HIGHT RETAINS POINTS LEAD; FORCE LOSES A POSITION IN STANDINGS Robert "Top Gun" Hight stumbled in the semifinals of the 20th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Mid-South Nationals Sunday at Memphis Motorsports Park, but still managed to pad his Funny...
HIGHT RETAINS POINTS LEAD; FORCE LOSES A POSITION IN STANDINGS
Robert "Top Gun" Hight stumbled in the semifinals of the 20th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Mid-South Nationals Sunday at Memphis Motorsports Park, but still managed to pad his Funny Car points lead and move a step closer to qualifying for the Countdown to Four that will determine the drivers who will compete for the $500,000 championship.
The No. 1 qualifier for the 22nd time in 64 career races, Hight cruised through the first two rounds before a broken lifter slowed his potent Auto Club Ford Mustang by a tenth of a second in a semifinal match with Jack Beckman.
For Hight, it was deja vu all over again. The 2005 winner of the Auto Club's Road to the Future Award now has had the same result in each of his three career appearances in the Mid-South Nationals. Each year, he's qualified No. 1, won two rounds and exited in the semifinals.
Even though he didn't reach the finals, Hight opened up a 53-point lead over Beckman in the Funny Car points.
While Hight was solidifying his points position, boss and teammate John Force fell from sixth to seventh when he was unable to successfully defend the championship he had won two of the last three years. After beating Cruz Pedregon in round one, Force was upended by Beckman in the second round when his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford stumbled just before the finish line. Beckman won in 4.897 seconds; Force lost in 4.959.
Also he lost a position, Force still is just two rounds removed from fourth and final transfer spot with two races remaining before the final cut.
Rookie-of-the-year candidate Ashley Force turned in another strong qualifying performance before losing to Del Worsham when the No. 15 qualifier put up the quickest time of the entire first round.
"You know, we honestly said coming into this race that we'd be happy just doing what we've done here the last two years," Hight said. "We're looking at this Countdown deal and we're trying to race smart and make sure we're in the final four."
"We went up there (for the semifinals) expecting to run another 4.85 or 4.86," said the owner of the two quickest times in Funny Car history. "We never expected it to slow down (to 4.945 seconds). It was running perfect. My team did a great job this weekend. No mistakes. It's just one of those things that happen in racing.
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TEAM CASTROL Details:
JOHN FORCE, 58, Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 4th at 4.818 seconds at 317.05 mph. Race results: Beat Cruz Pedregon; lost to Jack Beckman.
Notable: Rebounded from DNQ at the Labor Day Mac Tools U.S. Nationals and beat former series champion Cruz Pedregon for the 49th time.
Quotable: "We don't need to win rounds anymore. We need to win races. We're going to test here tomorrow with all three cars and then we're going to go to Dallas and try to hurt some feelings."
JASHLEY FORCE, 24, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 2nd at 4.810 seconds, 316.38 mph. Race results: Lost to Del Worsham.
Notable: Was the No. 1 qualifier after two of four sessions before qualifying No. 2 for second straight race and for the third time this year.
Quotable: "It was a pretty disappointing day because we had a really good race car. But we're not going to hang our heads. We're just going to keep learning and keep trying and eventually, we're going to get that first win."
ROBERT HIGHT, 38, Team Castrol/Auto Club of Southern California Ford
Qualifying position and performance: 1st at 4.762 seconds, 320.36 mph. Race results: Beat Jeff Arend, Tony Bartone; lost to Jack Beckman.
Notable: Lowered the Memphis Motorsports Park track record to 4.762 seconds and retained the POWERade points lead .
Quotable: "It's pretty fun to drive when it's like this. It's fast and Jimmy (crew chief Jimmy Prock) says we've just scratched the surface with the combination we're running now. I wish the next race was tomorrow."