Memphis: Mike Neff preview

Rookie Mike Neff Still Battling in Countdown For Championship MEMPHIS, TN (September 23, 2008) --- Mike Neff and his Old Spice Ford Mustang team stumbled at the Texas Motorplex when they missed their chance to move up the Countdown to 1 point ...

Rookie Mike Neff Still Battling in Countdown For Championship

MEMPHIS, TN (September 23, 2008) --- Mike Neff and his Old Spice Ford Mustang team stumbled at the Texas Motorplex when they missed their chance to move up the Countdown to 1 point standings by not qualifying for the 23rd annual O'Reilly Super Start Batteries NHRA Fall Nationals but thanks to the new play-off system he knows he is not out of it yet. The front-runner for the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award is still positive about his championship chances. He knows that even though everything went wrong in Dallas that just means everything could go right in Memphis.

"It just seemed like every run nothing went quite right (in Dallas). Probably three out of those four runs would have gotten us in the show. On every one of those something happened from breaking the blower belt to having the burst panel barely break open and hit the kill switch to the clutch malfunction. It just wasn't our weekend. John Medlen and the crew have been working really hard so it is definitely not from lack of effort. Things just didn't go our way," said the three time finalist in 2008.

"That is what it has come down to now that the competition is so tight and these cars are so close everything has to go right. It just didn't for us this weekend. We are not beat down. We are optimistic. We know our Old Spice Ford Mustang runs good and I am looking forward to us redeeming ourselves next week in Memphis. "

With the new Countdown to 1 format Neff and the Old Spice Ford Mustang team the race in Memphis will be critical to his run for a championship. Neff is less than 200 points out of first place with four races left in the Countdown to 1. There are 118 points up for grabs at each NHRA national event including the maximum number of qualifying points. A strong Neff race and a few stumbles by the drivers at the top could springboard the rookie from California right into the mix.

"It is not over yet. If you can win a couple of races here you can be right back in it," said Neff. "I have all the confidence in my team. I feel that we have a chance to win it every time we roll through the gate."

Neff knows from his world championship experience as Gary Scelzi's crew chief in 2005 how much pressure comes to bear during the last races of the POWERade season. Racing into three finals this season has given Neff a taste of race day expectations but he has yet to get into the winner's circle.

"Now is the time of year when you really have to bring your "A" game. You have to be at your best every run and every race from here on out. Every round is just going to be huge from here to the end. I am excited to be in it. I feel good about how (crew chief) John Medlen has our Old Spice Ford Mustang running. I'm just excited about (the Countdown)."

The most commonly asked question for Neff as he rolls into new markets and events is which role he likes better crew chief or driver. Neff handles that query like a parent asked to pick their favorite child.

"It is different. Everybody has to bring their A game. It is exciting to be in the Countdown as a driver but it is also exciting for the crew chiefs. As far as I go I just have to make sure I'm at my best. I just have to do my job and what I am supposed to do. I have all the confidence in John Medlen and my crew that they are going to be doing their best. I just have to make sure I carry my part of the deal."

The focus and determination on the former off-road race from Hemet, California has Neff looking to make a move in Memphis and keeping his championship hopes alive.

"Getting in the Countdown to 1 was definitely one of our goals at the beginning of the year. We really wanted to get in there. It feels good to get that monkey off our back."

Making the Countdown to 1 was a major step for the former world championship crew chief but there is one goal on the horizon that Neff and his Old Spice team have narrowly missed and he hopes that this weekend in Memphis he can check getting his first win off his to-do list.

"I don't really feel we have hit our stride yet. It kind of goes in cycles some guys will get hot for a couple of races and some guys get cold for a couple of races. There is a cycle to these things. I think we got a little bit going when we made it to those two finals back-to-back," said Neff of his St. Louis and Bristol efforts. "Hopefully we can get hot again. If we can get a little bit of momentum and hit our stride to pound out a few good races in a row I think that will be the key."

-credit: jfr

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Gary Scelzi , John Medlen , Mike Neff