With just two races left in the 2003 POWERade Drag Racing Series, the Funny Car championship will be won by a first-timer, either Whit Bazemore or Tony Pedregon.  And, unless there's a major catastrophe between these two, John Force, although mathematically in the running, is not likely to win his 13th crown.

So, for Bazemore, driver of the Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dodge Stratus Funny Car, it comes down to a no-brainer at the ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend: win this race. Qualifying No. 1 and setting a national E.T. record for extra points wouldn't hurt either.

Pedregon is 114 points ahead of Bazemore. If Pedregon advances two more rounds than Bazemore in final eliminations on Sunday, the championship will be his.

"It's really simple for us," says Bazemore. "If we're going to win the championship this year we have to win this race. It's pretty cut and dried. We're totally focused. There's no room for error.

"If we don't win the race then the odds of us winning the championship are very, very small. If we win the race the odds are still against us, but we could make up a lot of ground. We have to make up a lot of ground and the best way to do that is to win the race. So that is our only goal."

As for Force, who is 63 points behind Bazemore and breathing down his neck to take over second, Whit says, "I don't care about that at all, honestly. I'm just looking forward; I don't look back. We're not going to be defensive. If we have a bad race, we may lose second. It's just more impetus for us to have the very best race we're going to have."

Earning an extra 20 points for setting a national elapsed-time record would be a bonus. "This track's got a little bit of altitude, so it's unlikely we can set the national record here, but we're going to try," adds Bazemore, who was No. 1 qualifier here in April and who holds the track E.T. record here of 4.748 seconds, set in 2001. "It's a good track. It's a good race."

Bazemore, a three-time winner this season, says he's focused, determined and aggressive as he aims for the championship in a year that has seen him take the Funny Car lead for the first time in his career after winning in Memphis, then dropping to 114 points behind in the next three races.

For now, it's one race at a time. "We're just focused on this race right now," he says. "We're not paying attention to anything else this weekend. We've had three bad races in a row. We have to turn that around. And if we turn it around successfully then we still have a chance going to Pomona (Calif., for the season finale) to win this thing.

"If we don't, then we'll have to look towards next year. In the meantime, we still want to win. We race to win, we want to win the race, we're prepared to win it. The Matco Tools Dodge team under crew chief Lee Beard is the kind of team that is capable of winning every race that we go to and we have to make it happen."