FORCE CLAWS HIS WAY BACK INTO CONTENTION WITH FIRST 2007 WIN On a weekend when his daughter, Ashley, failed to make the starting field for the first time in her Funny Car career, John Force recalled past glories Sunday by driving his Castrol...
FORCE CLAWS HIS WAY BACK INTO CONTENTION WITH FIRST 2007 WIN
On a weekend when his daughter, Ashley, failed to make the starting field for the first time in her Funny Car career, John Force recalled past glories Sunday by driving his Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang past the Chevrolet of Cruz Pedregon in the final round of the seventh annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway.
The victory, the 123rd of Force's remarkable career, breathed life into the 14-time champion's 11th hour bid to earn one of the eight berths in the NHRA' s Countdown to the Championship competition that will begin with the Labor Day weekend Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Ind.
He dedicated the win to fallen teammate Eric Medlen, who last March succumbed to injuries suffered in a testing accident at Gainesville, Fla., and he gave the trophy to Eric's father, John, who remains a key member of the John Force Racing/Team Castrol brain trust.
"At the beginning of the day, I did a bunch of apologizing to all my guys for being such a jerk," Force said. "I told them I was just sorry for the way I've been. Then I said to Eric, 'Eric, it's time to forgive me and let's get our stuff together and win you a race.'
"I mean the greatest kid in the world was Eric Medlen. Heart as big as Tennessee. I didn't think I ever was gonna get the win for him, but this trophy is going to go to his dad and it's gonna go to a place for Eric Medlen, because he was our heart and he still is."
The No. 5 qualifier, Force stopped Scott Kalitta, Mike Ashley, No. 1 qualifier Tim Wilkerson and, finally, Pedregon to earn his second win in four years at Bristol, a track on which he was runner-up a year ago.
Although he gained only two positions in the driver standings (moving from 15th to 13th), he moved to within three rounds of the critical No. 8 position currently occupied by veteran Jack Beckman.
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TEAM CASTROL Details:
JOHN FORCE, 58, Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 5th at 4.853 seconds, 292.46 mph
Race results: Beat Scott Kalitta, Mike Ashley, Tim Wilkerson and Cruz Pedregon.
Notable: Earned the 123rd victory of his career and first of 2007, moving him from 15th to 13th place in the NHRA POWERade point standings.
Quotable: "We've struggled. Everybody knows that. We went from being one of the greatest teams in the history of the sport to being the worst, just in one year and we may get beat up some more, but now we got our heart back and, if we go down, we're gonna go down slugging."
ASHLEY FORCE, 24, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 18th at 4.923 seconds, 283.67 mph.
Race results: Did Not Qualify.
Notable: Failed to make the starting lineup for the first time in her short Funny Car career and fell out of the Top 8.
Quotable: "It was disappointing (not to qualify), but it put us in good company with all the big hitters. Everybody's been bitten by that bug this year. I'm glad we get to go racing again so soon so we can put this behind us and move on. It was great to see dad win. I never doubted (that he would) because that's the strongest team out here."
ROBERT HIGHT, 37, Team Castrol/Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 10th at 4.884 seconds, 309.06 mph.
Race results: Lost to Jim Head.
Notable: Remained second in POWERade points and solidly in position to advance to the Countdown to Eight.
Quotable: "It was a tough day because I felt like I let the team down, but John saved it for us. That's what we've needed and now we all can't wait to get to Denver (for this week's Mopar Mile-High Nationals)."