Norwalk: John Force Racing Saturday notes

NEFF HOLDS ONTO NO. 1 IN NORWALK Hight Stays No. 2, Rest of JFR in Top Half NORWALK, OH --- On the PGA TOUR they talk about Saturday of a tournament as "moving day." It is the day when the tournament "contenders" make a move up the leader board...

Hight Stays No. 2, Rest of JFR in Top Half

NORWALK, OH --- On the PGA TOUR they talk about Saturday of a tournament as "moving day." It is the day when the tournament "contenders" make a move up the leader board and "pretenders" start falling down the same leader board.

Tomorrow the 3rd annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals could become moving day for the Funny Car Full Throttle point standings. Led by No. 1 qualifier Mike Neff and No. 2 qualifier Robert Hight after round two of eliminations John Force Racing will be either a team on the move up the points standings or a team moving onto the Western Swing with added pressure on two of their young stars.

"Tomorrow is huge. It doesn't get any more important," said Robert Hight, driver of the Auto Club Ford Mustang who is No. 12 and 75 points out of 9th place. "It is one less race if we don't win a round. It is one less race we have to get into the Top Ten. There are some guys ahead of us that will for sure move up because of the pairings."

"If we win a couple of rounds and hopefully win the race there are going to be some guys that are just in front of us going out early. I race Cruz (Pedregon) so that is tough. Looks like conditions are going to change tomorrow. It will be cooler and there is a chance of rain. The track will be tighter and it will be the best we have seen all weekend. Those are the conditions where Cruz's team shines. We definitely have to be on our game everywhere tomorrow and take him out. I honestly believe it is a must win for us first round."

Three first round match-ups of Ford Mustangs will be key for Hight, teammate Mike Neff, and fellow Ford driver Bob Tasca III. If all three of these drivers win in the first round Neff will move into 9th place from 11th in the Full Throttle point standings, Tasca will maintain his position in the Top Ten and Hight will close the gap on Matt Hagan and Cruz Pedregon to less than three rounds of racing. A win for Hight could catapult him into the Top Ten as well.

For No. 1 qualifier Mike Neff and his Ford Drive One Mustang team success has been building over the past four races. They have improved their qualifying position with each passing race finally grabbing their first No. 1 of the 2009 season in Norwalk. At the previous two NHRA national events here teammate Robert Hight held down the No. 1 spot going into eliminations.

"This (qualifying at the top of the field) is exactly what we need to be doing right now at this time of the year, in the position we are at in the points. Our Drive One Ford Mustang has been running great for really the last four races. We have been improving every weekend and that is a tribute to (crew chief) John Medlen and the crew. Now it is up to me to make sure I can do my job driving to make sure we can go some rounds. I am real pleased. I know Medlen feels good. It is important for Ford to keep those Mustangs at the top and it was great to see Robert up there as well be right behind us in the No. 2 spot," said Neff, the driver with the most to gain in the first round tomorrow.

As conditions warmed up today at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park, Neff's John Medlen tuned Mustang made the best pass of the opening qualifying session. In the second session they were trying to find the competitive edge of what the track would hold but overshot it and smoked the tires on their last attempt.

"We absolutely learned a few things from our two passes today. It was actually hotter that second run and fortunately we made a good run in the first session today. We got a lot of information that will help us out for tomorrow," said Neff. "Tonight's run was just a little too aggressive and didn't make it. We needed to learn our boundaries to know where we can't go tomorrow. It was a real positive weekend. We made a good run in the good conditions last night and a good run when it was hot this morning so yeah we feel good so far."

Team performance leader Ashley Force Hood -- one win, five final rounds and four No. 1 qualifiers in 2009 - ended the final day of qualifying letting the rest of the Funny Car field know while she may not be at the overall top of the performance ladder she cannot be overlooked. She made a blistering 4.299 second pass, the quickest of the hottest session in her Dean Antonelli- Ron Douglas tuned Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. The solid pass on a hot track did a lot to calm the nerves of the No. 2 driver in points.

"We struggled really the first three runs. It is kind of a double whammy. This track surface is different than most tracks we run at and then you throw in the heat and humidity. It just makes a real challenge for the cars and the tuners. My Castrol GTX Mustang seemed to really be acting up,' said Force Hood.

"That last run felt 100% better than any other run we made. We ran a better time last night it didn't feel right but that last session just felt right. Sometimes it just takes little baby steps for the crew chiefs to get it where they want it. I am really glad we ended on such a good note. I was really excited. I felt this big sigh of relief that whatever happens tomorrow I have more confidence going in. None of the other runs felt like my old Mustang but that last run did. It felt like my Mustang from last weekend."

Team owner John Force was once again one of the busiest drivers and team owners on the property as he watched and supported three of his own Ford Mustangs, supported his two A Fuel dragsters, and drove his Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang. He also found time at the end of the day to support former teammate Tony Pedregon's"Locks for Love" auction.

On the race track Force had one of the quickest cars in the first session making a solid 4.324 second pass but in the final session his Mustang banged at as it passed the Christmas Tree slowing him to a pedestrian 5.845 seconds. Force held onto his No. 7 qualifying position and will face veteran Jerry Toliver in the first round. Force is also looking to move up the point ladder and should he and Robert Hight win in the first round they will square off in round two.

Ashley Force Hood talked about the importance of tomorrow but also the significance of battling a newly re-surfaced race track.

"We are not thinking about points tomorrow. This track is such a challenge we are just going to go round by round. The points thing will be thrown a loop by this track this weekend. I think teams that really have done well may struggle and team that have struggled may do well. It will be mixed up," said Force Hood in her pit area.

"I think the key for tomorrow is to just go round by round. It is going to be a tough race to win. I think you will see all different kinds of match-ups. I think it will be really exciting though."

Robert Hight who has the biggest mountain to climb as his Auto Club Ford Mustang team begins to fight their way into the Top Ten summed up his attitude and the overall John Force Racing attitude as his crew worked to prepare for another race day.

"To be a competitor and a champ you have to thrive on these opportunities. You can't be intimidated going up there. Bring it on we are ready," said Hight. "It is exciting. This is a challenge for us to get into the Top Ten. We have dug ourselves a hole and we can do this. If we have everything right we can beat anybody out here. We better get it right."

Finally the first round of Top Alcohol Dragster was a mixed bag for the youngest John Force Racing teammates. No. 4 qualifier Brittany Force dropped her first round match-up to John Finke of Selkirk, New York, as her BrandSource A Fueler slowed to a 5.542 versus Finke's 5.422.

Courtney Force and her Sanyo A Fueler picked up the pace in eliminations running a much improved 5.340 to move into the second round versus John Finke. Courtney defeated Englishtown runner-up Mike Kosky of Cuddy, Pennsylvania, 5.350 to 5.465 in the opening round.

-credit: nhra

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , John Force , Cruz Pedregon , Ashley Force , Jerry Toliver , Robert Hight , Matt Hagan , Bob Tasca III , John Medlen , Mike Neff , Courtney Force , Brittany Force