WILK'S HOPE FOR AN E-TOWN WIN BOLSTERED BY A JOLIET LOSS ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. (June 8, 2010) -- The statistics are now in the books for Joliet, and the record will forever state that Tim Wilkerson drove his Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang to a ...
WILK'S HOPE FOR AN E-TOWN WIN BOLSTERED BY A JOLIET LOSS
ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. (June 8, 2010) -- The statistics are now in the books for Joliet, and the record will forever state that Tim Wilkerson drove his Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang to a first-round win over Del Worsham before suffering a second-round loss to Robert Hight. In the years to come, it will be easy to assume that Wilkerson was, therefore, happy after round one and disappointed after the second go, but those assumptions will be incorrect. In reality, Wilk hopes his second-round loss to Hight will translate into many additional round wins, because it was his best run of the weekend and just what the LRS team needed in terms of confidence and performance.
With the exception of a very strong Friday night run in Topeka, Wilkerson has been searching for better performance more than he's been enjoying it as of late. He struggled on his other runs in Kansas, then needed a last-session 4.218 in Joliet just to make the show, although he was not alone in that regard as six other top-notch drivers faced the same challenge and five of them joined him by bumping their way back into a field they had been bumped out of earlier in the afternoon.
In the opening round against Worsham, both cars lost traction but Wilk's managed to hold on for just a bit longer and he squeaked out a close win over a hard-charging opponent. A win is a win, and the 20 points were important, but Wilkerson was solely focused on finding the right combination when he faced Robert Hight in round two. There, while Hight went on to claim his 14th consecutive round win with a huge 4.111, Wilkerson came up short but his 4.186 was clearly his best run of the weekend, and it gave him plenty of cause to be hopeful as he prepared for this weekend's NHRA SuperNationals at historic Old Bridge Twp. Raceway Park, in Englishtown, N.J.
"I don't like to lose, but I dislike being frustrated even more," Wilkerson said. "For some reason, the car has been really bratty lately and we've had a hard time getting it to make full laps on a consistent basis. Sometimes we get stuck in that routine where we're constantly addressing what just went wrong, and we don't get it all figured out until one lap too late. We've been patient making the adjustments but by the time we raced Robert there in the second round, it was time to make some bigger changes and they finally paid off and worked like we hoped they would.
"We got beat by a faster car there, but we made a lot of headway in the tuning department, so we weren't crying when we got back after the loss. We just wished we could've gone back out there again because it was coming together and another lap might have gotten us all the way back to where we want to be. The goal now is to make the first day in Englishtown the next link in the chain, and hopefully we can hit the ground running."
With Englishtown being the second race in a four-race June swing, and the second out of seven races in an eight-week span, the need for Full Throttle points and the tendency for teams to be doing the points-related math in their heads will grow more intense by the day. There are seven races left in the regular season, before the Countdown begins in Indy, and despite the fact every round is worth the same 20 points whether it's won in early February or in late July, the importance of turning on the win lights at this point in the campaign simply seems more critical, just as late-season wins always seem more important in other playoff sports.
Wilk's 1-1 record this past weekend moved him back into 8th place in the standings, but the race for post-season spots is far too tight for comfort. Tony Pedregon sits just 10 points behind the LRS driver, Worsham holds down the 10th spot and is only 33 points in arrears, while Jeff Arend, who is currently 11th, is only 66 points behind Wilk, who maintains a forward-looking philosophy as the best defense against those behind him.
"I let my wife Krista and our stat guy worry about it, round by round, but I'd be kidding if I said I don't check on it once each weekend is over," Wilkerson said. "It's pretty obvious to me that the best way to keep those guys behind you is to just win rounds. They can't pass you if you're winning, so I just look ahead and we'll see if we can't be the ones doing some passing here. We won't have to worry about who's behind us if we're moving up in the standings, and we know we're good enough to do that."
Looking ahead, Wilkerson's "just win" approach will need to bear fruit if he is to lock up one of those ten precious spots in the Countdown, and if he's able to do that it will then become a matter of peaking at the right time. There is no better illustration of that than Robert Hight's run to the Funny Car championship last season, which was earned only after Hight claimed the last playoff spot late in the afternoon on the final day of the regular season.
"It's just kind of a bigger version of what we hope we can do in Englishtown after that good run in Joliet," Wilkerson said. "If we can get a little more consistent we can start to pick up more rounds now, and if we learn something from each lap like we've been doing, we'll get better as the summer goes on. If we take care of every lap, and stay focused on what's at hand rather than looking too far ahead, we should be fine. And, if you're really hitting it hard come September, Robert proved you can win the big trophy from any spot. You just have to make sure you're in it, if you want to win it."
If each journey is made up of individual steps, Tim Wilkerson is a bit more excited about his next stride after his effort this past weekend. Taking that hard-fought loss to Hight in Joliet, and turning that into a streak of far more success in Englishtown and beyond, might be the first key to unlocking a solid run into championship contention for Wilk and his LRS team.