FORCE HOOD RACES TO 3RD CONSECUTIVE COUNTDOWN SEMI; GRABS POINTS LEAD MEMPHIS --- Ashley Force Hood did not get the win on Monday at the O'Reilly NHRA Mid-South Nationals but she left the track outside Memphis with the points lead and the ...
FORCE HOOD RACES TO 3RD CONSECUTIVE COUNTDOWN SEMI; GRABS POINTS LEAD
MEMPHIS --- Ashley Force Hood did not get the win on Monday at the O'Reilly NHRA Mid-South Nationals but she left the track outside Memphis with the points lead and the confidence of a driver who knows their team is peaking at the right time. She raced to the semi-finals, her third in a row of the Countdown, where she fell to eventual race winner Jeff Arend. Force Hood defeated fellow Countdown contenders Del Worsham and Tim Wilkerson in the first two rounds before she ran up against Arend. In the semis it was Arend's 4.109 besting Force Hood's 4.119.
"We are bummed we didn't win but we are pumped that we went to another semi-final. That is our third semi-final in the first three Countdown races. Our Mustang ran really good this weekend that semi-final was just a really good close race. That will sometime bite you. I don't know if we would have done anything differently. That was one of our best runs of the day. We will just take that and know that we have a really good running car and even in these crazy changing conditions we managed to still have a handle on our Mustang. We'll go to Richmond and I'll assume the conditions will be cool like this. That is a plus for us. We'll try and go some rounds there. Semis is our goal every race. If we can just semi-finalize them to death we'll be good. You are getting a lot of points and if you can get to that second half of the race you are doing well," said Force Hood.
As Force Hood leaves Memphis headed to Richmond she is a mere three points in front of brother-in-law Robert Hight and 26 points in front of Tony Pedregon. With the new qualifying bonus points in play this is realistically a lead of one round or less.
"The competition is so tight. You can't be great in one area like having a great running car and not do a good driving job or vice versa. You have to be on your game in every aspect. Preparation of the car, driving, reaction times, every area has to be on target. I think that is why we are going to semis and we are leading the points because we have managed to figure out how to strive for that perfection and you are not always going to be perfect. If we try and continue what we are doing and know that we have figured something out then that will be our best game plan."
Force Hood moved around the hottest driver in the category, her teammate Robert Hight and the Auto Club team, when she moved into the semis. Hight had one of the best cars the past month racing to three consecutive finals (Indianapolis, Charlotte, and Dallas) picking up two wins (Charlotte and Dallas) in the first two Countdown to 1 races. Hight moved from 12th to 1st place in the Full Throttle points standings and was looking to extend that points lead in Memphis.
He was in great position to do just that by qualifying No. 1 for the fourth time in five appearances but for the first time he failed to reach at least the semi-finals at Memphis Motorsports Park. Hight is also a believer in the race to the semis and have a shot at the championship plan Force Hood believes in. He also knows his team is moving in the right direction at the right time. The second round loss to Ron Capps was a tough pill to swallow but Hight's 4.117 was just a little off versus Capps' 4.109.
"Our Auto Club Ford Mustang is performing well. I am driving alright. We got out ran (versus Capps). We didn't make any mistakes or smoke the tires. (Crew chief) Jimmy (Prock) was racing a little safe. I didn't get left on. They just shot a shot out there on us. First round it was a little fast and Jimmy softened it up. The second round it was a little too soft. It kind of stuck the tire leaving and had we had that happened in the first round it wouldn't have done that and we would have fixed it and it would have beat him in the second round. You have to give (Capps) credit they went up there and made a good run. They got themselves right back into this points race. Ashley and I are fighting it out. Tony Pedregon will basically be right there with us if he wins this race. I am glad we have our two cars up at the top. We'll just keep fighting," said Hight.
"Other teams are always gunning for you. That is not a big deal. They should be gunning for us. I am gunning for them. That is how we got into this position and got back up on top. We work hard and do the right thing. We have to continue to do the right thing and we'll be just fine."
14-time NHRA Funny Car champion picked up a first round win over veteran Jim Head but he was also up-ended by Jeff Arend in the next round. Force had lane choice over Arend but he did not have enough power to get the win dropping a heart-breaker, 4.17 to 4.10. The loss positioned the winningest driver in NHRA history right behind the eight-ball with three Countdown races left. It is not a position Force is planning on getting comfortable in.
"The mindset for us is number one my race car isn't where it needs to be. It has come around a long way. It was good enough to get me in the Countdown but it is not where I want it for a run at the title. I have done this too long just to be one of the players. I want to win or I don't want to be here. Thank god for Ashley carrying the ball for the Force name and Robert Hight. They are showing what they can do for Castrol and Auto Club. Mac Tools, Ford, BrandSource, and Sanyo all these people that pay money they want performance out of all these Mustangs. I am going to give it to them," said Force.
Finally, Mike Neff and his Ford Drive One Mustang had the toughest draw in the first round. As the only John Force Racing Mustang in the bottom half of the qualifying order they were starting at a disadvantage against Tony Pedregon. A win would have given Neff some much needed momentum.
"Today we had a close race in the first round. That can be the penalty for qualifying down at the bottom. You know you are going to get somebody that is running good. Tony Pedregon has been running good all weekend. We gave him a good race we just came up a little short. That is the luck of the draw," said Neff.
Neff will gather the team together and head to Richmond with three races left in the Countdown. His number one priority now is getting that first career win as a driver.
"We want to win. We want to win a race. We want to finish strong. Winning a race and going some rounds in the Countdown would show that we are performing well. That is the main thing for us," concluded Neff.