NHRA: From cruisin’ to strugglin’ to finally winnin’ again, Cruz Pedregon is back in the game

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Throughout his drag racing career, Cruz Pedregon has been known by the colorful nickname of “The Cruiser.”

Part of the onus for that nickname is he made success – and winning – look easy at times, like he was on a Sunday cruise during many NHRA national event final eliminations.

Along the way in more than three decades of racing, he accumulated 35 career wins and two NHRA Funny Car championships in 1992 and 2008.

But over the last four seasons, Pedregon has done very little cruising. He’s suffered through one of the worst slumps of his career, swapping out team members and crew chiefs to try and find a winning chemistry, doing everything he could to turn his team around and back to prominence.

It took 92 consecutive winless races but the Southern California native finally is back on the winning track after capturing the Funny Car class this past Sunday in the NGK Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway in suburban Charlotte, North Carolina.

“This one ranks right up there,” Pedregon said. “Believe it or not, but I was thinking, ‘Man, maybe I’m not destined to win again.’ Part of the make-up in my personality is that I don’t want to do this unless I’m competitive.

“To be out here racing is a lot of work and a lot of stress. I have a seven-year old daughter and the travel is tough. What motivates me is having a good running car that people respect.”

Pedregon and his Snap-On Toyota Camry defeated 16-time champ John Force, Courtney Force and Tommy Johnson Jr. to earn his 36th career Funny Car triumph in NHRA competition.

I didn’t believe my ears when Caleb Cox, our team manager, got on the radio and said we’d won. I said, ‘I might have a little wax in my ears so I need to make sure I heard that right.’ It’s still a little bit surreal.

In so doing, Pedregon moved into fifth-place on the all-time Funny Car wins list, passing the legendary Don “Snake” Prudhomme.

“This is like going back to my first win,” Pedregon said. “This might just be the sweetest win of my career. It shows you can be a single, independent team with no attachments to the big teams and if you hire the right people and have the funding you can win out here.”

Pedregon, left, along with Sunday’s other winners at Charlotte: Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Now that he’s broken his winless streak, Pedregon goes for his second consecutive victory in this weekend’s NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, Georgia.

After Sunday’s race, Pedregon gave thanks to a number of people for the help they’ve given to him and his team this year to elevate its performance.

Among those, Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) team owner Don Schumacher, and Pedregon’s crew chief, Aaron Brooks.

“The car we won in (Sunday) is actually a DSR chassis,” Pedregon said. “I called Don this winter and told him I needed a chassis. It was a very different chassis and we had to modify the cage and we didn’t debut it until Houston and let me tell you, it’s a good car.

“Thanks to Don. He’s a businessman and he sold us a car and it works really good. We have another one on order and I think I will be able to afford to pay for it now.”

And then there’s the significant improvement to the team in the person of Brooks.

“When I signed with Snap-on in 2010, I had a team where everyone had left me, all the crew and the crew chief,” Pedregon said. “I had nothing until Snap-on came on board and sponsored me.

“Within a year, we were winning races. We really had something going on then. I was tuning the car, but really my plate was full. But by 2014, we started to win fewer races and by 2015, we just hit the wall.

“There was some technology going on in Funny Car that we weren’t privy to and we fell behind as a team. So we had to regroup as a team. I went and hired Aaron, who was crew chief of the Lucas Oil team, who was hungry and very dedicated.

“I needed to bring in someone like Aaron who could take over my team and run it the way it needed to be run. There was just too much to do for one guy. I was driving and I was tuning and just fell off the pace.

“So I had to bring in some new people and, thankfully, this year, we were joined by Glen Huszar, who has a lot of years with DSR and Kalitta (Motorsports), as the assistant crew chief on the car. So it’s been a one-two punch.

“Aaron’s been a great asset. Last year was frustrating because he had his ideas and I had mine, but we kept our heads down. Aaron weathered the storm of my ranting and craziness and (Sunday) we had a car that just won a race. It just goes to show if you stick with good people that they’ll make you look good.”

Cruz Pedregon goes for two wins in a row Sunday at Atlanta Dragway.

Pedregon didn’t even know immediately whether he had won Sunday’s race or not.

“I had no idea that (92 wins without a race) was the number,” he said. “When I pulled up in the final and saw Tommy Johnson Jr., I said to myself, ‘Didn’t we already race him twice today?'”

That’s a Don Schumacher Racing car, one of these runs he’s going to get us. Then I saw John and Courtney and I said to myself, ‘Man, we’ve got our work cut out for us’. I just didn’t want to finish fourth. So I was going to do everything I could to not finish fourth and we got the win.

“I didn’t believe my ears when Caleb Cox, our team manager, got on the radio and said we’d won. I said, ‘I might have a little wax in my ears so I need to make sure I heard that right.’ It’s still a little bit surreal. I still can’t believe that we won. It’s pretty cool.”

But in a way, Sunday’s win wasn’t exactly a surprise, either.

“Our performance has really been a lot better than we’ve shown,” Pedregon said. “The pressure that I’ve been feeling is that even though the car is on the upward swing, it’s been more consistent and we’re qualifying in the top half every week, but we still didn’t have anything to show for it.

“When we won the first round (of Sunday’s eliminations), it was like, ‘Oh man, at least we got that win.’ Then after we got the next one, it crossed my mind that we have a chance to win this thing.”

“It shows that the DSR and John Force cars don’t have all the answers. We can stick our nose in there and mix things up with them.”

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IndyCar Power Rankings: Alex Palou still first as Newgarden, Ferrucci make Indy 500 jumps

NBC IndyCar power rankings
Kristin Enzor/For IndyStar/USA TODAY Sports Images Network

The biggest race of the NTT IndyCar Series season (and in the world) is over, and NBC Sports’ power rankings look very similar to the finishing results in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Pole-sitter Alex Palou entered the Indy 500 at the top and remains there after his impressive rebound to a fourth after a midway crash in the pits. Top two Indianapolis 500 finishers Josef Newgarden and Marcus Ericsson also improved multiple spots in the power rankings just as they gained ground during the course of the 500-mile race on the 2.5-mile oval. Though Alexander Rossi dropped a position, he still shined at the Brickyard with a fifth place finish.

Santino Ferrucci, the other driver in the top five at Indy, made his first appearance in the 2023 power rankings this year and now will be tasked with keeping his A.J. Foyt Racing team toward the front as the IndyCar circuit makes its debut on a new layout..

Heading into the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix on the streets of downtown, here’s NBC Sports’ assessment of the current top 10 drivers through six of 17 races this year (with previous ranking in parenthesis):

  1. Alex Palou (1): Three consecutive top 10 finishes at the Indy 500, and yet the 2021 IndyCar champion still seems slightly snake-bitten at the Brickyard. A few different circumstances and a dash of experience, and Palou could have three Indy 500 wins. But he at least has the points lead.
  2. Marcus Ericsson (4): Some want to say the Indy 500 runner-up’s unhappiness with IndyCar race control was sour grapes, but the Swede had a legitimate gripe about the consistency of red flag protocols. Still a magnificent May for Ericsson, especially while the questions swirl about his future.
  3. Josef Newgarden (7): Strategist Tim Cindric and team did a fantastic job catapulting Newgarden from 17th into contention, and the two-time series champion did the rest. Particularly on a late three-wide pass for the lead, it can’t be overstated how brilliant the Team Penske driver was in his finest hour.
  4. Alexander Rossi (3): He winds up being the best Arrow McLaren finisher in a mostly disappointing Indy 500 for a team that seemed poised to become dominant. With a third in the GMR GP and a fifth in the Indy 500, this easily was Rossi’s best May since his second place in 2019.
  5. Pato O’Ward (2): Unlike last year, the Arrow McLaren star sent it this time against Ericsson and came out on the wrong side (and with lingering bitterness toward his Chip Ganassi Racing rival). The lead mostly was the wrong place to be at Indy, but O’Ward managed to be in first for a race-high 39 laps.
  6. Scott Dixon (5): He overcame brutal handling issues from a wicked set of tires during his first stint, and then the team struggled with a clutch problem while posting a typical Dixon-esque finish on “a very tough day.” The six-time champion hopes things are cleaner the rest of the season after the first three months.
  7. Santino Ferrucci (NR): Pound for pound, he and A.J. Foyt Racing had the best two weeks at Indianapolis. Ferrucci said Wednesday he still believes he had “by far the best car at the end” and if not for the timing of the final yellow and red, he would have won the Indy 500. Now the goal is maintaining into Detroit.
  8. Colton Herta (NR): He was the best in a mostly forgettable month for Andretti Autosport and now is facing a pivotal weekend. Andretti has reigned on street courses so far this season, and few have been better on new circuits than Herta. A major chance for his first victory since last year’s big-money extension.
  9. Scott McLaughlin (6): Ran in the top 10 at Indy after a strong opening stint but then lost positions while getting caught out on several restarts. A penalty for unintentionally rear-ending Simon Pagenaud in O’Ward’s crash then sent him to the rear, but McLaughlin still rallied for 14th. Detroit will be a fresh start.
  10. Rinus VeeKay (10): Crashing into Palou in the pits was less than ideal. But a front row start and 10th-place finish in the Indy 500 still were 2023 highlights for VeeKay in what’s been the toughest season of his career. The Ed Carpenter Racing cars have been slow on road and street courses, so Detroit is another test.

Falling out: Will Power (8), Felix Rosenqvist (9), Romain Grosjean (10)


PRESEASON: Josef Newgarden is a favorite to win third championship

RACE 1: Pato O’Ward to first; Newgarden drops out after St. Pete

RACE 2: O’Ward stays firmly on top of standings after Texas

RACE 3: Marcus Ericsson leads powerhouses at the top

RACE 4: Grosjean, Palou flex in bids for first victory

RACE 5: Alex Palou carrying all the momentum into Indy 500