Denver: John Force preview

12-Time Champ Has Points Lead Starting Second Half DENVER, Colo. (July 16-18) -- Earlier this season, when he was struggling to regain the form that in the 1990s made him almost unbeatable, 12-time NHRA Funny Car Champion John Force...

12-Time Champ Has Points Lead Starting Second Half

DENVER, Colo. (July 16-18) -- Earlier this season, when he was struggling to regain the form that in the 1990s made him almost unbeatable, 12-time NHRA Funny Car Champion John Force received encouragement from an unusual source.

Tim Richards, one of the sport's most respected Top Fuel crew chiefs, told him not to worry about being in eighth place in NHRA POWERade points.

"Just remember," said Richards, who currently serves as crew chief to Brandon Bernstein, "the (New York) Yankees aren't doing so well, either, but when the time comes, they'll be there and so will you."

Five months later, the Yankees entered the All-Star break atop the American League East standings, seven games ahead of the Boston Red Sox, and, on the eve of this week's 25th Mopar Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway, Force again is the Funny Car points leader.

Backed by a new brand of Castrol motor oil -- Castrol GTX® Start-Up™, the oil that provides "protection from the moment you turn the key" -- Force starts the critical Western Swing (consisting of back-to-back-to-back races at Denver, Seattle, Wash., and Sonoma, Calif.) hoping to pad a narrow three-point lead over Del Worsham.

Nevertheless, the fact that the 1996 American motor racing Driver of the Year has regained the points lead for the first time in 35 races, no matter the margin, is no doubt a source of concern for long-suffering Funny Car rivals hell bent on toppling a John Force Racing dynasty that has claimed the last 11 NHRA Funny Car titles and 13 of the last 14.

After all, the 111-time tour winner not only is the defending champion in the Mile-High Nationals, a race he's won five times in the last 10 years, he also is the defending champ in next week's 17th annual CARQUEST Nationals at Seattle, Wash.

A two-time winner this season and a finalist at four of the last seven races, Force has put himself in position to reclaim the title he relinquished last year to teammate Tony Pedregon.

"People talk about us losing the championship last year," Force said, "but as a team, we still won. Tony had a great year in the Castrol SYNTEC® car and I always said if I was going to lose the championship, I wouldn't want to lose it to anyone but a teammate."

Unfortunately, after winning his first title, Pedregon ended his eight-year association with Force Racing in order to form a new two-car team with older brother Cruz.

That unexpected departure was a wake-up call for Force, who, in response, rededicated himself to winning this year's $400,000 POWERade Championship.

In the off season, the 11-time Auto Racing All-America selection lost 20 pounds in an effort to get his race car closer to the 2,400 pound class minimum and, what he lost in bulk, he apparently gained in motivation.

While he has thrown himself into dozens of new projects, Force remains focused on one primary goal: winning back the championship..

"Last season (one in which he won three races but finished only third in points) made me appreciate even more what we've accomplished over the years," Force said. "I'll never take winning for granted again. Sometimes you forget how hard it is to win."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , John Force , Tim Richards