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FORCE HOOD CONFIDENT, ON EVE OF COUNTDOWN Champ's Daughter Among Only Three Sure Starters READING, Pa. -- Ashley Force Hood's hopes of starting the NHRA playoffs as the sport's top-ranked Funny Car driver probably were dashed by consecutive...

FORCE HOOD CONFIDENT, ON EVE OF COUNTDOWN
Champ's Daughter Among Only Three Sure Starters

READING, Pa. -- Ashley Force Hood's hopes of starting the NHRA playoffs as the sport's top-ranked Funny Car driver probably were dashed by consecutive first round losses at Sonoma, Calif., and Brainerd, Minn., but the 26-year-old daughter of drag racing icon John Force hasn't lost confidence in crew chiefs Dean "Guido" Antonelli and Ron Douglas nor in her Castrol GTX® team -- not by a long shot.

"Dad says that sometimes it's just as important to find out what doesn't work as what does," said the graduate of Cal State-Fullerton, "and that's kinda what we've had going on the last couple of races."

With her participation in the playoffs assured, Force Hood and her team have been in modified test mode in preparation for the Charlotte start of the Countdown to One.

"We've been doing some testing," Antonelli confirmed, "but not enough to affect our qualifying (Ashley has started third the last two races and her average start in16 races has been fourth). "We still have a couple of things we want to evaluate and we're probably going to do the Indy test session before the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals."

Meantime, the third year crew chief isn't divulging his plan for this week's 25th annual Toyo Tires Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway, a track on which John Force has won six times but one on which Ashley's only final round appearance came in the Top Alcohol Dragster class (2004).

In only her third pro campaign, the former high school cheerleader has enjoyed spectacular success. She has started four races from the No. 1 qualifying position, has been to six final rounds and is the only Funny Car driver to have led the points each of the last two years. Moreover, her win last March in the O'Reilly Spring Nationals at Houston, Texas, represents the only Funny Car victory thus far this season for JFR.

"If you look at all the drivers in our category, there's not one dominant person," Ashley said, "(so) it could be anybody's championship. That's exciting for us because we are a newer team.

"You wouldn't think that going up against teams that have been racing longer than I've been alive we would be thinking about a championship, but in our sport, anything can happen. It's not impossible. We definitely have the car to do it if we can (avoid) mistakes."

In Ashley's estimation, the difference between this season and last is that a year ago her team was randomly doing well whereas this year it is consistently doing so.

"I think we have a great shot at it," she said. "A huge part of why we're doing so well is because of the team we have put together here that works really well with the crew chiefs (and) that works really good with the driver.

"We've been fortunate that we've kept our team relatively intact (and) now that we've finally gained a little confidence, there's no reason not to (go for the championship). Obviously, you always want to try to win," she said, "but I think there was a time when we told ourselves that we don't need to be (aiming) too high. Now, that's changed.

"We have a car that runs good in a lot of different conditions and that's what you need in the Countdown. We're really excited. Now if we can just get our other Mustangs locked in, maybe we can bring the championship back to JFR."

-credit: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Ashley Force