Las Vegas II: Mike Neff preview

Rookie Front-Runner Neff Ready to Hit Jackpot in Vegas LAS VEGAS (October 27, 2008) --- Rookie of the Year favorite Mike Neff has learned a lot during his first season behind the wheel of the Old Spice Ford Mustang. He has become more...

Rookie Front-Runner Neff Ready to Hit Jackpot in Vegas

LAS VEGAS (October 27, 2008) --- Rookie of the Year favorite Mike Neff has learned a lot during his first season behind the wheel of the Old Spice Ford Mustang. He has become more comfortable with his growing legion of fans as well as the news media attention directed his way. One of the biggest things he has learned is dealing with the pressure from the driver's perspective as a race unfolds.

Recently Neff explained during an interview for This Week in Ford Racing how important each day of qualifying is and how your performance impacts decisions.

"Fridays are very important -- every day, every run is important now, but things have changed over these last few years that Friday, you get that night run or that late session, well, that sets that top 12, you definitely want to try to be in that. Friday, the first run, you want to make sure you go down the race track and get something to look at it in a perfect world you make a good, solid run. Okay, now everything looks good, now we can be a little more aggressive and try to run good. What happens if you don't make a good run, that first one, now you're a little on the defense for Friday night. You can't get too carried away because you need to make sure you go down the track. That puts you at a disadvantage to qualify up in the top of the pack, somewhat."

"Saturday has turned into -- if you're not in that top 12, you're trying to outdo the rest of the guys who are trying to get those spots, and usually, at that point, you end up having to race a top-qualifying car, so you're just at a disadvantage all weekend, and that makes Sunday real tough."

Heading into the 8th annual ACDelco NHRA Las Vegas Nationals Neff will be returning to the track where he was pressed into service last season. In the wake of John Force's accident at the Texas Motorplex last season Neff and veteran drive Phil Burkart entered the race in an effort to help propel teammate Robert Hight to his first championship. This season Neff's role will be much the same as he will be tasked woth knocking out the likes of Tim Wilkerson, Jack Beckman, and the Pedregons if the opportunity presents itsef.

Neff has navigated the ups and downs of the season with great skill. He has reached three final rounds, been number the number of qualifier and recently in Richmond he made the quickest 1000 foot pass of the season during qualifying. His biggest rookie season accomplishment so far would have to be his position as the only rookie to reach the Countdown to 1. Winning the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award would be another tremendous accomplishment for the former crew chief.

"I would be very honored and proud to win rookie of the year. That's a great award. Robert [Hight] has won it and Ashley [Force] has won it. I just think it's a neat accomplishment if that would be something that we could do. I look at it that it's a team effort, so it's not just about me but it's about the team. I feel like the team has as much to do with it as I do, really. A lot of it is based off of performance, and that's what makes you look good and get good results. So, I would be really honored and happy for all of us if we were able to accomplish that," said Neff.

Grabbing his first win is still the number one priority for the former off-road racer. Three final rounds have whetted Neff's appetite and with two races left in the season a trip to the winner's circle would be a nice way to finish.

"We want to win one of those things and get that over with. We've been close a few times and haven't gotten it. The car has run good all year. We've been a little hit-and-miss, a little inconsistent at times, but the performance is there and (crew chief) John Medlen had the thing really running (in Richmond), and that Ford BOSS 500 motor, that thing is looking fantastic. The power that it makes is better than what we had before. That thing has been a real nice thing to have. With all of that, if we get a little consistency, and I think we've got a good shot at doing it, to be honest with you."

In a recent post on nhra.com National Dragster editor Phil Burgess summed up Neff's rookie statistics and chances,

"You probably couldn't ask for more from a stone driving rookie than Mike Neff has given JFR and sponsor Old Spice this year, and he's sure to be awarded the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award at season's end as the year's top rookie. After a highlight-filled early season in which he reached his first final (Madison, where he lost to Tim Wilkerson) and scored his first No. 1 qualifying spot (Bristol, where he should have won the final against Melanie Troxel)..."

-credit: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Tim Wilkerson , Jack Beckman , Phil Burkart , Melanie Troxel , Robert Hight , Mike Neff