QUALIFYING POINTS A FACTOR IN HIGHT'S LATE SEASON SURGE Auto Club Driver Within 54 of Funny Car Points Leader LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- The quickest qualifier at this week's sixth annual ACDelco Las Vegas Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor ...
QUALIFYING POINTS A FACTOR
IN HIGHT'S LATE SEASON SURGE
Auto Club Driver Within 54 of Funny Car Points Leader
LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- The quickest qualifier at this week's sixth annual ACDelco Las Vegas Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway will earn a measly eight bonus points. That's just seven more than the driver who claims the 16th and final spot in Sunday's starting lineup.
Nevertheless, Robert Hight has demonstrated this season just how important those little bonus points can be.
Last year's winner of the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award as the NHRA Rookie of the Year, Hight is a contender for the 2006 POWERade Funny Car championship primarily because of his qualifying prowess at the wheel of the Team Castrol/Auto Club Ford Mustang.
Third in POWERade points with just two races remaining, Hight believes he can move past Ron Capps and into second place (behind boss and teammate John Force) simply by doing what he has done all season long and that is putting up the category's best qualifying numbers in an 8,000 horsepower Ford tuned by Jimmy Prock.
"Our goal is the same as it is every week," Hight said. "We want to qualify No. 1 and then we want to win the race for the Auto Club, Ford and Castrol. I know Jimmy will give me a car that's capable of doing that. We're eight points behind Capps and if we can qualify just a few positions ahead of him in these last two races, we could make that up."
The No. 1 qualifier a category-best eight times this year, Hight has earned 95 more qualifying points this year than Capps (158-63). That's the equivalent of winning four additional rounds of racing and it is one of the biggest reasons Hight is a position to win the title in just his second season.
Of course, the 37-year-old Californian has been pretty good on race day, too. In addition to a victory in the season-opening CARQUEST Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., he won the biggest race in the series, the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Ind., and followed up a week later by winning the O'Reilly Fall Nationals at Dallas, Texas.
A finalist in three of the last four races in the series, Hight is hoping this week to reverse his fortunes at LVMS.
Although he set the track record (4.702 seconds) in qualifying No. 1 for last spring's SummitRacing.com Nationals, the one-time Force crewman hasn't advanced beyond the second round in three appearances at The Strip and will be looking for his first round win in the ACDelco race in which he was upset in the first round last year by Mike Ashley.
A five-time winner in his first two seasons, Hight credits Prock for his emergence as a legitimate contender.
"Jimmy really has a good feel for the car and we've got a great group of guys," he said. "To be a success in a team sport like this you have to have chemistry and we have that. These guys do everything together, whether it's eating or racing go-karts or going to the movies and I think it shows when they're working on the car. It's something special."
It's so special, in fact, that it could produce a championship although Hight admits that still is a long shot.
"John's ahead by almost three rounds with two races to go," he said, "and Capps is right behind him, but we're not out of it. It should be an exciting finish just like last year (when Gary Scelzi won the championship with Capps just eight points behind and Force just 32 off the pace)."