Bazemore triumphs; regains points lead
Las Vegas, Sunday: Whit Bazemore overcame not qualifying the Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dodge Stratus R/T Funny Car until the final round, heat, sun, lack of lane choice in any round, and difficult track conditions at The Strip at Las Vegas to win his second POWERade Drag Racing Series race of the season, his 19th career, his first on this track in five final rounds, and re-claimed the points lead he lost last weekend in Houston.
He didn't enjoy lane choice in the first round against Tony Pedregon as a result of qualifying No. 12, but disposed of him nonetheless with a 4.931/320.36.
Again without lane choice in the quarter-final he sent packing Robert Hight with a 5.305/275.90. The same was true in the semifinal when he beat Cruz Pedregon by 23 inches with a 5.089/302.35.
The trend continued in the final round, where he met No. 11 qualifier and final-round first-timer Tony Bartone, one last time without lane choice.
Bazemore launched first with an .083 reaction time to Bartone's .116. Bartone gave him another close match, but it was Bazemore all the way to the finish, taking the win with a 4.976/315.12 to Bartone's 4.983/303.23. Margin of victory: .0409 of a second or 18 feet.
"It's unbelievable," said Bazemore in winner's circle. "(Crew chief) Lee Beard and the Matco Tools guys did an unbelievable job to come back from the effort that we made Friday and Saturday. It didn't look like we were getting any results, but, Man, it's a tough old game, as you know. I knew if we qualified that we had as good a chance as anybody. And we just had to get down the track Saturday afternoon. Beard did it, and today we had a car that could win rounds and we went rounds. We weren't the quickest, but we went rounds and at the end of the day that's all that matters.
"It was a close race. We didn't know what to expect from Bartone, quite honestly, because of the way they ran in the semifinals (against Bazemore's teammate Ron Capps). They just stepped it up considerably and the semifinals are typically in the worst conditions that we run in all weekend or on race day at least.
"The way they stepped up and ran that 4.92 was just a tremendous job. We were asking ourselves, 'Can they do that again?', or saying, 'There's no way that they can do that again.' We had to think that they could and they were awfully close.
"Hats off to them. A great effort for a team that has certainly struggled a lot over the past couple of years. Good effort all the way around by them."
Bazemore is grateful that Ron Capps eliminated John Force in the first round, which allowed him to take back the lead in Funny Car points. "My teammate Ron Capps had Force in the first round and took him out. I think I've already asked (team owner) Don Schumacher to take his team out to dinner on our behalf and hopefully he'll do that.
"That's what a team effort is all about. It's starting to really jell here at Schumacher Racing. All of our cars, with the exception maybe of Scelzi's, aren't really as consistent as we'd like them to be, but they're coming around and we're going rounds."
Crew chief Beard beamed with pride for his driver. "If I could tune this Matco Tools Dodge as good as Bazemore can drive it, we'd win every race," he said. He also admitted that for the first time in his career he has won more races as a crew chief than his age. This win marks his 52nd victory, at age 51. "I have won more races than I am old," he said.
"The Matco Tools team has done a great, great job on this race track on which they had a really tough job qualifying," said Schumacher. "Saturday, in the last round, they were not in the show, and they ended up winning the race. You have to take your hat off to these guys who work their hearts out. Lee is doing a great job and Whit has really, really come alive this year. He is doing a wonderful, wonderful job."
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