Las Vegas II: John Force Racing final report

ASHLEY FORCE'S FINAL ROUND APPEARANCE SALVAGES TOUGH DAY Ashley Force drove her Castrol GTX Ford Mustang into the record books by becoming the first female Funny Car driver to reach a final round, all but cementing her status as the 2007 winner...

ASHLEY FORCE'S FINAL ROUND APPEARANCE SALVAGES TOUGH DAY

Ashley Force drove her Castrol GTX Ford Mustang into the record books by becoming the first female Funny Car driver to reach a final round, all but cementing her status as the 2007 winner of the Auto Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award that identifies the NHRA Rookie-of-the-Year. Force reached the milestone in just the 20th start of her career.

"I know a lot of people talk about me being a gal and reaching these milestones but I would not have made it to the final round without the eight guys on my crew and the hard work of (co-crew chiefs) Dean Antonelli and Ron Douglas. We want to win races for our sponsors and our teams. Today was tough because Robert (Hight, brother-in-law and Countdown to One contender), got knocked out early but we all pulled together behind our Castrol GTX Ford Mustang," said Force.

Ashley's performance was the lone bright spot in a tough day for John Force Racing's championship hopes as Team Castrol driver Hight joined Ron Capps and Gary Scelzi on the losing side of first round match-ups while points leader and former JFR team member Tony Pedregon cruised to an almost insurmountable points lead as the race winner.

"It's real tough. We got ourselves in this position. We are not ever going to give up until it is absolutely over," said and obviously disappointed Hight, "We'll go to Pomona and see what kind of conditions we have. We are going to test here tomorrow. We'll just do the best we can. We are off a little right now and that is what put us in this position."

At the end of the day, Castrol team owner John Force was philosophical yet full of optimism when he addressed his four teams. Hight is 99 points behind Pedregon and his first championship.

"We need a miracle but I love the Hail Mary," said Force, the former high school football stand-out who is on the sidelines because of injuries suffered in a Sept. 23rd crash at the Texas Motorplex outside Dallas, Texas.

Filling in for 14-time champion, Phil Burkart Jr. performed admirable in his first start in the Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford by taking out Capps in the first round. His day ended in a second round loss to Tony's brother, Cruz.

"We dropped a cylinder early, it shook and I started to pedal it (but) I just didn't catch it fast enough. I was trying to get it back under control. I went to grab for the brake and the car was moving around pretty good. I couldn't get the brake to help me," said Burkart.

"It was a career weekend no matter what," Burkart said. "It was instrumental in the first round, if nothing else, to take out Ron Capps. That part alone was huge. That is the type of round win I came here for. I'm just happy John (Force) put the faith in me and (co-crew chiefs) Austin (Coil) and Bernie (Fedderly) that I was that kind of driver who could come in and go rounds."

Team Castrol 2008 rookie-to-be Mike Neff qualified his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang well but fell to Jeff Arend in the first round in his first NHRA national event. Even though the first elimination round of his career included a spectacular engine explosion, Neff had a handle on how the round got away from him.

"It looks like I let it get to the inside and it started spinning just a little and then it went boom. The first problem was me getting it get a little inside out of the groove and it started spinning the tires," Neff, "I think we had a great weekend. John (Medlen) is doing a great job with the car. I was doing an OK job until today of getting it down the track. All in all I think we are way ahead of the game from where we would have ever expected coming into this."

"I felt pretty good. I wasn't nervous. It was exciting. (It was) definitely the most thrilling experience since I have been drag racing. This weekend has been so fun. I couldn't be any more excited," added Neff.

***

TEAM CASTROL Details:

JOHN FORCE, 58, Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: Did not compete

Notable: Four John Force Racing Ford Mustangs qualified for the first time since Gainesville event in March

Quotable: "We need a miracle but I love the Hail Mary."

ASHLEY FORCE, 24, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 13th at 4.819 seconds, 315.78 mph. Race results: Beat Gary Densham, Del Worsham, Jim Head, Tony Pedregon

Notable: Made history as the first female to reach a final round in the Funny Car class... Moved up to 11th place in points, nine points out of the Top 10.

Quotable: "I can't complain about this day. After the year we've been through to be able to make it to my first final was exciting. I'm sorry we didn't win, but we'll be out there again next week."

ROBERT HIGHT, 38, Team Castrol/Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 1st at 4.763 seconds, 322.58 Race results: Lost to Jim Head,

Notable: Remained in 3rd place in the Countdown to One 79/99 points from 1st place

Quotable: "We do not want to finish 3rd or 4th. I don't want to change my number. If I can't win the championship I want to get to No. 2. We are going to throw everything at them."

MIKE NEFF, 40, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 7th at 4.784 seconds, 326.40 Race results: Lost to Jeff Arend,

Notable: Qualified in his first career start.

Quotable: "It was pulling pretty hard and then it just let go. This is the most fun I have ever had drag racing. I am looking forward to Pomona."

PHIL BURKART JR., 39, Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 11th at 4.809 seconds, 318.77 Race results: Beat Ron Capps. Lost to Cruz Pedregon.

Notable: Filling in for injured team owner John Force...eliminated Countdown to One contender Ron Capps in first round.

Quotable: "It was a career weekend no matter what. It was instrumental in the first round, if nothing else to take out Ron Capps. That is the type of round win I came here for. I'm just happy John (Force) put the faith in me and Austin and Bernie that I was that kind of driver who could come in and do well."

-credit: jfr

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Jim Head , Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , Ron Capps , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Gary Densham , Cruz Pedregon , Ashley Force , Phil Burkart , Jeff Arend , Mike Neff