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 champion Will Power completes ‘Victory Lap’ at ceremony in Indianapolis

Will Power Victory Lap
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment
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INDIANAPOLIS – Will Power went on his “Victory Lap” last week to celebrate his second career championship as the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series champion.

It began with several media interviews in Monterey, California, the day after he won the championship with a third-place finish in the Sept. 11 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.

From there, it was off to Los Angeles for more interviews and personal appearances that included a VIP Tour at the Petersen Automotive Museum, several appearances on SiriusXM and lunch at The Ivy, where the Team Penske IndyCar Series driver was treated to Wagyu Beef.

“It was one of the best steaks I’ve ever had in my life,” Power told NBCSports.com.

From L.A. back to Power’s North Carolina home, near Team Penske’s home base of Mooresville, there was one stop left on Sept. 17 — the Victory Lap Celebration at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, an invitation-only banquet where Power and his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet crew at Team Penske were honored for the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series championship.

They didn’t even have to check into a hotel and spend another night on the road. Power and his team left on a Team Penske plane from the Statesville, N.C., airport at 4 p.m. ET Saturday to fly to Indianapolis. On arrival an hour later, a limo bus took the team to IMS.

Power led the 2022 season with five NTT P1 Awards for pole, earning the NTT P1 Award as the best qualifier of the season for the fifth time in his career. Power also made history with his 68th career pole, breaking the all-time mark held by the legendary Mario Andretti.

Power and Scott Dixon also became just two of only five drivers to complete every lap of every race in IndyCar Series history.

“What a year,” Power said as he was awarded his personal Astor Cup trophy (the second in his collection after the 2014 championship. “What a phenomenal year coming off one of my worst seasons personally. We came back with a vengeance.

“I want to thank Roger and Kathy Penske for everything they have done for me over the years. I wouldn’t be standing here and have the numbers I have without what Roger has done for me. I’m given a car every week that is capable of winning the pole, races, championships, and Indianapolis 500s. I’m so grateful for that.

“Also, to Greg Penske, you are there every week now at every event and I know we will be in good hands moving forward with the Penske Family.”

There are many on Power’s team and at home, that helped support Power throughout his career. None is bigger than Power’s wife, Liz, who told Power before the season that he would win the championship and break Andretti’s record.

“I must thank my wife. I’m so lucky to have a wife with that crystal ball that can tell me what is going to happen,” Power said. “I can’t think you enough, babe. I love you so much and you have been a big support to me my whole career. We’ve been together 17 years, and I’ve been in the series 17 years. She has been such a huge support to me. The mother of our child and she is a fantastic mother.

“She can’t tell the future. She just had faith in me.”

Liz Power’s premonition came true and that allowed Power and his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet team to celebrate Penske’s 17th IndyCar championship and 42nd title in the racing team’s history.

“The 12 crew this year, I’ve never had such a great group of guys,” Power said. “Trevor Lacasse (chief mechanic) is such a calm guy, but he does such a meticulous job on the preparation of the car. He is very, very good at keeping the whole crew happy. It feels as if there is no pressure on us. That’s a huge part in getting the most out of people. It was our first year together with you as a crew chief. What a great year to start our relationship.

“Dave Faustino (Power’s longtime engineer), we’ve worked together for 15 years. He’s almost like a wife to me, a partner … apart from sleeping together. We have a very good working relationship. Sorry Dave, I’m an awkward person and you are not.

“The things we have been through in our years together, it’s crazy that we continually improve and get better. We are standing on the podium after winning the championship and we are talking about the car, the race, and the tires. We weren’t talking about the championship.

“We never stop. The other boys were laughing at us, but I’m already thinking about next year.

“Ron Ruzewski (Team Penske IndyCar Managing Director and strategist) on the radio, always calm. He has actually made me a calm person. I rarely get upset on the radio anymore.”

Power also recognized the fans who helped boost attendance at many venues on the schedule this season as NBC Sports enjoyed its largest IndyCar audience yet.

“This series is growing,” Power said. “With open wheel racing now so popular because of Formula One, it’s really our time to push and put money behind it and go now and take IndyCar to another level because we have the best racing product in the world.

“I have to thank my teammates and (Team Penske president) Tim Cindric. I can’t tell you how hard we push each other. We are ultracompetitive and love each other and push each other hard, so thank you.”


Power won the championship by 16 points over hard-charging teammate Josef Newgarden, who finished second in the standings for the third year in a row.

“Overall, I’m filled with a lot of pride for our team and what we were able to do this year,” Newgarden said in his banquet address. “Any year that you step in the championship, you can easily see the challenges it presents everybody.

“It’s a very difficult challenge for the teams and drivers. To be a part of it, make it through it and for us at Team Penske, to topple it, is a very big deal. We’re all competitive.

“The tough thing about being in a championship fight, especially with teammates is we all want to be the best. That’s how it should be. We are competitive people and want to be the best. But it’s a team sport.

“Will, tremendous season, great, great job. I think the world of everybody on our team. It’s a big group. I’m so happy for all of you on the 12-car crew. There is so much we can take into next year.”

Six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon was unable to attend the banquet because of the Goodwood Festival in England but sent congratulations to Power via a video message.

“I really want to congratulate Will Power,” Dixon said. “You drove a tremendous season this year. Even with some of the lows that you had, some of the mistakes with qualifying, you bounced back tremendously. I know how tough these championships are and to see you do it in the style that you did it in the last race of the season, massive congratulations.”

Power’s championship formula included one victory, nine podiums and 12 top-five finishes. Teammate Josef Newgarden was second in the championship with five wins but only six podiums.

Cindric saluted Power’s season in accepting the championship team owner award.

“Will, you took it to another level this year,” Cindric said. “You are the complete package. You completed every lap, had nine podiums, finished out of the top 10 just four times, broke Mario Andretti’s record, and you did it all without cussing at the officials on national TV.

“One complaint I do has is while most of us think you might be from another planet, you never told us your wife was a fortune teller.”

Cindric also honored the seasons of Penske drivers Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin, who won three times in his second full season (“You are one of only two full-time IndyCar drivers that has driven for us in the past 23 years that hasn’t won an Indy 500 or an IndyCar championship. Your time is coming.”).

Kyle Moyer was named team manager of the year (his fifth time and Penske’s sixth). Pennzoil presented Lacasse with the chief mechanic of the year for the first time, the sixth time for Team Penske. The No. 12 crew also won the Firestone Pit Performance Award for the most pit stop performance award points in 2022.

Power, Newgarden and McLaughlin delivered nine of Chevrolet’s series-leading 11 victories this season, helping Chevy win the Manufacturer Award for the seventh time since it returned to the series in 2012 and the first time since 2017. Jim Danahy, U.S. vice president, Competition Motorsports Engineering for Chevrolet, accepted the award on behalf of his team.


Christian Lundgaard was honored as the 2022 NTT IndyCar rookie of the year. Lundgaard, from Denmark, scored one podium, two top-five finishes and seven top-10s in the No. 30 Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. He edged David Malukas of Dale Coyne Racing with HMD by 18 points in the standings for first-year series drivers.

Christian Lundgaard (Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment)

“It’s been a tough season and looking at how it panned out, we struggled so much at the beginning of the season and how we were able to turn it around means so much to me and the team,” Lundgaard said. “It’s the one thing that you only get one shot at. I’m happy to have it.

“Being the first Dane at the Indy 500 certainly helps. Competing here for me is quite important and also special. To win this award and to be here in future years means so much to me. I have a chance to compete for wins and championships.

“This team gave me this opportunity at this track one year ago. We came back and got redemption. We got our first podium here. This year was 40 years ago that Bobby Rahal won the same award. It’s pretty special to keep it among the team.”

Sweden’s Linus Lundqvist was honored as Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion after a dominant season for HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing. Lundqvist won a series-high five races in the No. 26 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing entry and clinched the Lights championship with a race to spare, ending with a 92-point advantage over Sting Ray Robb. HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing owners Henry and Daiva Malukas accepted the team championship.

“I’m very proud of that,” Lundqvist said. “It’s cool to see. We are starting to look to the future, and this might not be doing too bad. It’s been great. As most of you can guess with Henry and Daiva Malukas (team owners), it’s been an incredible journey. So much fun that we’ve had. To be on the grid this year was so much of a struggle for us. I didn’t even know I would be doing this until January.

“To be able to pull out the season that we had, I cannot thank this team enough. We will celebrate this for a long time. I’m so happy and proud about that.”

Outgoing IndyCar Director of Medical Affairs Dr. Geoffrey Billows also was honored as he is leaving that role while battling cancer.

“When I think of Dr. Billows, I think of two words,” IndyCar president Jay Frye said. “One is selfless and the other is tough. He’s gone through a lot these last couple of years, and he didn’t want anybody to know. He’s an amazing man, and we are very grateful for what you have done.”

Dr. Geoffrey Billows with IndyCar president Jay Frye (Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment)

Billows was presented with a framed checkered flag signed by all drivers in the series as well as other IndyCar officials and dignitaries.

“I was not expecting this at all,” Billows said. “This means so much for me to be part of this family for the past 30 years. I’ve been presented with opportunities I never thought I would ever have. I can’t tell you how much I love all of you guys and care for all of you guys.

“Thank you so much. I want to also thank my wife, Tammy, who has been a pillar of strength as I continue on this journey with cancer for the past two years as well. You will still see me as a consultant because I love this too much to quit altogether.”

When the evening concluded, Team Penske boarded a bus to the airport for the short return flight to Statesville. They were home by midnight.

Power’s Victory Lap was complete.

“The best thing about this is I get to sleep in my own bed tonight,” Power said.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500