FORCE HAS THE NHRA POINTS LEAD; DOES HE HAVE THE PERFORMANCE? 13-Time Series Champ Leads Scelzi, Capps into Las Vegas LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- For John Force, drag racing's most prolific winner, it's Deja Vu all over again this week at The Strip...
FORCE HAS THE NHRA POINTS LEAD; DOES HE HAVE THE PERFORMANCE?
13-Time Series Champ Leads Scelzi, Capps into Las Vegas
LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- For John Force, drag racing's most prolific winner, it's Deja Vu all over again this week at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, site of Sunday's fifth annual ACDelco Las Vegas Nationals.
Three years ago, Force needed a standout performance in the same event just to hold off Funny Car teammate Tony Pedregon, who had closed to within 13 points in the race for the championship.
He responded by driving his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang to victory in a classic final round (4.820-to-4.869), thereby winning in Nevada for the first, and only, time in his career and gaining the momentum necessary to secure a record 10th straight series championship.
Fast forward to the present.
Force again is under the gun, this time pressured by Dodge drivers Gary Scelzi and Ron Capps, who trail by 36 and 57 points, respectively, in the closest points race in Funny Car history.
"There's still a lot of racing left," Force said. "It's not just the guys racing for the championship Capps, Scelzi, Robert (Hight) and Eric (Medlen). There's a bunch of other guys out there who can beat you that aren't in the hunt. It's about going rounds and there are no easy races anymore.
"We won last week (two weeks ago at Dallas, Texas) and Scelzi went out in the first round," Force sad. "This week it could turn back around. I've lost more first rounds this year (nine) than I ever have. That's how tough it is in Funny Car right now."
Among those aforementioned "spoliers" are Tony Pedregon, who left John Force Racing after winning the 2003 series championship; Del Worsham, last year's championship runner-up; former Mac Toools U.S. Nationals Champions Tim Wilkerson and Frank Pedregon; and Whit Bazemore, teammate to Scelzi and Capps at Don Schumacher Racing.
Nevertheless, Force is cautiously optimistic after his race day performance at the Texas Motorplex where he coaxed his national record-holding Castrol GTX® Start Up™ Ford through the quarter mile timers in 4.835, 4.838 and 4.834 seconds to reach the final round where he unloaded a best-of-the-race 4.797 second time.
However, whereas he historically has performed well at the Motorplex, where he now has won seven times, he has not been nearly as dominant at LVMS where he has advanced beyond the second round just three times in 10 tries.
Significantly, he has lost to Scelzi the last two years at the ACDelco Nationals and last spring was upset in the first round of the SummitRacing.com Nationals by Capps. As a result, the 56-year-old icon has openly questioned why Las Vegas oddsmakers would establish him as the 3-to-1 favorite.
"I don't know what they've been watching," he said. "I've never had any luck in Vegas, but maybe we've come back around."
The 13-time series champion, Force is bidding this week for his 120th tour victory, his sixth of the current campaign. No one else has won more than three times. Usually, that would spell lights out for the competition, but this has been anything but a usual season.
Coming in, Force never had lost more than seven first round races in a season and never had won a championship after losing as many as five.
"Times have changed. If it hadn't been so competitive this year, I would have been out of it already with that many losses. But everybody has beaten everybody else and that's left it wide open."
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Did You Know? This weekend, John can extend to 368 the record number of consecutive events for which he has qualified a Castrol GTX Funny Car. It's been almost 23 years since he last failed to make a starting lineup. That was on Oct. 31, 1987 at Pomona, Calif....John has won at least one tour event for 19 straight seasons and three or more for 15 straight years....last year, after qualifying No. 7, John beat Ron Capps, Eric Medlen and Gary Densham before losing in the ACDelco finals to Gary Scelzi.....John is a 12-time Auto Racing All-America selection....John has won at least 30 rounds of racing for 16 consecutive seasons....this is the first time since 1991 that John has not won at least one race from the No. 1 starting position. His victories this year have come from No. 4 (Phoenix), No. 5 (Atlanta), No. 7 (Topeka and Dallas) and No. 8 (Columbus)....John's current national record numbers (4.665 seconds, 333.58 mph) could be in jeopardy at one of the last two races.