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force clings to points lead; eyes reading win READING, Pa. - Statistics, it's said, are for suckers. Still, it's hard to overlook the fact that John Force NEVER has lost the NHRA Funny Car championship when he has led the points for 12 or more...

force clings to points lead; eyes reading win

READING, Pa. - Statistics, it's said, are for suckers. Still, it's hard to overlook the fact that John Force NEVER has lost the NHRA Funny Car championship when he has led the points for 12 or more events as he has done again this season at the wheel of a resurgent Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang.

Yeah, but how many times has that happened, really? Well, let's see: 1990, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2004. All but one of Force's record 14 Funny Car titles has come in seasons in which he led the points for more than half the races.

And this year?

Entering this week's 26th annual Toyo Tires Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway, fourth race in the Countdown to 1 playoffs, the 61-year-old drag racing icon has been the Full Throttle points leader after 18 of 20 races in his bid to secure a 17th championship in 21 years for Team Castrol and John Force Racing, Inc.

Nevertheless, Force is disinclined to talk championship even at this late date - three races from the finish.

"To be in the lead is good," he admitted, "but really it's not that much of a lead (25 points over third year pro Matt Hagan). We just have to stay focused and try to knock out rounds. Hagan's a good kid and he's going to fight us all the way to the end - just like Ashley (Force Hood) and Robert (Hight) and (Jack) Beckman and (Bob) Tasca.

"We're staying focused," Force insisted. "Right now, I don't want to think about anything but winning the race (and) winning the rounds. Robert's still got a shot. He got hurt last week when I beat him first round, but he's got a shot and he's coming in just like Ashley, with guns a blazing. I can't wait to see what happens."

Force has won more Toyo Tires titles (six) than any other Funny Car driver, but he hasn't won since 2001 which, ironically, was the year the race was postponed following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and rescheduled to the weekend on which it is now being contested.

In fact, one reason Force is anxious is because this weeks anticipated cool weather could change the entire dynamic of the championship race.

When the weather gets cool, the tuning window becomes broader for fuel crew chiefs. After trying to finesse their cars down 130 degree racetracks in the summer, crew chiefs, in Force's vernacular, can "go gorilla" in the cool. That puts the national record bonus points in play, another factor of which Force is well aware even though his Castrol Ford has rung up the quickest 1,000 foot time of the year at 4.021 seconds.

"The air is supposed to be great," Force said of atmospheric conditions this week. "We aren't guaranteeing that we're going to win the race, but one of (these John Force Racing Fords is) going to do some damage.

"The engineering and technology that we've got from Ford, not just the chassis and body designs, but the BOSS 500 motor, that really pays off is when you have the gorilla conditions of good air (and a good racetrack)," Force said. "(That's) when you can hit it with all you've got."

Of course, it's a "live by the sword; die by the sword" scenario for th 130-time tour winner who knows that his Mustang is just one of five or six cars capable of lowering the NHRA record at grabbing the 20 bonus points, the equivalent of winning a round.

"It's a struggle every day to race against these kids," said the 2008 inductee into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, "(but) I really do want this championship. I'm 61 and don't know how many more chances I'm gonna have."

-source: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Matt Hagan