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Grubnic, Kalitta clinch Countdown berths in Top Fuel, others have end in sight

8/31/2008

CLERMONT, Ind. -- Cruz Pedregon won the U.S. Smokeless Showdown for the first time Sunday at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, beating Tim Wilkerson to earn $100,000 in the annual bonus race for Funny Cars.

"I tried not to think about the money," said Pedregon, a former POWERade Series and three-time Mac Tools U.S. Nationals champion. "I'm still kind of in shock [but] I'm going to enjoy this one."

He finished in 4.184 seconds to Wilkerson's 4.280.

Cruz celebrated alongside brother Tony Pedregon, who earned the No. 1 qualifier in Funny Car at the 18th and final regular season event in the 24-race NHRA POWERade Series season. Larry Dixon (Top Fuel), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also topped their divisions.

Meanwhile, the Countdown to 1 playoff picture came into focus as the Top Fuel field was set with Dave Grubnic and Doug Kalitta securing the final two berths by virtue of Morgan Lucas's DNQ. In Pro Stock, Warren Johnson needs to reach the final round to bump Greg Stanfield. In Pro Stock Motorcycle, it'll be a winner-take-all matchup between 10th-place Karen Stoffer and 11th-place Hector Arana in the first round Monday to determine the final berth.

"We can't blame it on anyone else," said Stoffer (7.071), who qualified 15th and will cede lane choice to the No. 2-qualified Arana (6.954). "The goal is to find the glitch [in the Geico Suzuki] tonight and come out and rock the mountain."

The deepest field of the season resulted in a number of notable drivers who did not make the field, including Lucas in Top Fuel, John Force (who fell from sixth to eighth place) and Gary Scelzi in Funny Car, and 10th-place Greg Stanfield in Pro Stock (which opened the door for Warren Johnson).

One notable who got in on Sunday was Tony Schumacher, who can set his sights on breaking the NHRA Top Fuel records for consecutive wins (five) and wins in a season (10) and tie Joe Amato's record for most wins Top Fuel victories (52).

Former POWERade world champions Dixon (3.841 at 307.23) and Tony Pedregon (4.073 at 301.94) laid down their pace-setting runs on Saturday and they held up in the heat on Sunday. It was Dixon's second No. 1 at Indy and Tony Pedregon's first.

Allen Johnson lowered the No. 1 mark for the third straight day of qualifying, to 6.634 at 207.18, to earn his first career Indy pole and Smith won the Indy pole for the second time in his career with his 6.932 at 189.90 on Sunday. The last time Smith was No. 1, in 2006, he won and the Pro Stock Motorcycle points leader is 4-for-4 racing from the pole this season.

Also clinching playoff berths Sunday were Ron Krisher in Pro Stock and Craig Treble and Steve Johnson in Pro Stock Motorcycle. The Funny Car field was already set coming into the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals.