Phoenix: Neff, Hight Saturday notes

NEFF, HIGHT ADD DRAMA TO LAST QUALIFYING SESSION PHOENIX --- Friday qualifying rained out at the 24th annual Checker Schuck's Kragen NHRA Nationals presented by Castrol leaving only two opportunities for the Team Castrol drivers, Mike Neff and...

NEFF, HIGHT ADD DRAMA TO LAST QUALIFYING SESSION

PHOENIX --- Friday qualifying rained out at the 24th annual Checker Schuck's Kragen NHRA Nationals presented by Castrol leaving only two opportunities for the Team Castrol drivers, Mike Neff and Robert Hight, to drive their 8,000 hp Ford Mustangs down the quarter mile track at Firebird Raceway. Both drivers made the most of their opportunities today and qualified for their second consecutive race of the 2008 POWERade season, respectively.

In the first session Neff drove his Old Spice Ford Mustang to the top half of the field with an impressive 4.835 second pass and was confident heading into the second session. Working with Crew Chief John Medlen, Neff knew that his BOSS 500 Ford motor was coming around for his team.

"I'm real proud of John Medlen and the Old Spice crew. They did their job and I should have been No.1 qualifier. I feel bad that I couldn't have gotten it to the lights (finish line) under full power. It was still a good run."

Auto Club of Southern California driver Robert Hight was not as lucky in the first round striking his tires early and losing valuable traction before settling for a 7.013 second pass well off the pace of the leaders. He was qualified, but as the temperature cooled off the 2005 Rookie of the Year knew his qualifying time would not hold up through the second session.

"Just because you win the last race you were in doesn't mean you are going to qualify for the next one, said the current Funny Car points leader. "Not being qualified is worse and makes me more nervous than racing in a final round."

In the final session Hight felt the pressure to perform especially after teammate and sister-in-law, Ashley Force, smoked the tires on her final attempt to qualify missing her first race of 2008. Hight launched hard and stayed with his Ford Mustang across the finish line even though he knew his motor was coming apart as he accelerated. His final run of 4.844 was good enough to nail down the No. 9 qualifying position setting up a first round match-up with former John Force Racing driver Gary Densham.

Hight and Crew Chief Jimmy Prock have a few tricks up their collective sleeves heading into the elimination round thanks to the John Force Racing crew chief brain trust.

"Jimmy is learning stuff every run but he is going to do some of the stuff that Austin Coil has been doing on his motor and it has been responding for them. That is what is cool about having multiple teams and having everyone work together. With Jimmy's and Austin's help we ought to be just fine tomorrow."

Rookie of the Year candidate Mike Neff made another tremendous leap forward both for himself as well as the BOSS 500 Ford engine program in the final qualifying session. He narrowly missed garnering his first No. 1 qualifying slot as well as the first No. 1 position for the newly designed BOSS 500 Ford motor.

"The Ford BOSS 500 motor is running strong. That is real encouraging. The parts are looking really good. It is a new combination for us so (Crew Chief) John (Medlen) is trying to sort that out for us. He is doing an outstanding job and things are getting better. It is just lack of experience I just need to make more runs."

He eventually wound up second, one position in front of teammate Force who he was matched up against, heading into tomorrow eliminations. In his first match-up against his boss and 14-time Funny Car Champion, Neff got to the finish line first even though he had to lift as he was heading for the center line. He chalked this mistake up to being a rookie and getting caught up in the moment inside his Old Spice Mustang.

"My Old Spice Mustang was on a great run I just couldn't keep it in the groove. I could definitely tell it was really running. It really started accelerating and I could just feel it pushing in on my chest," said an excited Neff. "That was just enough to distract me and I lost track of where I was. I was getting over towards the center and I had it cranked the other way. I knew it wasn't coming back so I had to lift."

With three Ford Mustangs situated in the qualified field for tomorrow's eliminations, John Force Racing could once again advance three Ford Mustangs to the semi-finals.

* * * *

THE DRIVERS

ROBERT HIGHT, 38, Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang
Saturday Qualifying: 9th at 4.844 seconds, 304.74 mph.

First Round Opponent, (W/L Record): Gary Densham, (6-0)

Notable: Looking to extend his final round appearance streak to three races.

Quotable: "Just because you win the last race you were in doesn't mean you are going to qualify for the next one. Not being qualified is worse and makes me more nervous than racing in a final round. We definitely didn't want to have to call California and our sponsors at the Auto Club 500 NASCAR race and tell them we didn't make it."

MIKE NEFF, 40, Old Spice Ford Mustang
Saturday Qualifying: 2nd at 4.798 seconds, 296.63 mph.

First Round Opponent, (W/L Record): Jack Beckman, (0-0)

Notable: This is Neff's highest qualifying position...He is looking for his first career round win.

Quotable: "My Old Spice Ford Mustang was on a great run. I just couldn't keep it in the groove. I could definitely tell it was really running. It really started accelerating and I could just feel it pushing in on my chest."

-credit: jfr

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Gary Densham , Jack Beckman , Ashley Force , Robert Hight , Austin Coil , John Medlen , Mike Neff