NEFF WANTS TO MOVE FORWARD AT READING READING, PA (August 13, 2008) --- As the Countdown to One looms closer and questions of added pressure are thrown at all the NHRA drivers who have yet to clinch one of the ten available slots rookie Funny...
NEFF WANTS TO MOVE FORWARD AT READING
READING, PA (August 13, 2008) --- As the Countdown to One looms closer and questions of added pressure are thrown at all the NHRA drivers who have yet to clinch one of the ten available slots rookie Funny Car driver Mike Neff is focused. He is not focused solely on the championship chase but on continuing his program of not making mistakes and learning lessons every time he gets behind the wheel of his Old Spice Ford Mustang.
For eighteen events -- Neff jumped in his Mustang for the final two races of the 2007 season -the former world champion crew chief has been on an accelerated driver education course. The Hemet, Calif., native has used his expansive knowledge picked up from his years as a crew chief to give himself a better than expected results.
"I think being a crew chief has helped me be a better driver because I am aware of all the little things a driver can do to help or hurt the engine. I am very conscious about doing everything the same on the burn-out and when I stage. The biggest thing I have had to get used to is driving this Old Spice Ford Mustang. I leave all the tuning decisions to John Medlen but I try and give him as much help as I can when I am driving," said Neff.
Neff is sitting on the "bubble" in 10th place, 79 points in front of fellow rookie Bob Tasca III. Neff reached the 7th position in the POWERade point standings earlier in the season after back-to back final round appearances in St Louis and Bristol but has leveled off and remained a fixture in the 9th position until last weekends early exit in Brainerd, Minn. In Brainerd Neff qualified No. 5 but dropped a first round race to points leader Tim Wilkerson.
Following the loss Neff took some time to think about how the day unfolded and how the remaining two races of the regular season would play out for the Old Spice team.
"I really felt good going into eliminations (in Brainerd). We'd qualified good. We ran the best run of the day (on Saturday) in qualifying. I didn't really catch a good break having to race Tim Wilkerson," said Neff. "He can step up and run good at any time and that is exactly what he did. He ran low ET against us. We actually were trying to run better than we did. The clutch didn't apply itself quite the same way as it did yesterday. It just fell off."
Neff knows that the final two races before the Countdown to One will be the two most important races of his young driving career. The optimistic Californian is not worried about his prospects and plans on keeping his ever present "California cool" attitude.
"We have been hoping to keep moving forward. It is crunch time right now. We need to go some rounds. Unfortunately we didn't (in Brainerd). On the one hand I am excited that we are even in the Top Ten and that we have a chance. On the other hand it is not where you really want to be at this point being vulnerable. I feel good that we ran good (in qualifying at Brainerd). I feel good that we should be able to keep that going. We made a couple of changes that made the car get down the track better as long as we can take that to Reading. I really feel like we can have a good race any day."
As the rookie rolls into Maple Grove Raceway for the first time as a driver his attitude has not changed.
"Right now it is just a matter of going some rounds and having a good race. Getting to the semis or the final round that would be a decent race," added Neff.
The most asked question of the front runner for rookie of the year is how has he balanced his former life as a crew chief with his new career as a driver for John Force Racing. The key in Neff's eyes is the tremendous relationship he shares with his crew chief John Medlen and his strong team that prepares his Ford Mustang every race. As he get prepared to race at speed over 300 mph for the fifth time in six weeks the rookie driver is hitting his groove as opposed to being beaten down by the grind.
"When you lose first round you just want to get back out there and try to do it again as fast as you can to try and have something good happen," said the three time finalist in 2008. "For me it is kind of helping me because I am in the car more frequently and I am not having long lay-offs. You get more comfortable racing every week rather than having big stretches where you aren't in the car."
As the team gears up for the home stretch Neff and his team will focus on their respective jobs. They know that they control their destiny and simply doing everything right should be enough to keep them in the top ten. They are not going to settle for mediocre but will continue to strive for excellence.
"As a driver I'm just trying to do my job, keep that thing going straight down the track and keep it in the groove. John Medlen is making the right calls and I give him a lot of credit right. The Ford Boss 500 motor is running good. For Old Spice Brainerd was one of our better qualifying rounds that we have had in a while and we are looking to build on that heading into Reading," concluded Neff.