NEFF RUNNER-UP AT O'REILLY SPRING NATIONALS
BAYTOWN, TX --- Mike Neff and the Castrol GTX Mustang dominated all day at the O’Reilly Spring Nationals at Royal Purple Raceway. Through the first three rounds of eliminations Neff was untouchable but the only thing that could derail Neff was a long day and the tough Houston weather. By the end of the day Neff was simply physically and mentally spent prior to his final round with Jeff Arend.
“It has been so humid out here today. I just didn’t take care of my physical self today. I got to the final and my brain was just not all there,” said Neff who took the points lead. ”I am sorry because these guys gave me a great car. That is also what I am encouraged by. We had a great Mustang and it was as good as ever. We’ll take our licks and I’ll work harder. Motor looked great. Everything was just great.”
Mike Neff’s Castrol GTX Ford Mustang was the class of the field all day. In the first round he defeated Tony Pedregon 4.132 to 4.251; in the second round Neff ran 4.122 to Matt Hagan’s 4.211 and in the semi-finals Neff rolled out a 4.133 to Beckman’s 4.214. Heading into the final on paper it looked like Neff would be picking up his second pewter Wally of 2011 but unfortunately NHRA Full Throttle races are not run on paper. In the final Neff two-stepped the throttle and red-lit versus Jeff Arend of Kalitta Racing.
“My guys gave me such a great car today. That is what is tough about this loss. I am not taking anything away from Jeff Arend and the DHL team. They got the job done in the final. I am just trying to learn from this. I made a mistake and I have made them before.”
“I asked myself, ‘Why did I do that?’ I realized I didn’t eat anything today and then I got dehydrated so I chugged some water then I popped some aspirin. I have to get myself in better shape and I have to take care of myself. I have to be able to get myself through the day. It is such a long day and I am just worn out at the end by the time we get to the final. I just let myself get away. I am going to go home and I am going to get in better shape. I got plenty of sleep last night. I have to be ready for the fight. I just wore down today and made a mistake. That is the long and short of it.”
Team leader and owner John Force had nothing but praise for Neff and 2009 Funny Car champion Robert Hight.
“I have no complaints today. I have three Mustangs in the top ten. Neff took the points lead. Today was just an exciting day. Even my Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang is flying. I am just not where I need to be in the cockpit,” said Force. “There is a lot of work ahead of us. We are all learning about the new blue tree. It is different but the same. I am just really proud of Robert and Mike.”
At the end of the day JFR has three Mustangs in the top seven and all are putting up consistent performance numbers. Force is also encouraged by the youth movement at JFR.
“It is awesome to have three hot rods doing so well. Neff’s car is just running unbelievable. He is driving that car and tuning it with John Schaffer and Dan Hood. They have all these young kids and they are just great. I didn’t start winning until I was their age. They are just starting to learn. That tells me there is a future with these teams. I have the people that can go the next twenty years. We are going to round up everybody and get some dinner then head to Atlanta. We’ll be testing with Courtney, my baby tomorrow, so that will be a great day. I’ll be studying that tree all day.”
Force dropped his second round match-up versus Jack Beckman. Force had a performance advantage on the track but Beckman’s slight starting line jump gave him the couple hundredths of a second he needed to beat the 15-time Funny Car champion. Force’s Castrol GTX Ford Mustang covered the 1000 feet in 4.177 seconds to Beckman’s 4.183 second run. Force had a solid .086 reaction time but Beckman executed a .065 reaction time.
Robert Hight and the AAA Texas Ford continued a tough trend at Royal Purple Raceway. Since winning his first race in 2005 at the south Texas track Hight has only won one additional round. Today he was ousted in the first round by Matt Hagan. Hight by his own admission was undone by a poor qualifying effort.
“This was not a good weekend for us. We put ourselves in a tough position with qualifying. In the first round we were in the bad lane. (Crew chief) Jimmy (Prock) really believes that our setup would have gone down the left lane but the truth is we weren’t in that lane. We’ll learn from it and move on.”
“We have had a lot of success in Atlanta. We definitely have to learn from here so we can do well in Atlanta. I think we will do that. Neff’s car and my car are set up a lot alike. Jimmy will have a week and a half to analyze what we need to do. We’ll look at Neff’s data and work with them. We’ll be ready for Atlanta.”
Hight and Prock were using information from previous races and it did not pan out for the tandem that has already won two races in 2011 and twenty since 2005.
“Vegas was our first hot race. We were going off of runs we made in Vegas here. The track was hotter in Las Vegas but the track was not as good here. We were using Vegas’ temperatures and going off of how we did in Las Vegas and it didn’t work for us. It was almost 130 degrees in Atlanta and I ran 4.18 all day long. We were doing in Atlanta what Neff did here.”
“I have a lot of confidence and there is no reason we can’t do that again. We are smarter than we were last year. We’ll learn from here and move on. We still have one of the Force teams in the points lead. Neff and I are back and forth every race. I wish we were going.” to Atlanta next weekend. We have one weekend off and then we have two in a row. I am excited for that. I can’t wait to really get this Auto Club Mustang rolling.”