MIKE NEFF, DRIVE ONE FORD TOPS AT BRAINERD -Ashley Force Hood 3rd, John Force 6th, Robert Hight Misses Mark- BRAINERD, MN --- Mike Neff and the Ford Drive One Mustang took full advantage of a two hour rain delay and attacked a cool and ...
MIKE NEFF, DRIVE ONE FORD TOPS AT BRAINERD
-Ashley Force Hood 3rd, John Force 6th, Robert Hight Misses Mark-
BRAINERD, MN --- Mike Neff and the Ford Drive One Mustang took full advantage of a two hour rain delay and attacked a cool and superbly prepped track to race to the No. 1 qualifying position at the 28th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals. Neff covered the 1000 ft. race surface in 4.126 seconds at an event funny car top speed of 304.46 mph. Unfortunately, after his pass rains moved back into the area and forced the cancellation of the final qualifying session along with Robert Hight's chances of racing into the qualified field.
"Today's run went really good. Actually, I think because of the delay, it kind of played into our hands because the track was cooler than it was when everybody else ran. To run what we ran was probably what anybody could have run up there so it worked out for us. It was a good solid run. It feels good to be No. 1," said Neff, the 2008 rookie of the year.
"(Tomorrow we're) hoping for good conditions and no rain. The track appears to be getting better. It seemed a little 'iffy' on Friday and today it was better and by the time we ran it was in really good shape. I think tomorrow it'll be good conditions so you'll see a lot quicker times. I think it'll be a good day of racing tomorrow."
As the time passed before his run Neff and crew chief John Medlen talked about what the eventual conditions would be and how aggressive the team needed to attack the track.
"We were trying to be conservative. I mean, I believe you could have run quicker than 4.12 out there in those conditions. But No. 1 qualifier (at the time Ron Capps) was only 4.16. We wanted to make sure we went down the track. So we were actually trying to run about a 4.12 and that's what it ran, so we were pretty happy with that," said Neff.
Grabbing the top spot was bittersweet for Neff as teammate Robert Hight and the Auto Club team failed to make the 16-car field. Hight is furiously trying to race into the top ten to be eligible for the Countdown to 1 championship and today's events were a serious set-back.
"(It is a) tough break for Robert and his team not being able to make that last run (the final session canceled by the rain) because I'm confident they would have made a pretty good run and got in the field and been able to race tomorrow. The positive, just looking at the ladder, (rookie Matt) Hagan and Cruz (Pedregon) are going to be racing each other first round so one of them will be out so that's great news for Robert and all of us.
Matt Hagan is currently 11th in points, 38 up on Hight and Cruz Pedregon sits 10th with a 48 point margin. Each round of racing tomorrow will be worth 20 points.
Mike Neff also talked about the relief of being No. 1 as well as the pressure of staying in the top ten for the next few races and then racing for the championship with his Ford Drive One Mustang team.
"We're pleased that we qualified No. 1 but right now, for us, there's just a lot of pressure. We're battling to try to stay in that Countdown and move up. Being No. 1 is good, but we know we've got a task ahead of us tomorrow and in the next two races. The stress is kinda starting to build now," added the 2005 funny car world champion crew chief.
"We all feel more pressure. We all want to be sure that we do our job. You don't want to have a weak link. I feel more pressure, especially when the car is running good, because I don't want to be the one that messes it up. Everybody knows that it's crunch time. We can't have any mistakes and we need to go some rounds."
While Neff was talking about the pressure of racing, teammate Ashley Force Hood was recounting her only qualifying run, a great 4.178 second pass, which positioned her 3rd in the qualifying order, from a different perspective. Force Hood was able to get her one and only run in before the rain delay and was unaware that inclement weather was headed towards Brainerd International Raceway. She was also not following her Mustangs falling position in the qualifying order as funny car after funny car stepped up in the performance department ultimately moving the former high school cheerleader and AOL Hottest Athlete out of the qualified field.
"What is that saying? Ignorance is bliss. Well that was me today. When I pulled up for the first run today I had no idea it was about to rain and I did not know that I had fallen out of the top sixteen qualified funny cars. My Castrol GTX Mustang made a great run and when I got to the top end the announcers and ESPN guys were all telling me how cool I was under all that pressure," said the 2007 rookie of the year.
"I really didn't know what they were talking about until one of my crew chiefs, Ron Douglas, told me how proud he was I handled the pressure of that run like a veteran. Then I realized all that was going on. I am glad I didn't know all that. I was able to just go up there and do my routine. It was good to feel a strong pass like that before eliminations. Our Mustang has been up and down in the hot weather but I know Ron and Guido (co-crew chief Dean Antonelli) will figure it out. The good news is my Mustang runs the best in the cooler weather which is what we'll have in the Countdown as well as tomorrow hopefully. I am excited about racing tomorrow and how well our Mustang ran today."
Team leader John Force will start eliminations from the 6th qualified position the lowest he has ever qualified for the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in 24 years. He has won this race eleven times in his historic career.