Houston: John Force preview

BAYTOWN, Texas -- Realistically, all John Force must do to lock up an unprecedented eighth consecutive NHRA Winston Funny Car Championship is qualify his Castrol GTX® Ford Mustang for the season's last three races, the first of them this ...

BAYTOWN, Texas -- Realistically, all John Force must do to lock up an unprecedented eighth consecutive NHRA Winston Funny Car Championship is qualify his Castrol GTX® Ford Mustang for the season's last three races, the first of them this week's fourth -- and final -- Matco Tools SuperNationals at Houston Raceway Park. He needn't qualify No. 1 (16th is just as good), needn't lower the NHRA national record (4.788 seconds), the one he set at HRP little more than a year ago, needn't even win a round or racing. In fact, since he has been in the starting lineup for 250 straight NHRA races dating back to 1987, his coronation as the first Funny Car champion of the new millennium is considered by many a foregone conclusion. However, that's not the way the way the 1996 American motor racing Driver of the Year wants to win his record-tying 10th career title. Force would prefer to wrap things up this week by repeating as SuperNationals Funny Car champion. "First, we haven't clinched the championship," Force said. "If you do the numbers, there's still an outside chance that (Ron) Capps or (Jerry) Toliver could catch us. They set national records the next three races, that's a lot of bonus points. Plus I could break my leg and not be able to drive. Nothing's a sure thing. "Bottom line, we don't want to back into it," Force said. "We wanted to (clinch) last week at the (Texas) Motorplex but the weather stopped us (postponing the O'Reilly Fall Nationals until next week). Now, we want to win it at Houston and get it over with. "You give guys like that enough chances, they'll finally bury you," Force said of Capps who, with a victory three weeks ago at Memphis, Tenn., moved to within 290 points of the lead, and Toliver, the early-season pacesetter who has fallen 306 points behind. "I know they think I'm paranoid, but I still remember '92 (when Cruz Pedregon won five of the season's last six races, caught him and thereby spoiled what would have been a perfect decade). So, until they tell me there's no chance, I won't sleep." Force's paranoia is compounded by the recollection of last spring's O'Reilly Nationals at HRP in which unheralded Bob Gilbertson, the No. 16 qualifier, upset him in the first round on the way to a breakthrough first career victory. In fact, while Force has won nine times this season (running his record breaking career total to 90), he also has been ousted in the first round four times, only the second time in 11 years he has lost that many decisions in the initial round. Still, in balance, the 51-year-old Californian has enjoyed more good days than bad at HRP. He's won six times in 16 career appearances, owns track records for quarter mile time (the aforementioned 4.788) and speed (321.88 mph) and has won more than 78 per cent of the two-car heats in which he has been involved. Should he win again Sunday, it not only would clinch the title, it would assure a record fifth 10-victory season, his second in succession.

www.johnforceracing.com

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Series NHRA
Drivers Bob Gilbertson , John Force , Cruz Pedregon