Cruz Pedregon said that as his self-described “challenging year” winds to a perhaps-merciful close, he has heard some fanciful rumors, especially after he hinted he would make an announcement Friday. He maybe only half-jokingly said, “A lot of people were wondering what the announcement was about. Was I going to join the circus? Or am I going to join the World of Outlaw sprint car racing? That’ll come down the road, but for now I still have a lot of good years in me.”

Snap-on Tools must think so, too, for the two-time champion revealed his primary sponsor has extended its partnership with him for the next three years, through 2020.

“Obviously, sponsorships are really what keep the cars out on the race track, and companies like Snap-On, Toyota, especially Snap-On, they’ve been behind me 100 percent, through thick and thin. That’s what keeps the stars on the track for the fans and all the franchisees out there. But for me, it will allow me to further get my team back to where I want it, and that’s winning races,” he said.

Crew chief Aaron Brooks’ job is safe, Pedregon indicated. Moreover, he said he plans to add – in his words – “another couple key players during the off season to enhance what I’m building here.” He wouldn’t divulge who he plans to acquire, but Competition Plus has learned Brooks’ reinforcements might include a veteran crew member who has worked for Don Schumacher Racing, Kalitta Motorsports, and John Force Racing.  

“It’s no secret that I brought on a very high-profile crew chief in Aaron Brooks this year, and we’ve had a little bit of growing pains, but I can tell you right now the way the car sits in the trailer before we unload it here for Friday, it’s going to be one of the top cars,” he said. “I feel like we’ve turned the corner with the set-up on the car. A lot of people looked at this year as, ‘Hey, what are you going to do, Cruz? Are you going to fire Aaron?’ Just a bunch of speculation.

“I want everyone to know that I’m building a program here,” Pedregon said. “It’s one thing to bring people in, but I’m building this for the long haul, for the long term. Hey, Aaron is, like I said, we’ve had our struggles, but we’ve seen the light at the end of the tunnel and I couldn’t be more excited. We had flashes the last couple of races. We did test in Vegas Monday and ran a 3.88 at an early-shut-off 320. Aaron actually goes, ‘Hey, what did you shut it off for?’ We were trying to run 330, but we’ll show it here. Hopefully the first run or two here, we’ll get it right.”

They didn’t. Pedregon has the provisional No. 15 spot in the order after two sessions. He has two more chances to move away from Jim Campbell on the bump spot and fend off points leader Robert Hight and JR Todd, who surprisingly aren’t in the field yet.

“I feel like I’m driving the best I’ve ever driven. These cars are more difficult to drive, as you’ve seen a lot of cars [have difficulty] keeping them straight. But I feel like the experience serves me well. I’m looking forward to the next, certainly the next three years,” he said.

“I’m sure the day will come where I’m going to announce that I’m probably going to leave the sport. But for right now, we’re alive and well, and like I said, I’m going to use all of my experience, along with Aaron and some other people,” Pedregon said. “We want to prove that this is for the little guy out there, the little teams, [that] the single-car teams can still get the job done. I couldn’t think of a better place to announce this than in front of my home folks here. Let’s get it on, baby.”

He said, “Any sponsorship, really, that has any longevity, it’s not just putting a sticker on a car. It’s interacting with the company’s people. And I interact with the franchisees throughout the country. In fact, if you notice, I’m not here on Thursdays. I’m out visiting a local franchisee in different regions, and I go and I usually physically ride in the truck, visit the customers, say thank-you for supporting us and buying our product. Snap-On kind of sells itself. It’s the best tool in the world, but it’s really nice for me to be a part of that, going to the shops and dealerships across the country and support the people that support us.

“It’s a business situation for Snap-O. Without the hospitality that we have at the track, my ride-alongs and all the different things, this doesn’t happen. They do provide the funding to put me on the track, so I roll up my sleeves during the week and on the weekend, I come out here and try to accomplish my goals. I’d like to win a third championship.

It’s going to be tough. The competition’s never been tougher in Funny Car, but I feel everything I’ve ever learned through my owners – the Joe Gibbses, the Larry Minors, everybody, my dad, I’m applying to what I’m doing now. So don’t look at what we’ve done this year as being an indication. We’re moving up. The needle’s pointing up for us, so we’re excited.”

Brooks said, "Making the switch from Top Fuel to Funny Car has been challenging and rewarding, in that we've restructured this team to allow Cruz to concentrate on driving. But he's still key to the game plan we create for each race. We've taken all of our results and combined them into what I believe will be a winning strategy for the seasons ahead.”