SONOMA, Calif. – The battle for berths in the NHRA’s Countdown to 1 playoffs moves this week to the California Wine Country where Ford drivers Bob Tasca III, John Force and Tim Wilkerson try to move up the points ladder at the 25th annual Sonoma Nationals.
Entering the season’s 14th race, Ford Racing’s Robert “Top Gun” Hight is the only Funny Car driver to have clinched a starting spot in the six-race Countdown.
In fact, the driver of the Auto Club Ford Mustang has led the points after the last 11 races and his goal is to still be in the lead when the regular season concludes with the running of the Labor Day running of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis.
While Hight’s participation in the Countdown is assured and Mike Neff’s is likely, there is work to do for the other Ford Funny Car drivers, especially Tasca, Force and Wilkerson. Tasca and Force currently occupy the final two spots in the Top 10 while Wilkerson is on the outside, trying to get in.
Despite his current standing, Wilkerson isn’t limiting his options in the Levi, Ray and Shoup Shelby Mustang.
"We have four races left to make the Countdown,” he said, “If we could get hot and reel off some round wins at the right time, we could move all the way up to eighth. We have to win rounds, one at a time, and the first goal is to get to 10th place. If we do that, we can keep moving up, but there's no reason to be thinking about any higher spots in the playoffs until we get to 10th.”
Both Wilkerson and Force have had great success at Sonoma and, as a result, both have high expectations for the weekend. Force has won more races at the California track than anyone else (seven) and he also is the track record holder for both time and speed at the 1,000 foot distance (4.060 seconds, 311.99 miles per hour).
Historically, Tasca hasn’t fired as well in the races in the Western Swing, but he believes he has the team and the car to change all of that. The Motorcraft/Quick Lane Shelby Mustang driver actually has had a good race car, but very little racing luck. Since he qualified his Mustang No. 1 at the Ford Thunder Valley Nationals in Bristol, Tenn., the fifth year pro has slipped from sixth to ninth in the standings.
“I love the fact that these races are back-to-back-to-back because I have a lot of confidence in this team and know that if we keep stepping up to the plate, we’re going to hit some home runs,” Tasca said.
Still, no one has plummeted further in Full Throttle points than has Force, the 15-time series champion. After starting the year with a victory in the Kragen O’Reilly Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., the 134-time tour winner has tumbled all the way to tenth and now is in jeopardy of finishing outside the Top 10 for the first time since 1984.
“I’m excited about being back at Sonoma,” Force said, “because I think I’ve finally got my hot rod back. We’ve been taking a whuppin’, but now I think we’re back in the fight. My crew chiefs, ‘Guido’ (Dean Antonelli) and Danny D (DeGennaro), working with Jimmy Prock and Mike Neff and Ron Armstrong, have done a good job. We had a chance to win last week at Denver if the driver hadn’t screwed up.
The scenario is a simple one. The five drivers who are seventh through 11th in the standings are separated by only 107 points in a battle for four starting spots.
“All these Fords still could get in,” Force said. “Wilkerson is strong on the Western Swing. He’ll move up. Me and Tasca need to move, too.”
Source: Ford Racing