ASHLEY FORCE RACES TO RUNNER-UP FINISH AT MEMPHIS MEMPHIS, TN -- Ashley Force and the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang were the last line of defense against the Tim Wilkerson juggernaut at the 21st annual O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals at Memphis ...
ASHLEY FORCE RACES TO RUNNER-UP FINISH AT MEMPHIS
MEMPHIS, TN -- Ashley Force and the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang were the last line of defense against the Tim Wilkerson juggernaut at the 21st annual O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals at Memphis Motorsports Park today. Wilkerson had dispatched team leader John Force in the second round and Robert Hight in the semis before sophomore driver pulled up beside him in the final. In their last head to head race Force ended Wilkerson's day in the first round at zMax Dragway in Charlotte at the first Countdown to 1 race dropping the points leader from first to fourth. Today in Memphis she made a strong run at Wilkerson but in the end it was not her day.
"At the beginning of this race we said we didn't want to just win Full Throttle in qualifying but we wanted to get the Full Throttle and make four great runs on Sunday, too. We actually did it. I think this was the best race we have ever had where we made four great runs in qualifying and then made four solid runs on race day," said Force. "All eight runs were good competitive runs that we were happy running. Everything just kind of fell into place and it paid off. We made it to the final and we haven't been to a final since April when we won in Atlanta."
In the final Wilkerson oiled the track and was docked 15 points allowing Force to pick up more points for a runner-up finish than the eventual event winner, 98 to 97, respectively, thanks to her strong qualifying effort.
"We are happy with how are car is performing. Of course we wanted to win but we were just that close to getting the win. That is drag racing. The tuning was great. I did a great job driving. Everything worked out well it just wasn't our day." J John Force Racing overall had a near record day almost advancing four Mustangs to the semi-finals. In the second round Ashley Force dispatched Gary Scelzi, Mike Neff beat Jack Beckman, Robert Hight nipped Cruz Pedregon and with only one Force Funny Car left to fill up the semi-final quartet John Force dropped his race to Wilkerson as his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang over-powered the track at about 500 feet. Force was even with Wilkerson at the 660 foot mark even though he was drastically losing power at that point.
"Getting three Fords in the semis was tough. There are a lot of good cars out here but I've got four great Mustangs too. I'm with a new sponsor's Sanyo right in their hometown. We really wanted to get them a win. The trick is even if you don't win and get the money you get into the final. You need to get all the exposure. Ashley and her Castrol GTX Mustang have covered us. That is exciting," said the 14-time Funny Car Champion.
Hight was disappointed with his semi-final effort versus Wilkerson but excited to see some of the drivers ahead of him in the point standings go out early. His second round match-up versus Cruz Pedregon was an epic battle as the Countdown heads down to the final three races.
"Beating Cruz on a hole-shot was big. He is tough. Not many guys leave on him so that was a big win. It still dropped cylinder there too. We made it closer than it needed to be," said the number three man in the Funny Car point standings.
Hight and the Auto Club Ford Mustang were hoping to catch Wilkerson well before the semis but his plans were foiled by Ron Capps on Saturday afternoon. Entering the last qualifying session Hight was matched up with Wilkerson until Capps stepped up and moved around the points leader.
"Capps screwed this whole deal up. Capps went around Wilkerson on Saturday of qualifying or I would have run against Wilkerson in the first round. He wouldn't have had anything for that 4.12."
Rookie of the Year front-runner Mike Neff and the Old Spice team improved his chances of winning the $20,000 Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award when they beat Jeff Arend in the first round and then trailered one of the hottest drivers on tour, Jack Beckman, on a hole-shot in the second round, 4.171 to a 4.173 respectively. IIn the semis Neff lost traction at 660 feet racing teammate Ashley Force.
As the Countdown passed the halfway mark all the John Force Racing Ford Mustangs picked up one spot in the standings. Mike Neff has the longest shot for the championship from his No. 9 slot but his Old Spice Ford Mustang showed sparks of brilliance qualifying No. 4 and laying down a solid 4.171 pass in the first round giving him lane choice by two thousandths over Jack Beckman in round two.
"Today was exciting. We qualified good and we made a couple of good runs. I felt confident racing Beckman. We had lane choice. I felt it was going to be a good tight race. Really the biggest thing was I wanted to be able to help out the team. I wanted to be able to help Robert, John and Ashley out," said the newest addition to the JFR team. "We just wanted to do our part. That is what needs to happen. For one of these cars to win the championship the other ones are going to need to stop these other guys that are in contention. I knew it was a big run but I wasn't all worked up. I just wanted to make sure we did our job."
"We barely lost traction against Ashley in the semis. That should have been a good race. To have all the Force cars running as well as they did this weekend and to get Ashley to the finals; it was a good weekend."
Robert Hight has the strongest shot from the No. 3 position only two points outside of the No. 2 spot and 74 points behind Wilkerson which for Hight would equal another strong qualifying effort and three rounds of racing.
"The only thing we can do is go out there and try and be number one, two or three every run you make and that puts a little extra pressure on these other guys to make mistakes. That is all we can do from here on out."
Finally in Ashley and John Force have tightened up their positions, 5th and 7th respectively, and have a legitimate shot at getting right back into championship contention with strong finishes over the final three races. John Force's Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang has made a dramatic improvement the last two races qualifying at the top of the field and going rounds on Sunday.J
JOHN FORCE, 59, Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 3rd at 4.105 seconds, 300.26 mph
Race Results: Beat Tommy Johnson Jr. Lost to Tim Wilkerson.
Notable: Moved up from 7th to 8th in the POWERade points standings
Quoteable: "There are three races left and my daughter Ashley can still move up. We shared a lot of information this year. My car was really down. Jimmy Prock and John Medlen worked with my crew chiefs to fix my car. It is good to be back in the game. If I could have won that round (second round) I would have won that race. That's why they call it racing."
ASHLEY FORCE, 25, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 1st at 4.079 seconds, 298.81 mph
Race Results: Beat Bob Tasca III, Gary Scelzi, Mike Neff. Lost to Tim Wilkerson.
Notable: Moved from 6th to 5th in the POWERade points standings... picked up more points at the event 98 than eventual winner Tim Wilkerson, 97.
Quotable: "Everything just kind of fell into place and it paid off. We made it to the final and we haven't been to a final since April when we won in Atlanta. We don't want to change anything. We are happy with how are car is performing. Of course we wanted to win but we were just that close to getting the win. That is drag racing. The tuning was great. I did a great job driving. Everything worked out well it just wasn't our day."
ROBERT HIGHT, 39, Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 7th at 4.122 seconds, 285.95
Race Results: Beat Ron Capps, Cruz Pedregon. Lost to Tim Wilkerson.
Notable: Moved up to 3rd in the POWERade points standings only 2 points behind Jack Beckman in 2nd.
Quotable: "The only thing we can do is go out there and try and be number one, two or three every run you make and that puts a little extra pressure on these other guys to make mistakes. That is all we can do."
MIKE NEFF, 42, Old Spice Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 4th at 4.113 seconds, 297.42 mph
Race Results: Beat Jeff Arend, Jack Beckman. Lost to Ashley Force.
Notable: Moved up to 9th from 10th in the POWERade point standings... Neff is only 21 points out of 7th place.
Quotable: "Today was exciting. We qualified well and we made a couple of good runs. Then we barely lost traction against Ashley in the semis. That should have been a good race. To have all the Force cars running as well as they did this weekend and to get Ashley to the finals; it was a good weekend."