Phoenix: John Force preview

Slow start leaves Force outside top 10 for just 2nd time in 16 years CHANDLER, Ariz. (Feb. 21-23) t's a measure of the total dominance John Force has enjoyed in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series that the 12-time Funny Car Champion can...

Slow start leaves Force outside top 10 for just 2nd time in 16 years

CHANDLER, Ariz. (Feb. 21-23) t's a measure of the total dominance John Force has enjoyed in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series that the 12-time Funny Car Champion can create a stir as much by his absence as by his presence. That's the scenario entering this week's 19th annual Checker/Schuck's/Kragen Nationals at Firebird Raceway.

Although it's just the second race of the 2003 season, the fact that Force's name does not appear among the Top 10 drivers in Funny Car points has created a perception of vulnerability.

Has the 106-time tour winner lost his edge? Or is it just another illusion?

The proof may lie in his performance this week on a track on which he has been virtually unbeatable since 1990, the year the CSK Nationals was moved from a fall date as the next-to-last race in the series to its current winter date.

The official track record-holder at Firebird (although teammate Tony Pedregon unofficially has gone quicker), Force has won seven times in the last nine years and a year ago just missed another victory when he was upset in the final round by Del Worsham.

Force's current "predicament" resulted from his unexpected loss in the first round of the season-opening K&N Filters Winternationals at Pomona, Calif. As a result, he rolls into the desert "only" 11th in points outside the Top 10 for the first time since 1994 and for only the second time since 1987.

In the 194 races since leaving the 1994 Winternationals in 15th place, Force has been outside the Top 4 just five times.

"We'll be fine," Force said after Pomona. "I told the media that I'm learning to drive again and (Austin) Coil and Bernie (Fedderly) are learning to tune again. But that's a joke.

"The truth is we've got a new chassis, new camshafts and injectors. Plus, Austin and Bernie are trying to get the cylinder head deal worked out."

Indeed, Force is driving something other than a Steve Pleuger-built car for just the second time in his career.

"We tried a (Murf) McKinney car once before, Force said, "and I flipped it over in the sand pit at Pomona so we've already done better with this one.

"Bottom line, I've got the best team out there and, believe me, we're coming in focused and ready to race."

For the record, after the'94 Winternationals, Force climbed all the way to No. 3 with a win at Phoenix and, when he lost in the first round at Pomona in 2001, he rebounded with another win at Phoenix that propelled him from a No. 10 start to No. 2.

"We always like to come to the desert," Force said. Perhaps that's because he's always been able to find an oasis.

-www.johnforceracing.com

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , John Force