HIGHT'S RUNNER-UP FINISH TIGHTENS UP CHAMPIONSHIP RACE LAS VEGAS -- Robert Hight had never won a round of eliminations at the ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals in his previous three attempts but today he made up for lost time racing into the...
HIGHT'S RUNNER-UP FINISH TIGHTENS UP CHAMPIONSHIP RACE
LAS VEGAS -- Robert Hight had never won a round of eliminations at the ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals in his previous three attempts but today he made up for lost time racing into the final round versus 1992 world champion Cruz Pedregon. In a race that could have moved him into second place Hight narrowly missed getting the win when his Auto Club/Los Angeles Dodgers Ford Mustang came up just short at the finish line 4.111 seconds to Pedregon's 4.10.
"I'm a little bummed that we didn't win. Our car fell off a little and Cruz murdered the tree. I don't know how you do that. Realistically we picked up three rounds today. I'm greedy I would have liked to have picked up four but there is always a bright side. The biggest thing for me is we have a shot at Pomona this year. We didn't really have a shot last year without setting a national record or having Tony Pedregon not qualify," said Hight.
Heading into the final race of the Countdown to 1 Hight is in third place 39 points behind new points leader Cruz Pedregon and 27 points behind former points leader Tim Wilkerson. The points margin is not insurmountable by any stretch of the imagination for Hight considering he closed his points gap today by 53 points and his new gap is less than two rounds of racing.
"Basically (Tim) Wilkerson or Cruz (Pedregon) could go to the semis, lose and I win the race; I'd be the champion. As long as they don't out qualify me too much. The way our car qualifies we'll be alright. The biggest bright side for me is from a performance standpoint. This is the best we have run all year. Hands down, not even close. This Ford Mustang performed great. We had six runs in a row that were all in the ohs. It doesn't get any better than that. We are peaking at the right time," said Hight.
Hight was given a huge helping hand by teammate Mike Neff and the Old Spice team who trailered Tim Wilkerson in the first round. Neff, the hands down favorite for the 2008 Rookie of the Year, award defeated Wilkerson for the first time in six attempts. It was a crowning achievement for the former world champion crew chief and new member of the JFR team.
"That was huge. I thought, 'Finally! Things were finally going our way for once.' I knew Neff could do it. He is a tough dude," concluded Hight.
All four John Force Racing Mustangs advanced out of the first round for just the second time this season and the wins started with John Force defeating Jeff Arend on a hole shot when his superior reaction time allowed his Castrol GTX High Mileage to grab the win with a 4.178 second pass versus Arend's 4.141 run. In the second round Force took out Melanie Troxel with a monster run of 4.077 seconds to set up a vintage Pedregon versus Force semi-final race. Force unfortunately slowed versus Pedregon and with that defeat the chance for an all JFR final disappeared.
"Coming here we needed five or six guys to stumble and at the end of the day now Robert only needs two. Of course now other guys could step up but if he goes to the final and ain't nobody won Pomona more than Robert lately," said the winningest driver in NHRA history. "He has always had good luck there at the season opening race and the World Finals. He needs to do that again and those other guys need to make a mistake."
The team leader knew that heading to the last race of the year after this weekend his team's chances for a championship improved based on their overall performance.
"It is exciting for me that a year has passed now since Eric and my crash and the new technology has started to prove that it is a contender. You have to get up there winning to know your car is a contender. My health is back and I am going to be OK. I am driving my race car again and it is starting to show here the last few races. Maybe I'll get a win by Pomona who knows? At the end of the day all the teams are starting to jibe now. We are pretty excited about that. Our cars are starting to run," added Force.
Even though the day did not finish as successfully as Force had hoped; the fact that he was racing a year after attending the race with multiple broke bones from his crash in Dallas was a huge step forward for the 14-time champion. He was the No. 2 qualifier and his Ford Mustang showed flashes of brilliance that will continue to be fine tuned heading into the last race of the season.
2007 Rookie of the Year Ashley Force defeated fellow Countdown competitor Ron Capps in the first round before falling to Tony Pedregon in round number two. Force will finish the season in the middle of the Countdown pack which is a solid improvement over last year's 10th place POWERade finish. Force is currently in 6th place only 58 and 56 points out of 4th and 5th place, respectively.
"We all qualified good for starters so we went into the race feeling good about our chances. The first round was great for our whole team. Every one of us won and we all had good runs. I actually had the worst run and we had a little luck that round. In the second round we lost and Neff lost but dad and Robert both won. It could have been a better round but that is just how it happens some time," said the 2007 Rookie of the Year. "We gained some points and half of the big hitters went out early and the other half extended their points lead. We'll just have to go into Pomona and do the best that we can. The pressure is really on Robert. He has a great shot at number but we are just trying to move up spots. He definitely has a shot at the championship."
Finally, everyone on the team was talking about Neff and his first round win over Wilkerson as a big moment for the entire team. The rookie put it in perspective from his point of view as his first full season is winding down.
"That was the biggest round of the year for us. It is that time of year. Wilkerson is the points leader and we needed to take him out to help our teammate. We wanted to keep him alive and give him the best chance for that championship going into Pomona," said Neff. "That was huge. He pressed a little too hard and smoked the tires. John Medlen gave us a good car that went down the track and we got the win light. That was exciting to be able to do that and contribute to the cause."
With one race left at the JFR home track, Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Robert Hight summed up his attitude about having his best shot ever at a POWERade world championship. All season long Hight has been preaching the gospel of consistency and performance. Now it looks like the former JFR crewman has both with one race to go and a legitimate shot at the title.
"We have had really good luck there (Pomona). We also have three other Ford Mustangs that are running good. Hopefully Wilkerson and Pedregon can't get to the semi-finals because of my other teammates. I am just excited we actually have a shot. A realistic shot. It is not a long shot. It is a good shot to win this championship. I am tired of finishing second. I know we have what it takes to win this thing with the team with the people. I know I can win rounds."
JOHN FORCE, 59, Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 2nd at 4.062 seconds, 307.37 mph
Race Results: Beat Jeff Arend, Melanie Troxel. Lost to Cruz Pedregon
Quoteable: "Coming here we need five or six guys to stumble and at the end of the day now Robert only needs two. Of course now other guys could set up but if he goes to the final and ain't nobody won Pomona more than Robert lately. He has always had good luck there at the season opening race and the World finals. He needs to do that again and those other guys need to make a mistake."
ASHLEY FORCE, 25, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 4th at 4.069 seconds, 310.05 mph
Race Results: Beat Ron Capps. Lost to Tony Pedregon.
Notable: Recorded fastest Funny Car 1000 ft. mile per hour, 310.05 mph, during qualifying...
Quotable: "We'll just have to go into Pomona and do the best that we can. The pressure is really on Robert. He has a great shot at number but we are just trying to move up spots. He definitely has a shot at the championship."
ROBERT HIGHT, 39, Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 1st at 4.043 seconds, 309.20 mph
Race Results: Beat Tony Bartone, Mike Neff, Tony Pedregon, Cruz Pedregon
Notable: Set personal record for most round wins in a season with 36...5th No. 1 qualifying spot of season....most No.1s of any Funny Car driver this season.
Quotable: "I'm a little bummed that we didn't win. Our car fell off a little and Cruz murdered the tree. I don't know how you do that. Realistically we picked up three rounds today and I'm greedy I would have liked to have picked up four but there is always a bright side. The biggest thing for me is we have a shot at Pomona this year."
MIKE NEFF, 42, Old Spice Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 9th at 4.092 seconds, 304.05 mph
Race Results: Beat Tim Wilkerson. Lost to Robert Hight.
Quotable: "That was the biggest round of the year for us. That was huge. John Medlen gave us a good car that went down the track and we got the win light. That was exciting to be able to do that and contribute to the cause."