Continued from part 1 MICHAEL PADIAN: A footnote before we move along to go through the standings. It's not just these three drivers for two spots. Mike Neff is only 27 points clear of Cruz, and John Force is another 32 points ahead of Nike...
Continued from part 1
MICHAEL PADIAN: A footnote before we move along to go through the standings. It's not just these three drivers for two spots. Mike Neff is only 27 points clear of Cruz, and John Force is another 32 points ahead of Nike Neff, which would put him 59 points ahead of Cruz. So there really are potentially five drivers for three spots depending on how these last three races shake out. Those standings are available on NHRA.com or on the front page of our media notes at media.NHRA.com.
Q: For Cruz and Robert, in light of what Michael was just saying, with five guys that I guess are considered on the bubble and looking at the two of you guys and John, it would now finally reach that point with Funny Car where you can throw a blanket over pretty much the whole field and that there is that kind of parity where one to ten really are not separated by that much?
ROBERT HIGHT: Yeah, you know, actually one through ten is separated quite a bit in the points. Because (Ron) Capps has won five races, Tony (Pedregon) has won quite a few, Ashley (Force Hood) is right up there. It's definitely a close class, and you know, the Countdown I think has kind of created this deal, because you just know you have to be in the Top-10; and not that that's easy, but I think some of the teams might test a little more and do things that they normally would not have to. I know the Countdown the got me the first year. I know that I wouldn't have won the world championship without it, and I wasn't a big fan of it at the time. But now the Countdown is the only thing that's saving and salvaging my season and I am a big fan of it.
I know the fans love it and it's a lot of excitement for them. My other two teammates, Neff and Force, they definitely know that they are not secure in the deal, and it's going to be exciting, the last three races. Indy is our biggest race. We are looking forward to it but we definitely have to have a good car. We are not going to get in there by being lucky or just running mediocre. We are going to have to run good.
CRUZ PEDREGON: I will say this, in spite of the wins that guys have had, even Capps, we are out pretty much on an even keel when we show up. They have struggled, the Capps car, the Napa car has struggled and they are beatable, and, in fact, they did get beat. It is deceiving when you have the same few guys that have won, Tony, Capps, lately (Tim) Wilkerson.
But if you look at Tim Wilkerson, if you look at the top three from last year with myself, Wilkerson and Robert, up until Wilkerson went on his little run, he was seventh and eighth, struggling to get in the Top-10 also.
When people ask what the heck is wrong with me, I turn around and say: 'Hey, when you look at the points the (10th and 12th) place drivers were in the top three last year.' So that just goes to show the difficulty of not only repeating but just getting back in there.
That pretty much summarizes it there. Again, the top two cars from last year, let's say with Wilkerson and myself and Hight, we are sitting here talking about trying to get in. So definitely different from what it was five, six, ten years ago, that's for sure.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Cruz won his first championship in 1992 separated by 16 years from last year so, he would obviously be able to offer a perspective on how the Funny Car class has changed in that period.
Q: Robert, have you and (crew chief) Jimmy (Prock) and your team been able to get any information from the other (John Force Racing) cars, or the Neff and John's teams, are they pretty much keeping it to themselves because you are all fighting for that position?
ROBERT HIGHT: No. Our team, John Force, doesn't work that way. We try to help each other and our goal is to have four Ford Mustangs in the Top-10, especially since Ford is a major sponsor of the NHRA it's going to be good if we can do that.
No, we help each other and work together. Sometimes, though, we have different combinations. We don't always run these cars the same way, and that can be good and bad. Ashley's car, it's the best car we've got. And back at Chicago, a few races ago, we decided to put our car more back like we used to run it, which is how Ashley's car is ran and we share data with them and work together.
No, definitely, we all help each other and we are working together to have four in the Top-10.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Matt made his NHRA debut last year in Reading and followed that up at Indy and he qualified for the US Nationals in his second career start in the NHRA.
We are talking about this being your rookie year, how important is it for you with these last three races that you've already been to two of the tracks?
MATT HAGAN: I'd say it's huge but you learn something new every time you come to one of these tracks. I've never got in a race car and said, well, I know exactly what's going to happen.
You know, it's definitely going to be a learning curve as far as now that I have more power this year and getting used to the car and stuff like that.
It's always an experience every time you get in the car, but I tell you, it's something at least knowing that these tracks, they are all a little bit different. Some tracks try to pull you inside, some tracks try to pull you to the left or to the right. And keeping it in the groove, and that has a lot to do with being able to win races and win laps, because you know, each track is a little bit different.
So at least going into this race, I kind of know what's going to happen here at Indy, and also at Reading. But Brainerd will be kind of new for me, so I'm interested to get out there and get out to that track and meet the people out there. It's always exciting to meet new fans.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Is it intimidating at all to have Robert and Cruz being your chief competition going into these final three races to try and get in the Playoffs, and how much pressure is there internally to get in the Top-10 for you?
MATT HAGAN: I'm not sure it's so much intimidating as it is respect. Those guys are tough competitors and they have got very, very fast race cars and can win any time.
You know, anybody in this field that qualifies for these races can win at any time. You've just got to have a little bit of race luck on Sunday and you also have to just kind of do the right things in the car, and both of these guys are good drivers.
You know, so I think there's definitely going to be a lot of pressure for me to perform as a driver for me to keep up with these seasoned veterans. They have been out here doing it forever. And to watch Robert and Cruz drive, they probably are looking over in the stands if they wanted to, but they are just good drivers and well-rounded, and just basically have the total package and have good crew chiefs, also.
You know, it makes it tough to know that you've got those type of drivers beside you that are also hunting it out there to get in the Top-10. But you know, we have got to put that to the side right now and really focus on what we need to do with our race car and our team to make sure that we secure our spot in the Countdown, because like I said, anybody can win. You've just got to be there.
Q: What has been the toughest for you and your team this season; do you believe that there is a way to create momentum?
ROBERT HIGHT: Well, consistency, that's the biggest reason, like Cruz said earlier, why we are all here; we have not been consistent.
You know, going up the racetrack and down four times in qualifying and being up near the top four cars every run down the track helps. And that's how you get momentum. The crew chief gets confidence, the driver gets confidence, and you know you're going to get up there and you know you're going to go down the racetrack. That's something that we have not had much this year.
So look at Cruz last year, he had the best car the last three races of the year and just basically dominated. We've got to be in that Top-10; any of the Top-10 drivers can win this championship, and you've just got to get the momentum and get hot at the right time. And that's what it's going to take.
Again, as good as the cars are and the competition, if you had a semi-final average, every race in the Countdown or every race up to this point, you know, you're secure and you might even win the championship. So you don't do that without consistency and just going down the racetrack.
Q: The 25th running of the Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway is coming up in August, and you were one of the earlier winners back in 1992, since you first raced at Maple Grove, from a driver's standpoint, how has the track changed for you over the years, if at all?
CRUZ PEDREGON: Not really at all. It's one of those tracks that has a lot of uniqueness to it. When I first pulled in there, I didn't even know I was pulling up on an approach to the racetrack. I thought I was lost. In fact, I get lost pretty much every time I go there it seems like, and it's nestled in between a bunch of mountains and trees, and it's just a unique -- it's just a fast little kind of a -- a little bumpy, but I think bumps give tracks personality. I know crew chiefs don't really care for that, but we were a good car last year, and, in fact, Rahn and my crew chef were looking at notes of what we did. We lost; we slowed our cars down a little too much because of one of the bumps. We interpreted the bumps as spinning the tires and (Jack) Beckman beat us. It was a good race.
To answer your question, it's still unique. I love the track. I'd love to win there again obviously. I think '92 was one of the last times we won there. So seem like a hundred years ago, but like I said, it has not changed much, but probably for a good reason. It's just unique. It's way different than any track you'll find in the circuit.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Final quick note where we wrap up. History at these three tracks as I mentioned with Matt, this is his rookie year. He did race last year at Reading, made his NHRA debut and qualified number 16 in Indianapolis at the Mac Tools Internationals last year. Cruz's last final round at any of these tracks was 2004 and he mentioned the win in Reading in 1992, his previous championship season. Robert has had a little bit more recent history at the three tracks. At Indianapolis, Robert has been to the final round the last three years with wins in 2008 and 2006 and runner-up in 2007.
So that brings us to the conclusion of today's teleconference, thank you all for joining us.