FORCE CONTROLS OWN DESTINY IN SEASON'S CONCLUDING EVENT 71-Point Lead in Bid for 14th NHRA Funny Car Championship POMONA, Calif. -- John Force has won 963 racing rounds in his professional career, more than anyone in NHRA history. Perhaps...
FORCE CONTROLS OWN DESTINY IN SEASON'S CONCLUDING EVENT
71-Point Lead in Bid for 14th NHRA Funny Car Championship
POMONA, Calif. -- John Force has won 963 racing rounds in his professional career, more than anyone in NHRA history. Perhaps as early as next season, he will become the first to win 1,000 rounds and, with contracts keeping him in the cockpit of the Castrol GTX® Ford Mustang through 2011, who knows what the final tally will be.
That said, the most important round in the veteran's spectacular career may be the next one.
Force returns this week to Auto Club Raceway at Pomona needing to win just one more round to realistically lock up his 14th NHRA Funny Car championship.
In a season in which he trailed Ron Capps after all but three races, the 57-year-old drag racing icon controls his own destiny as the shootout for the $400,000 POWERade Champion's bonus speeds to a conclusion at the 42nd annual Auto Club Finals.
Mathematically, of course, there are scenarios that might require the 13-time Auto Racing All-American to win as many as two rounds. But in realistic terms, if Force can get his car into the second round, something he's done in each of his last 13 appearances in this race, it will slam the door on Capps and on teammate and son-in-law Robert Hight.
Force comes in 71 points ahead of Capps and 73 up on Hight, the 2005 NHRA Rookie-of-the-Year. Since each round won is worth 20 points, it's not too difficult to do the math. Nevertheless, true to his nature, the 121-time tour winner hasn't even chilled the champagne.
"A lot of things can happen," said the man who last February lowered the Auto Club Raceway Funny Car record to 4.664 seconds. "We've gotta get in the show. That's the first thing. And then there's the (national) record. That's 20 bonus points. That could change everything."
True, if Force failed to make the 16-car lineup it would open the door for Capps, Hight and maybe even Eric Medlen who, with another strong second half, has moved up to fourth in the standings in the Castrol SYNTEC® Ford.
However, the reality is that Force hasn't suffered a qualifying failure in 391 races, a streak that dates back to this event in 1987. Besides, even if the veteran's qualifying streak was to end this week, his closest pursuers still would need to reach the semifinals to get past him.
As for the national record, it currently belongs to Force and the only other driver who has shown the muscle necessary to get it isn't Capps, but Hight, who was clocked in 4.677 seconds two weeks ago at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
For his part, Force is focused on sticking to the basics and not worrying about what's going on around him.
"We know what we've got to do," said the 1996 Driver of the Year. "It's not our first rodeo. I know (crew chiefs Austin) Coil and Bernie (Fedderly) are going to give me a good race car. So if I do my job, we should win it."
That said, Force knows that whoever he faces in round one will commit every resource to taking him out. Furthermore he knows that whoever that is will be capable of doing so.
"There aren't any easy rounds any more," said the six-time winner of the Auto Club Finals. "There are cars that can win that won't even make the show. That's how tough it is right now. Last year (when he lost the championship to Gary Scelzi after leading with two races remaining), I thought I couldn't lose. That was a mistake."
It's one the sport's most prolific winner is unlikely to make again.