ASHLEY FORCE LEADS JFR AT FRUSTRATING GATORNATIONALS Everyone involved with John Force Racing knew that the 39th annual ACDelco Gatornationals would be an emotional weekend. All four drivers expressed a serious desire to win this race in honor...
ASHLEY FORCE LEADS JFR AT FRUSTRATING GATORNATIONALS
Everyone involved with John Force Racing knew that the 39th annual ACDelco Gatornationals would be an emotional weekend. All four drivers expressed a serious desire to win this race in honor of their fallen teammate Eric Medlen who crashed during a post race testing accident following the 2007 installment of this historic event. Unfortunately, a variety of issues conspired against one of the most successful dynasties in sports.
On Sunday morning partly cloudy skies made evaluating the ever changing track conditions tricky for even the best tuners in the sport. In the first pair of fuel funny cars down the track Mike Neff spun the tires and ultimately was disqualified when his Old Spice Ford Mustang crossed the center line. The usually low-key Neff recognized that his personal learning curve is still on the upswing.
"When it spun I didn't wait long enough to get back on it. It was still spinning and kind of sideways and I hit the throttle again and that is what started moving me over towards the centerline," said the former world champion crew chief. "I was just amped up and I wanted to do anything I could to get there first.
Pedaling -- feathering the throttle to regain traction - his 8000 hp Ford Mustang was a new experience for the 2008 Rookie of the Year candidate, who is still looking for his first round win behind the wheel..
"That was the first time I had to pedal my Mustang when it was smoking the tires. I just needed to wait a little bit longer. I got off of it and I just wanted to get her going."
Neff's first round stumble was unfortunately only a sign of struggles yet to come for John Force Racing.
Team leader John Force and his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang fell to former teammate Gary Densham in the first round for only the second time in twenty-two first round match-ups. Force's Mustang went up in smoke losing traction about 100 feet after launching. At the end of the day he was frustrated but still able to look at the big picture.
"There really isn't a lot you can say about today. We are all leaving here alive which is a big plus. The big positive is you learn a lot about what you shouldn't do on days like today. We'll make some changes and move onto Houston," said the 14-time Funny Car champion.
Robert Hight and his Auto Club Ford Mustang team wanted to stamp their names on the list of Gatornationals winners but he quest was derailed when a dropped cylinder pushed his Mustang towards the centerline and as he was gathering control he was forced to lift, opening the door just enough for Del Worsham to get the win.
"It had a cylinder out by 100 feet. It is a little light on the front end which makes it hard to steer. Having the cylinder out pulled me over but it never spun so I just horsed it over and blew off the tires but I couldn't just get back onto the throttle since I didn't have the car back under control yet and then he went by me."
Hight pointed out that losing qualifying sessions and the many changes to the chassis that all the teams have made have set the team back as far as gather much needed data.
"We are still testing. We are going to change some things. I wish we could test here tomorrow but we aren't going to and I understand why," said the 2005 Rookie of the Year. "Maybe in Houston we'll get four qualifying runs. We'll get her."
Hight was able to hold onto his points lead and is hopeful for a rebound of sorts as he heads to Houston, the site of his first professional win.
"I like to race everywhere but the fans in Texas are great. I'll be representing AAA of Texas there. It is like Dale Armstrong told me you will always remember the first win and he was right. I am ready to go back and do it again. We'll be better prepared to win when we get to Houston."
2007 Rookie of the Year Ashley Force achieved the most Sunday success, advancing to the second round before falling to eventual winner Tony Pedregon. Even though she did not win she survived a pedal fest with the reigning champ and showed the mental patience for a veteran beyond her years.
"I was ready to pedal it if I had to so I wasn't taken by surprise. I was surprised he (Tony Pedregon) went up in smoke next to me. I thought for sure if I went up, I'd watch him go past me. I was trying to do whatever I could but I was just getting sideways," said the former Gatornationals winner in the Top Alcohol Dragster class. "There were moments I wanted to stomped back on it but I thought, 'you just can't do that.' I learned from my mistakes last year that no matter how much you don't want to be off the throttle there are times when you just can't be on it."
Inclement weather on Friday forced the cancellation of a full day of qualifying effectively cutting in half the opportunity for the teams to gather valuable data. Faced with only two opportunities to qualify for the sixteen spots in the elimination rounds the entire team pulled together and achieved the first goal of the weekend when John Force grabbed his highest qualifying position of the season with a solid No.2 effort during Saturday's final qualifying session. Following the Castrol GTX High Mileage team were Auto Club's Robert Hight, No. 7, Ashley Force, No. 8 and Mike Neff, No. 14.
TEAM CASTROL/TEAM JFR Details:
JOHN FORCE, 58, Castrol High Mileage Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 2nd at 4.816 seconds, 326.71 mph.
Race results: Lost to Gary Densham,
Notable: Force was 20-1 in first round match-ups versus Densham heading into today's race... Force is just six round wins away from his historic 1,000th round win
Quotable: "There really isn't a lot you can say about today. We are all leaving here alive which is a big plus. The big positive is you learn a lot about what you shouldn't do on days like today. We'll make some changes and move onto Houston."
ASHLEY FORCE, 25, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 8th at 4.864 seconds, 319.45 mph.
Race Results: Beat Scott Kalitta. Lost to Tony Pedregon.
Notable: This is the second year in a row that Ashley Force has advanced to the second round at the Gatornationals.
Quotable: "I wish we could have gotten the win for our sponsors like Castrol, Ford, Auto Club, Old Spice, BrandSource, and Sanyo. We got out of Gainesville safe and we are just going to head on down to Houston."
ROBERT HIGHT, 38, Team Castrol/Auto Club of Southern California Ford
Qualifying position and performance: 7th at 4.863 seconds, 318.39 mph.
Race results: Lost to Del Worsham.
Notable: Maintained No, 1 position in Funny Car POWERade points standings.... second consecutive loss to Worsham (last time at 2007, Pomona2)...first time in 2008 season he has not advanced to the final.
Quotable: "I said it before this weekend started and I still believe it when we get it I believe we'll dominate. I see what these other guys are running out here and we can run that dropping cylinders and backing it down. If we get it right I still believe we dominate."
MIKE NEFF, 40, Team Castrol/Old Spice Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 14th at 4.944 seconds, 291.01 mph.
Race results: Lost to Tim Wilkerson.
Notable: Continues to develop BOSS 500 Ford engine program with Crew Chief John Medlen... looking for first round win.
Quotable: "We especially wanted to win here for Eric and it is just been a bad weekend. We really needed a good one and we had a bad one. We'll just dust ourselves off and we'll go to Houston and get our first win there."