from all of his Andretti Autosport teammates — Rossi, Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay — Veach feels he is closest to fellow young driver, Rossi.

“We’re both on the younger side of the spectrum of our teammates,” Veach said of Rossi. “And he’s the newest guy learning IndyCar, so he got that experience a little sooner than the other guys as far as time.

“For me, I’m in much the same position he was in two years ago. He’s been real helpful in helping me get up to speed.”

With eight more races remaining in the season, Veach’s primary goal is to finish his first full IndyCar season in the top-10. He’s currently 66 points behind the 10th-ranked driver, teammate Marco Andretti.

“If we could be top-10 in the championship, that’d be great, that’s what we’re hoping for,” Veach said. “We want to try and be consistently in the top-10 in the second half (of the season) in race results, too. And if we could get some top-fives, that would be fantastic.

“We just have to keep improving on qualifying, which shows how well you understand the car and how you can get the most out of it. I feel our race speed has been good, but when you’re starting at or near the back, it’s hard to move forward.”

Even so, there’s still good reason for optimism for Veach.

“Andretti always gives its drivers some of the best cars, so at the end of the day, it comes down to you learning as much as you can and learning as much as you can get out of a race-winning car,” he said. “I’ve just been lucky. This is my sixth season with Andretti if you count the ladder series, and it always has felt like a family.”

And if he has a strong finish Sunday at Road America, don’t be surprised if Veach hums or sings another Beatles song, “I Feel Fine,” as he leaves the legendary road course.

Follow @JerryBonkowski