Joliet: John Force preview

ALTHOUGH HE'S STILL WINLESS, FORCE REMAINS FOCUSED ON CHAMPIONSHIP 13-Time Champ Looking for Breakthrough at Route 66 Raceway JOLIET, Ill. -- He's the most prolific winner in NHRA drag racing history, but John Force never has secured a ...

ALTHOUGH HE'S STILL WINLESS, FORCE REMAINS FOCUSED ON CHAMPIONSHIP

13-Time Champ Looking for Breakthrough at Route 66 Raceway

JOLIET, Ill. -- He's the most prolific winner in NHRA drag racing history, but John Force never has secured a series championship after going this deep into the season without a victory.

That may be cause for hope among the 13-time champion's Funny Car rivals, but for Force, it's just another challenge, another opportunity to do something he hasn't done before.

"We've got a fast car," Force said of his national record-holding 2006 Castrol GTX® Ford Mustang. "It just hasn't been consistent. But once (crew chiefs Austin) Coil and Bernie (Fedderly) get it figured out, we're gonna win some races."

It's not like the 13-time Auto Racing All-American hasn't had his chances. He's been to the final round four times in the first nine events in the 2006 NHRA POWERade Series. Each time he came up just short; three times against current points leader Ron Capps, whom he trails by 109 points as the tour moves this week to Route 66 Raceway for the ninth annual CARQUEST Nationals.

"Cappsie and (crew chief Ed) McCulloch have just been doing a better job. It's as simple as that," Force said. "But it's a long season. The toughest part is still ahead of us. We'll see what it looks like at Indy (site of the Labor Day Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, the event that traditionally starts the stretch run to the championship)."

Force, who sped down the Route 66 quarter mile in 4.665 seconds at 333.58 miles per hour more than 18 months ago, setting track and national Funny Car records, may have a car capable of going even quicker this weekend.

The new Mustang, in development since shortly after he drove a 2003 model to the current record (Oct. 2, 2004), carried Force through the timers in a barrier-busting 4.664 seconds at the season-opening CARQUEST Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., and has qualified the 119-time tour winner on the "pole" four times in nine events.

In fact, either Force's Ford or one of those driven by teammates Robert Hight and Eric Medlen has started every race this season from No. 1. Unfortunately, neither of the three has yet been able to translate that qualifying dominance into a race win. Force hopes to reverse that trend this week.

"You expect big numbers when you come to Chicago," he said, "and if it's cool (this week), you could see a record. We have a car that could do it, but so does Robert (who's run as quickly as 4.680 seconds this year and set track records at three of the last five events in the Auto Club Mustang) and so do Capps, (Gary) Scelzi, Tony (Pedregon) and Eric.

"When the weather gets cool, everybody runs good," Force said, "but the championship's gonna be won in the heat and Capps has been real good in the heat. We're getting better, but we're not quite there, yet."

While the summer heat might hold the key to the championship, Force knows that predicted cool weather this week might provide his last best chance to pick up the 20 bonus points that accompany a new national record.

Last year, during his unsuccessful 11th hour bid to overtake Scelzi for the championship, Force went after the record (for the bonus points) with a car that wasn't up to the challenge. This year's car is much better but the 1996 Driver of the Year insists that it's too early to go into "record mode."

"We're here to win the race," Force said. "It's that simple. If a record comes, it comes."

-www.johnforceracing.com-

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Eric Medlen , Robert Hight