- Bill Stephens
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Cruz and Tony Pedregon have both won NHRA Funny Car championships. They occurred 11 years apart -- Cruz won in his rookie year of 1992 and Tony was the 2003 winner. But besides their unquenchable competitive spirit and fierce desire to win, they each share another vital personality component that great race drivers possess.
They are patient.
Since his 1992 championship, Cruz has amassed 16 more national event wins, sat out the 2001 season to work as the race analyst for ESPN's televised coverage, and enjoyed seven top-10 points finishes. But he has been unable to pick up that elusive second Funny Car championship. Now that his primary sponsor, Advance Auto Parts, recently announced a multiyear sponsorship extension with Cruz, he is more determined than ever to win championship No. 2.
Meanwhile, his younger brother Tony has been winless since his 2003 championship campaign, a truly surprising statistic considering he has an experienced tuner, Dickie Venables, spearheading his race setups and a first-class sponsorship package with Quaker State Motor Oil.
As the Western Swing got underway in Denver last week, both Pedregon brothers were hopeful for an upbeat weekend on Thunder Mountain. But bad luck ended their race day sooner than they would have liked. Tony qualified 12th while Cruz filled the No. 13 slot, and each fell in Round 1 of eliminations with Tony losing to Del Worsham and Cruz coming up short to Gary Scelzi.
"The Advance Auto Parts team is doing everything possible to increase this team's chances to win," Cruz said as qualifying began on Friday at the 18th Carquest Auto Parts Nationals at Pacific Raceways outside Seattle.
"Our goal is still to qualify in the top half of the field, and then go rounds during eliminations. We had a tough race in Denver last weekend, but we are ready to rebound and put on a good show.
"Also, it's good to be racing at sea level again. I feel we performed very well in Englishtown (Pedregon qualified No. 1) and St. Louis where we made it to the quarterfinals. I'm confident the Advance Auto Parts team will take advantage of the improved track and lower altitude."
Tony won the Seattle event in 2002 while a member of John Force Racing. At the time, Venables was the assistant crew chief to John Medlen, who missed the race due to health problems. Tony continues to be impressed by what Venables achieved on that weekend.
"I have to admit I was a little apprehensive going in," Pedregon said of the 2002 race, "not because I didn't think Dickie could do the job, but because he had never been in that position before, running the car on his own. But I don't think anyone could have responded to the pressure much better than he did. I think that race was probably the key to what we've been able to do since then."
But a second championship remains the common goal of the Pedregons and has further strengthened the bond between the two brothers who are in their second season racing as a team. Will their patience ultimately pay off?
Good things come to those who wait.
Bill Stephens covers NHRA for ESPN.com.
Both Cruz and Tony Pedregon have won NHRA titles. The results have been there lately, but the brothers are willing to stay the course.