HIGHT 2nd, NEFF 3rd IN QUAL AUTO CLUB FINALS
POMONA, CA --- An impressive run by Funny Car point leader Matt Hagan shifted Robert Hight and Mike Neff back a slot in the qualifying order and set up the potential for another historic championship comeback by John Force Racing. In order for Neff or Hight win an unprecedented 18th Full Throttle Funny Car championship for John Force Racing they will have to get some help from other teams on their way to the winner’s circle.
Hight will enter the race as the No. 2 qualifier followed by Neff. John Force made the show in the first and only qualifying run today recording a time of 4.131 seconds which place him 11th and gives him a first round match-up with Johnny Gray. Rain washed out the final qualifying session as darkness fell on Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
Neff can lock up his first championship as a driver in a number of combinations but winning the race would give him the best shot.
“We have to go win this race and hope that everyone in front of us goes out early. We need Hagan out in the second round, (Jack) Beckman out by the semis and Cruz (Pedregon) out in the final,” said Neff. “That is what it is going to take. We are definitely going to have to have a bunch of things fall our way. It is going to have to be the perfect day and anything can happen. We had a perfect day here one year ago. It is not out of the question.”
Last year as co-crew chief Neff guided John Force and his Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE Ford Mustang to a comeback of 38 points versus Matt Hagan for the championship. Going into tomorrow’s race he is 40 points behind Hagan and 28 points behind Beckman.
In three runs at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona Neff has made respectable runs. He has not been pressing and is prepared to get aggressive on Sunday to insure that is Castrol GTX Ford Mustang has the best shot of success on the race track.
“We have gone down the track three out of the three runs. That is always good. We didn’t run as good as we would have liked the last couple. We think we can step it up and be competitive tomorrow. As a whole I feel pretty good about our chances,” said Neff a five time winner in 2011.
Neff will be battling four Funny Cars for the championship including his teammate and 2009 Funny Car champion Robert Hight. Sitting in the No. 5 position in the point standings has Hight relaxed and ready to attack race day with a focus that he has been developing as driver since he first got the driving job.
“Tomorrow is a normal race day for me. I go into every race trying to win. I believe I can win this race tomorrow. We have to do whatever we can to win this race. The way I look at it is to look back at Las Vegas. We all got beat first round and we lost to cars that should not have beaten us. Really the truth is we beat ourselves. That can happen to our opponents,” said Hight, who reclaimed his championship hopes with a win in Reading.
“If they go out there tomorrow and they try and be cautious this track has teeth and has some grip. If they are cautious to try and get a first round win they could shake. Jon Capps could take out Hagan in the first round. We have to win this race. If the cars don’t fall our way then I want to win this race anyway. I want my sixth win of the year and we will go into the off season on a high note. That is always the best way to do it, win the last race of the year.”
“We have the Auto Club here and we need to win the last race. We have done it before and I believe we can do it again. It is kind of a bummer that we didn’t get to make that last run and try and get our top spot back but still it has been a long time since my Ford Mustang has made three runs down the track. I am proud of (crew chief) Jimmy (Prock) and my guys.”
Team leader John Force made the show and will have an opportunity to take out one of the Countdown contenders’ biggest nemesis in the first round, Johnny Gray. He will have to make a much improved run over his 4.131 second pass but for the winningest driver in NHRA history he is going to take a page from the playbooks of his teammates Neff and Hight.
“Neff is calm and cool and so is Robert. I am that way when I get to the starting line. We all have a job to do. This is exciting racing for the fans. I like the Countdown and it is a shame that Mike and Robert won so many races and you lose the points but it is fair to everybody. At the end of the day we have a job cut out for us,” said Force. “It is going to be tough but Neff and Robert will be fine. The ladder isn’t too bad. I wish we would have gotten that last shot. All three of our cars were looking to go better than that low ET number. We wanted to take away that round and that is just the way the cards fell. Tomorrow we’ll come out and we’ll go after them.”
All season long NHRA fans have been voting on the Greatest Moments in NHRA history ranking the Top 60 moments. Tomorrow the top two moments will be unveiled and Force is in the running for the top spot with Drag Racing Legend “Big Daddy” Don Garlits. Force’s 15th championship is going head to head with the introduction of the rear engine dragster. As the NHRA Legend for the 47th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals Force feels like he has already won being in the running with Garlits.
“Everybody knows my feeling about Snake (Don Prudhomme), Shirley (Muldowney) and (Don) Garlits. They are all the greats of this sport. Even though I never had a dragster I watch him (Garlits). When I was up for the 50th (in 2001 a panel of NHRA experts voted on the Top 50 drivers) and Garlits beat me I was honored to just be up there with me,” said Force. “I think he is a great individual and I do believe what he did changed the sport and was unbelievable. At the end of the day winning 15 championships ain’t too shabby but if you are in the running with Big Daddy then you have already won and that is how I look at it.”