Old Bridge Township Raceway Park
Neff Wins Supernationals
Castrol GTX driver Mike Neff took a bad day on Friday turned it into a good day on Saturday then an excellent day on Sunday racing to his second win of the season at the 42nd annual NHRA SuperNationals. For the Castrol-backed driver racing in his fourth consecutive final and fifth of the season, getting the win was a huge personal achievement and a big moment for John Force Racing.
“There were 500 Castrol people here so you want to do well for your sponsor,” said Neff, the 2008 rookie of the year. “You always want to do well in the hometown of your sponsor. (In the first round) John (Force) was in front of me and I saw him go out and I thought ‘Oh no.’ Then Robert (Hight) went out and I was like ‘Aw man!’ The pressure was on. Fortunately we were able to bring it home for all our sponsors.”
By that time I had already hit the gas ...
The Castrol GTX Mustang was on a rail all day recording elapsed times of 4.079, 4.083, 4.067 seconds in the opening rounds and a blistering 4.071 seconds in the final. Neff and his team also set and reset the Old Bridge Township Raceway Park mile per hour record first setting the record with his second round speed of 313.66 mph and breaking that record in the final at 314.09 mph.
“We had a bad day on Friday the car was just too fast and the surface wasn’t what we anticipated. We smoked the tires twice and we came out on Saturday and had to get on the other side of it,” said Neff, No. 7 qualifier. “We backed everything way off and ran 4.15. The next run we picked it up a little bit and ran 4.11. It just took us a little while to keep working our way back into it. It really is small moves. There is not much difference between a 4.12 and a 4.07.”
This season Neff has defeated two-time world champion Cruz Pedregon for his wins and overall Neff has evened his W-L record with the veteran driver at 4-4.
Neff is racing the same chassis that he won the 2009 NHRA Auto Club Finals and that carried John Force to the 2010 Full Throttle Funny Car championship including his six wins. This Mustang has been to 17 final rounds in the last 32 races picking up nine total wins.
“That Mustang is the car I drove at the end of 2009 and won the World Finals in and then we put John in it last season for the championship. It is definitely a positive. Our shop built that Mustang. We took it apart at the end of the year and put it on a jig. I expected that we would have to front half it but it was in perfect order so we put it back together again. That is definitely a big thing. The less stuff you have to change the better off you are.”
Today Neff took the win when Pedregon red-lit in the final, fouling out. As he powered down the track Neff knew he had the win but he kept his foot on the gas.
“I knew he red lit. I heard him leave and knew he red-lit. I looked over and saw that his bulb was red then I looked up and saw our win light on. By that time I had already hit the gas and was taking off. I legged it down there. I wanted to make sure I didn’t cross the centerline because that would have lost it for me I think. Maybe I should have lifted. It happened so fast. For the first couple of seconds you are trying to just gather what happened.”
Racing to four finals in a row for the crew chief and driver has Neff in a good groove but he also is aware of how tiring pulling double duty can be. Earlier in the season in Houston Neff was overcome in the final and red-lit away a chance for a win versus Jeff Arend.
“I am getting in the groove. Going rounds helps. That is four finals in a row. My team is in the groove of what they have to do. I am getting into the swing of it too. Going to the final takes a lot out of you. We have been training for this lately the last four races,” said Neff.
Robert Hight was the last JFR driver to race to four finals in a row. He achieved that goal last season when he made the money round in Atlanta, St. Louis, Topeka and Chicago, picking up wins in all those races except Chicago.
In Neff’s first round race against Jeff Arend both Funny Cars launched together but Neff’s Castrol GTX Mustang had more power at the top end tripping the lights with the second quickest ET of the session 4.079 seconds at 311.77 mph which was Funny Car top speed for the event.
Robert Hight lost a pedalfest versus Johnny Gray as his Auto Club Ford Mustang struck the tires at the same time as Gray. Unfortunately for Hight, the No. 2 qualifier, Gray recovered his Service Central Dodge Charger a few hundredths of second quicker and was able to get across the tripe first. Gray’s winning time was 4.804 seconds against Hight’s 4.888 second pass.
In qualifying Force and his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang used a final quick run to grab enough bonus points to qualify fifth and move from 7th place in the Full Throttle point standings to 6th place. They are now two points in front of Jeff Arend and the DHL Funny Car 418 to 416. Arend had a chance to move back around Force but a first round loss to Mike Neff ended his day.
John Force’s day also ended early with a first round loss to Matt Hagan. Hagan’s DieHard Charger narrowly outran Force’s Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang 4.101 to 4.128 seconds. The margin of victory at the top end was two hundredths of a second.
The winningest driver in NHRA history was pleased to once again see his young drivers handling the pressure and getting wins, the 201st Funny Car win for JFR.
“We just signed our extension with Castrol and to get them a win in Englishtown in their backyard was big. I love having the crowd out here and I was over there talking with them yesterday. This is about me and also about my next generation of drivers. Drivers like Robert, Ashley, Mike, Brittany and Courtney. My young drivers have all the wins but I am coming after them. I knew Mike could do both jobs. He is a great tuner and he is a great driver. He beat some great hot rods today and he kept his head. I am proud of everyone on that Castrol GTX team and all my teams. We win together.”
Neff extended his points lead over second place race Jack Beckman to 98 points (707 to 609), John Force moved up from 7th to 6th place and Robert Hight held onto 3rd place in the Full Throttle point standings. With over half of the regular season races completed JFR has three drivers in the top six heading toward the home stretch of summer races.