Charlotte: John Force preview

NHRA PLAYOFFS GIVE FORCE HOPE FOR TITLE Funny Car Icon Will Have New Chassis at Charlotte CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- In any other year, John Force knows he would be racing for no better than second place in the NHRA POWERade drag racing series. ...

NHRA PLAYOFFS GIVE FORCE HOPE FOR TITLE
Funny Car Icon Will Have New Chassis at Charlotte

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- In any other year, John Force knows he would be racing for no better than second place in the NHRA POWERade drag racing series.

Battling back from injuries suffered last year in the worst crash of his professional career, the sport's most prolific winner two weeks ago finished the regular season a distant eighth, 19 competitive rounds behind pacesetting Tim Wilkerson.

However, no matter how badly he struggled in those first 18 races, the 59-year-old icon knows that because of the playoff system the NHRA introduced a year ago, starting with this week's inaugural NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMax Dragway at Concord he still has at least a chance of claiming an unprecedented 15th series title.

"All we've got to do is perform," said the 14-time Auto Racing All-American.

To enhance his chances of doing so, the 126-time NHRA tour winner will have a brand new chassis beneath him when he sends his Castrol GTX® High Mileage^Ù Ford Mustang down the all-concrete track for the first time on Friday.

Even though he failed to qualify three times this year, most recently at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Force still managed to earn a spot in the Countdown along with the drivers of his other three Ford Mustangs -- daughter Ashley, son-in-law Robert Hight and prot^ g^ Mike Neff.

The re-adjusted standings, in fact, have reduced Force's deficit from 380 points to a more manageable 90.

     "That's just one race," Force said.  "You've got to hand it to Wilkerson.  He's had the
hot hand, but the Countdown is all about timing.  It doesn't make any difference what
you've done before.  It's what you do in the next six races that counts.

"Robert has the momentum (after winning Indy for the second time in three years)," he said, "and Ashley and Neff both have good hot rods. We're kind of an unknown. We've shown we can still win (a June 1 victory at Topeka, Kan.), but we haven't had the consistency."

Despite his problems, Force is excited about this week's race, mainly because of the all-concrete racing surface at zMax Dragway.

"We've done good on the all-concrete at Texas (the Texas Motorplex, site of his crash last Sept. 23rd)," Force said, "but with these new, heavier cars, you don't know what to expect. They don't react like the old cars."

Nevertheless, Force knows he can't complain too much. The new cars are 100 pounds heavier, but they are exceedingly safer because of his vision. In fact, Force insists that he wouldn't even be alive to contest the $500,000 championship if it weren't for changes to the chassis implemented after the death of team driver Eric Medlen in a 2007 testing accident.

"I still want to win," Force said, "but if I helped make these cars safer, that's more important to me than all the championships."

-credit; jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Tim Wilkerson , Eric Medlen , Robert Hight , Mike Neff