ASHLEY FORCE LEADS FIELD AT MID-SOUTH NATIONALS (MEMPHIS) --- A hot track kept the top half of the Funny Car field locked up on Saturday at the 21st annual O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals. Ashley Force's Friday night pass of 4.07 seconds will keep...
ASHLEY FORCE LEADS FIELD AT MID-SOUTH NATIONALS
(MEMPHIS) --- A hot track kept the top half of the Funny Car field locked up on Saturday at the 21st annual O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals. Ashley Force's Friday night pass of 4.07 seconds will keep her at the top of the qualifying ladder, her third No. 1 effort of the season, and her three other consistent runs netted the sophomore Funny Car driver another Full Throttle Award presented to the most consistent qualifier of the race in each class.
"My Castrol GTX Mustang is running really well. It is doing exactly what Guido and Ron want it to, even a little better maybe on the night session last night. I don't think they were going for an .07 but we'll take it. The weather plays a big part of it and the track has been pretty good. Both lanes are pretty even so it should be a good race tomorrow," said the 2007 Rookie of the Year.
Ashley was at the top of her game on Friday and Saturday in qualifying and now she plans on taking that consistency into Sunday's race day. As the Countdown heats up she knows that round wins are becoming scarcer for all the teams.
"I think the guys on the outside know they can ruin our day. They don't really have the pressure that the Countdown teams have maybe. I know (Jerry) Toliver is up against Cruz (Pedregon). That will be a big match-up for everyone in the Countdown because Cruz has been great the last few races. Toliver has a really good car this weekend and he maybe doesn't have the pressure that Cruz has going into the first round. Maybe Toliver can go out there and have some fun and take out Cruz."
She is also happy to be able to hopefully not face a teammate until the semi-final round. The ladder stacks up in John Force Racing's favor as they possibly could load up all four slots in the semis.
"We are very fortunate tomorrow my teammates and I don't line up until the semis. That is rarely how it works out. Usually we meet each other in the first or second round. Lately it seems that one of us will not do that well in qualifying and will be further down the ladder and someone from the top half will match-up with them early," said Force.
Luck was on the side of championship contender Robert Hight once again when in the last session of the day his Auto Club Ford Mustang broke a throttle cable. That kind of mechanical breakdown is an instant race day ender but in qualifying it is simply a missed opportunity. Still Hight is uneasy with the frequency of this problem.
"We broke a throttle cable again. Better now than tomorrow. We did that last weekend too. We got to get this stuff fixed. This AAA Mustang will be ready for Capps tomorrow," said the former JFR crewman.
Rookie of the Year front-runner Mike Neff is thrilled to be back in the game with his Old Spice Ford Mustang after an uncharacteristic DNQ last weekend in Dallas. While he is personally fired-up to be No. 4 in qualifying he is equally excited to see so many teammates at the top of the ladder once again.
"I'm excited. It feels good to qualify good and in the top half. It is exciting to have all the Force cars at the top it has been a while since we have done that. That is a big deal. We are a long ways out on the Countdown but we want to start to move up as far as we can," said Neff. "This time of year when it winds down is always the best. Some things have bitten us here and there but overall the Old Spice Mustang is running good and if we can get it to the finish line four times tomorrow I think we have a good chance."
Ashley is joined at the top of the ladder by her resurgent father, John Force, who kept pace with his daughter landing in the No. 3 spot with a 4.105 second effort from Friday. That run was strong but his final pass in the heat of the day today might strike more fear into the assembled Funny Car field. As the sun warmed up the track the winningest driver in NHRA history blazed down the track with a 4.142 second run -- fourth quickest of the session.
The 14-time champion John Force made four more solid runs during qualifying to establish himself as one of the favorites to grab the win tomorrow. This is back to back races with a new Jimmy Prock influenced tune-up that Force has excelled. He still has high hopes of getting back into the championship chase.
"Laurie -- Force's wife of 27 years - will be happy when she sees Ashley put those numbers up on the scoreboards consistently. She has a shot at this like anybody else so we are excited for her. It was a good day. It is important for the Sanyo guys to see what we do when we put four cars in the show," said Force.
JOHN FORCE, 59, Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang
Qualifying: 3rd at 4.105 seconds, 300.26 mph
First Round Opponent (W-L): Tommy Johnson Jr. (24-8)
ASHLEY FORCE, 25, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
Qualifying: 1st at 4.079 seconds, 298.81 mph
First Round Opponent (W-L): Bob Tasca III (1-0)
Quotes: "My guys were talking last night that we love being in the Countdown but we really want to get our second win too. We are trying to keep our mind on that because there are a lot of great teams out here and it is not just the teams in the Countdown. I have (Bob) Tasca (III) tomorrow. He barely missed it (the Countdown) by a smidge. He absolutely has a great car. We are just going to try and do our thing."
ROBERT HIGHT, 39, Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang
Qualifying: 7th at 4.122 seconds, 285.95
First Round Opponent (W-L): Ron Capps (9-5)
Quotes: "We broke a throttle cable again. Better now than tomorrow. We did that last weekend too. We got to get this stuff fixed. This AAA Mustang will be ready for Capps tomorrow."
MIKE NEFF, 42, Old Spice Ford Mustang
Qualifying: 4th at 4.113 seconds, 297.42 mph
First Round Opponent (W-L): Jeff Arend (0-1)
Quotes: "This time of year when it winds down is always the best. Some things have bitten us here and there but overall the Old Spice Mustang is running good and if we can get it to the finish line four times tomorrow I think we have a good chance."