FORCE, HIGHT HAVE FIRST ROUND CHAMPIONSHIP BATTLES Mike Neff grabs second career No. 1 spot at Auto Club NHRA Finals (POMONA) --- When the POWERade championship comes down to the last day of the season every team would like to be in control of...
FORCE, HIGHT HAVE FIRST ROUND CHAMPIONSHIP BATTLES
Mike Neff grabs second career No. 1 spot at Auto Club NHRA Finals
(POMONA) --- When the POWERade championship comes down to the last day of the season every team would like to be in control of their own destiny. Automobile Club of Southern California driver Robert Hight has control and an ace in the hole. In the first round the Hight, the No. 9 qualifier, will face No. 8 qualifier and reigning Funny Car champion Tony Pedregon in one of two first round heavy-weight races. Hight will get a huge assist with his first championship if and when 14-time champion and father-in-law John Force can dispatch Tim Wilkerson in their first round tilt.
Hight was disappointed with his team's performance today but he also knows he cannot let that distract him from the job at hand.
"Tomorrow is going to be exciting; there are no two ways about it. We have to perform. In qualifying I don't think that we did our best for sure. We are not normally a bottom half car and under the run with the best conditions which was that round we didn't step up. We backed it off too much from the previous two runs when we smoked the tires," said a disappointed Hight in the Shav Glick pressroom. "I guess we know each side of the coin for tomorrow. We know what not to do to smoke the tires and we know now what to do to tune it up a little bit. Maybe that will help. Racing Tony Pedregon means we are going to have to beat the champion. He is still in this hunt too."
There are a number of different scenarios that could culminate with Hight hoisting the POWERade Championship trophy but he is not trying to dissect what needs to happen during every round.
"We have won the last few races here. That is what we came here to do and that is what we intend to do. We also have John Force to help us with Wilkerson in the first round. They are all tough, tough races. I wouldn't pick anybody else over Tony Pedregon first round because they are all tough. I don't think that there is a car in the class that you could say is easier to race than Tony Pedregon. That is just not the way it is."
"They said that if I win the race that will mean that Tim and Cruz are out of there. I don't have to win the race. If Cruz loses first round and if Wilkerson loses first round and I win all I have to do is win second round then I am the champ. I think that is it. Maybe Beckman could go on and win the race and he could be the champion. We can't count out these guys behind us. If I win first round and the other two lose then there are three of them gone and it is just me and Beckman. I think he would have to win the race to get me. There are a lot of scenarios. We just have to go out there every single run and get to the finish line first," added a determined Hight.
"We have won from the bottom half here. You know what truthfully it is how we run tomorrow. What we did back a few months ago or last year has no bearing on tomorrow. The last run we just made we have to tune from that, make it better and go down the track first round very fast."
Conditions improved as the sun went down and the JFR Mustangs piloted by Ashley Force and Mike Neff took full advantage racing to the top of the standings. Ashley Force was the first driver to race into the four ohs with a tremendous 4.092 second pass in her final attempt of the day. Force was only able to revel in her number one status for a few minutes as rookie of the year front-runner Mike Neff and the Old Spice Ford Mustang blasted past her with a stunning 4.079 second run.
Neff knew that crew chief John Medlen was going to throw the proverbial kitchen sink at the track and he was pleased to grab his second career top qualifying position. His maturation has been as steady as his demeanor throughout the season.
"For me personally I am definitely a lot more comfortable than I was the last time I was here. I have a lot more runs under my belt. I feel comfortable. (Crew chief) John Medlen is performing as well as he has all year long as far as the tuning goes. This is probably as good as we have looked at any race all year."
"(Getting JFR at top of ladder) was what we were trying to do. We got three of them up there. Robert has a tough race with Tony Pedregon and John (Force) has Tim Wilkerson which is exactly what we were hoping for was a match-up like that. One of our cars racing these guys that are in contention. John is running great if he could take out Wilkerson that would definitely be part of the plan," said Neff.
"You know Robert and Jimmy (Prock) are going to have to be on their game tomorrow. They are going to have to put down four great runs to get the championship. It is all up to them. As far as the rest of the three Fords we just want to beat everyone we can and hopefully we can race some of these guys that are in contention and challenging Robert."
Ashley Force jettisoned her rookie of the year tribute body for today's final day of qualifying after a mutually agreeing with crew chief Dean Antonelli that their traditional Castrol GTX painted body had the magic to get them in the show.
"We are Castrol white and green forever. It is not as much superstition as there is just something with that body. It is a little heavier. Every body even if you are trying to make them the same they are never identical. There was just something with that body that gave us a lot of trouble," said Force.
"After our first two passes down the track we are just happy to get two solid runs. Neff bumped us but I would rather it be one of my teammates than someone else. Melanie (Troxel) bumped us too but that is alright. We'll take third considering coming into today we were nervous about getting in the show period. If we can have more laps like that tomorrow we'll have a good day."
Finally, John Force and his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang team will be able impact the championship chase immediately by taking out Tim Wilkerson. The likeable Wilkerson will be a tough opponent but one that Force is eager to take on.
"Wilkerson is a great guy and I love him personally. He is a family guy. I have my job to do for the team. If I can take out Wilkerson and Toliver can take out Cruz we can all help each other. Robert has to take out Tony (Pedregon). They put our backs up against a wall. I was hoping I would get Cruz. You have to get him early before he gets a couple of rounds. He is a hell of a racer. Let's give him credit. Wilkerson has been incredible all year and it is going to be what it is."
One of Force's proudest achievements has been the development of his young drivers. With all three young drivers in the Countdown to 1 and Neff lined up to win the Auto Club Road to the Future Award Force he is very proud of his stable of drivers. It is also a bittersweet feeling for the 14-time champion.
"I couldn't have asked for more from my young drivers. The only thing I could have asked is to have Eric Medlen with me. I know right now he is loving this. What we have done this season because it is what he loves to take these young kids and give them a chance. Ashley has proven herself going out there today running low ET and right behind them Neff bumps them. Robert Hight has been in the hunt all year. I ain't doing too shabby lately."
JOHN FORCE, 59, Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang
Qualifying: 4th at 4.108 seconds, 303.78
First Round Opponent (W-L): Tim Wilkerson (23-7)
Quotable: "Wilkerson is a great guy and I love him personally. He is a family guy. I have my job to do for the team. If I can take out Wilkerson and Toliver can take out Cruz we can all help each other. Robert has to take out Tony (Pedregon). They put our backs up against a wall. I was hoping I would get Cruz. You have to get him early before he gets a couple of rounds. He is a hell of a racer. Let's give him credit. Wilkerson has been incredible all year and it is going to be what it is."
ASHLEY FORCE, 25, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
Qualifying: 3rd quickest pass at 4.092 seconds, 304.87 mph
First Round Opponent (W-L): Gary Densham (3-1)
Quotable: "That (the other side of the ladder) is going to be crazy stress. I am over on the other side. I am just going to do my thing and try and go rounds and hopefully I'll meet one of my teammates in the final."
ROBERT HIGHT, 39, Auto Club/Los Angeles Dodgers Ford Mustang
Qualifying: 9th at 4.122 seconds, 298.14 mph.
First Round Opponent (W-L): Tony Pedregon (6-10)
Quotes: (on John Force's first round race with Wilkerson) "I don't have to ask John anything trust me. You'd think he was in this points battle he is so fired up and pumped up about this. He is loving this. This just plays right up his alley. He is having a good time. I am not going to have to tell him a thing. Wilkerson is going to have a tough one."
MIKE NEFF, 42, Old Spice Ford Mustang
Qualifying: 1st at 4.079 seconds, 305.49 mph
First Round Opponent (W-L): Jeff Arend (1-1)
Quotes: "For me personally I am definitely a lot more comfortable than I was the last time I was here. I have a lot more runs under my belt. I feel comfortable. John Medlen is performing as well as he has all year long as far as the tuning goes. This is probably as good as we have looked at any race all year."