Force tries to lock up no. 1 in return to brainerd BRAINERD, Minn. - Although reigning Full Throttle Funny Car champion Robert "Top Gun" Hight now trails him by a scant 28 points, little more than one racing round, drag racing icon John Force...
Force tries to lock up no. 1 in return to brainerd
BRAINERD, Minn. - Although reigning Full Throttle Funny Car champion Robert "Top Gun" Hight now trails him by a scant 28 points, little more than one racing round, drag racing icon John Force still believes he can hold onto the No.1 starting spot for the NHRA's Countdown to 1 playoffs.
The source of the Hall of Fame driver's confidence is the track on which he will contest this week's 29th annual Lucas Oil Nationals, the last race in which drivers can improve their positions before the Countdown begins on Sept. 6.
That's because no one in the NHRA's 60-year history has dominated at one racetrack like Force has at Brainerd International Raceway, a track on which he has won 11 times in the last 22 seasons and on which he has won 82.5 percent of all the racing rounds in which he has been a participant (66-13).
"I'm glad to be in the Countdown," Force said, "but there's no way I'm going to take it easy (at Brainerd). I want that top spot (which would send him into the Countdown with a 30-point advantage on the field). I've got a car good enough to win the championship and, at 61, I might not have another chance."
That sense of urgency has produced a category-best seven final round appearances for the 130-time tour winner and put him in position to become the oldest driver ever to win a major series championship.
"We won't be experimenting with anything (at Brainerd)," acknowledged Mike Neff who, along with Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly, is responsible for the performance of Force's Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang. "Right now, it's just a matter of fine tuning and getting the most out of what we have and getting the car to perform good (at) different track temperatures.
"When the track has been cool, we've been really fast and when the track has been hot, we've been really good," Neff said, "(but) we've been a little off when the track is in the 120 degree range and that's what we're trying to work on.
"Our goal is to go into the Countdown in that No. 1 spot," he continued. "We've been leading the points all season (except for two races) and we certainly don't want to give that up (in the last race) before the Countdown. (Earning that) extra 30 points for being No. 1 (is) definitely something we want to try to do."
In a 2010 season in which he is celebrating 25 years of Castrol sponsorship, Force has won four races for the first time since 2006. Significantly, that's the year he won the last of his record 14 NHRA championships.
For Force, qualifying well this week on a track on which he never has started worse than No. 6 is particularly significant.
That's because he knows that Hight has the potential to earn enough points in the four qualifying sessions to turn what now is a two-round advantage into a one round edge by the time eliminations begin on Sunday.
Nevertheless, regardless of the final outcome, it has been a spectacular turnaround season for Force who, after dominating the tour for almost two decades, seemed almost mortal after battling back from career threatening injuries suffered in a 2007 crash in Dallas, Texas.
Although he won a race in 2008, he failed even to reach a final round last year, his first such shutout since 1985.
However, after revamping his crew, adding Neff to the crew chief mix and working himself back into fighting shape, Force has been driving like a man possessed. In fact, on the season, he has left the starting line first more than 80 per cent of the time. No one else in any pro category has even been close.