MIKE NEFF, ASHLEY FORCE IMPRESS AT NIGHT AT MAC TOOLS U.S. NATIONALS (INDIANAPOLIS) --- Rookie Mike Neff and teammate Ashley Force took advantage of cool night-time conditions as both drivers raced into the provisional top twelve during the ...
MIKE NEFF, ASHLEY FORCE IMPRESS AT NIGHT AT MAC TOOLS U.S. NATIONALS
(INDIANAPOLIS) --- Rookie Mike Neff and teammate Ashley Force took advantage of cool night-time conditions as both drivers raced into the provisional top twelve during the evening session of qualifying on Saturday at the 54th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals.
Neff blasted from the outside of the tough Funny Car field and landed in the No. 4 position with two more qualifying sessions tomorrow. Competing in his first Mac Tools U.S Nationals as a driver, the front-runner for the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award made the most of the optimal conditions.
"That run was exactly what we were shooting for. We talked about it before the run knowing that this session was really going to set most of the field for the race. There are so many cars here you definitely don't want to put yourself in the position of having to try and scratch your way in tomorrow. This run tonight was very important and we did exactly what we wanted to do," said crew chief turned driver. "We wanted to get ourselves up towards the front to get lane choice. We didn't want to take any unnecessary risks and throw this chance away. We made a good solid and ended up fourth and that is exactly what we wanted to do."
While the elapsed time is what matters when it comes to qualifying Neff's impressive 303.03 mph wowed the crowd at O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis and showed the continual improvement of the Ford BOSS 500 motor.
"That last run was a good run for us. It definitely was pulling the whole way down the track until I shut it off. The Ford BOSS 500 just keeps getting better," said Neff. "The parts have been looking real good and I think that is why you see the speed starting to increase. The motor is just running happier."
Following a violent blower explosion in the first round that fractured her commemorative pink Rookie of the Year Ford Mustang body Ashley Force also raced into the top twelve with a strong 4.122 second pass.
"The biggest part of (making a good run tonight) was we knew these were the ideal conditions of the weekend and it won't be like this tomorrow. We got in tonight so we don't have to worry about that tomorrow. Usually you don't have to think about qualifying on a race day," said Force. "That only happens once a year and it has never happened to us since we haven't been in the US Smokeless Showdown before. To be able to focus on rounds and not worry about qualifying is a good thing."
The biggest disappointments for John Force Racing came when Robert Hight failed to improve on his opening round qualifying time on Friday and slipped to No. 5 position. The disappointment was impossible for the 2006 Mac Tools U.S. Nationals champion to mask.
"We made a decent run last night and we had two bad runs today. There is not much else you can say. I'd like to have more confidence going into tomorrow," said the No.2 Showdown qualifier. "We can get back to running like we did on Friday so that is a big plus. The most important thing for me right now is to go down the track three runs tomorrow."
For the second year in a row John Force will go into Sunday's final day of qualifying and the US Smokeless Showdown on the outside of the qualified field. Last year the 14-time POWERade champion failed to qualify but this year with the modified qualifying rules he will have two chances to be one of the four quickest non-qualified Funny Cars.
"I'm in the same situation I was in last year. You want to win to win the US Smokeless Showdown so you want to run hard. You push it to the edge but you need to make the show. There are going to be about eight cars out of that ten (that are not currently qualified) that will go down the race track. The rest of them probably won't," said the 14-time POWERade champion. "Four out of that group will make it into the race on Monday. That is what happened to me last year I tried to win and we choked."
The only highlight of a forgettable early round of qualifying on Saturday was John Force's pass of 4.243 which was the third quickest of the session and moved him into the 11th qualifying position for the moment.
Mike Neff and his Old Spice Ford Mustang team made a solid run with a 4.260 second pass but it was not quick enough to move him into the Top Twelve. Robert Hight and the Auto Club Ford Mustang smoked the tires but he held onto his number one position. Ashley Force improved over her Friday night time with a 4.294 second pass but like Neff she was forced to wait until the night session to dramatically improve.
* * * *
JOHN FORCE, 59, Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang
Qualifying: 18th quickest run at 4.243 seconds, 288.21 mph
Quotes: "(Crew chief Austin) Coil and I already discussed our strategy for tomorrow. I have other cars that can win the Showdown. I am still going to try and win but I've got to squeeze everything out of that tree that I can. I'm in the same predicament (as last year when Force was not qualified going into Sunday). We got our chance like everyone else and like last year we choked it again."
ASHLEY FORCE, 25, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
Qualifying: 7th quickest run at 4.122 seconds, 302.41 mph
Quotes: "I'm excited about racing my dad (in first round of Showdown). The qualifying days get long and dragged out. You work so hard to make a good run but it is just not the same as race day. I think the crew guys feel the same way. You are just more excited when there are elimination rounds. I'm excited we get two race days in a row. Hopefully we will do well tomorrow and if we don't we'll have another chance the next day."
ROBERT HIGHT, 39, Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang
Qualifying: 5th at 4.114 seconds, 297.48 mph
Quotes: "We made a decent run last night and we had two bad runs today. There is not much else you can say. I'd like to have more confidence going into tomorrow. We can get back to running like we did on Friday so that is a big plus. The most important thing for me right now is to go down the track three runs tomorrow."
MIKE NEFF, 41, Old Spice Ford Mustang
Qualifying: 4th at 4.114 seconds, 303.03 mph
Quotes: "Tonight's run will set the field for tomorrow. It is that important. You don't want to throw an opportunity like this away. My hat is off to (crew chief) John Medlen. This was a good solid run."