OLD SPICE'S MIKE NEFF LEADS JFR QUARTET ON FRIDAY AT READING Ashley Force clinches spot in Countdown, Hight has frustrating Friday (READING, PA) --- Rookie of the Year front-runner Mike Neff needs to have a strong race at Maple Grove Raceway. He...
OLD SPICE'S MIKE NEFF LEADS JFR QUARTET ON FRIDAY AT READING
Ashley Force clinches spot in Countdown, Hight has frustrating Friday
(READING, PA) --- Rookie of the Year front-runner Mike Neff needs to have a strong race at Maple Grove Raceway. He currently sits on the bubble of the Countdown to One standings in 10th place and a strong qualifying effort today has the Hemet, Calif., native in good spirits heading into Saturday's final qualifying session when temperatures are predicted to creep up close to 90 degrees.
In the Friday night session Neff blasted down the race track at 4.134 seconds good enough to lead all John Force Racing Funny Cars. On that run his Old Spice Ford Mustang spun the tires for a good portion of the run at the top end but it was still pulling.
"On that last run we actually spun the tires from half track to 1000 feet. We are encouraged. We wanted to be more aggressive tonight and it stepped up and was running better. We definitely think if we can keep it from spinning down track we'll be in good shape," said Neff.
A top qualifying spot is critical for Neff and the Old Spice team as they are battling to make the Countdown to One. They know that every point could mean the difference between racing for a championship in a few weeks.
"It is everything especially as tight as it is. That couple of spots in qualifying could turn into a round. That could be the difference in you having to go one round more or someone else having to go one more round to get ahead of us. With (Jack) Beckman five points ahead of us and (Bob) Tasca 79 points behind us in 11th if we can put two points on Tasca in qualifying that would put him one more round behind us. Right now every run, every point is critical," added the rookie of the year front-runner.
Behind Neff were teammates Ashley and John Force. Both of the Castrol backed drivers stepped up during the night session with John making the biggest jump and keeping his US Smokeless Showdown qualifying hopes alive.
"We still have a shot, a lot of the guys that are ahead of me in the Showdown are out but Worsham is still up there. Tomorrow is another day. At least we know we put here in the show to make the Countdown. The car is running good like it should. It is starting to find some consistency. I am really proud of Ashley and Mike Neff stepping up. We have to get him in the Countdown too. We'll see what happens," said the 14-time champion.
Ashley's consistency was remarkable considering she made two nearly identical passes - one in each lane - to land in the No. 5 qualifying position. With her successful efforts Ashley also clinched a spot in the Countdown to One and will be eligible to race for the Funny Car championship along with her brother-in-law and teammate Robert Hight.
While Ashley was excited about getting into the Countdown she was equally if not more excited about making two solid runs on Friday.
"I'm actually very happy with out last run even though we aren't No. 1 at this point. We could still get it by tomorrow. We've had number ones and haven't done too great with them. I am just as happy having a car that is running like it is on a rail," said the 2007 Rookie of the Year. "To run two .14s in a row is great and if we could do that tomorrow we'd be in a really good position for the race."
"The number one is not always going to do it for you. It is the consistency. We have been able to go down both lanes and that is just a real good feeling going into Saturday knowing we are No. 5. That is a good spot," said Force. "Now that we are in pretty well we don't have to worry about that. If it is warmer tomorrow that will be more similar to Sunday because the qualifying times are closer to our race times. Last week we had some great runs but we also had some not so great runs. I'd rather have maybe middle of the road consistent runs all day long."
The biggest disappointment in the Force camp was in the Auto Club of Southern California pit of Robert Hight. In the first round his Ford Mustang was too soft for the aggressive Maple Grove Raceway track and in the second round he had a mechanical failure that left the two-time POWERade Championship runner up with the 16th quickest run of the day. Hight will be vying for one of the remaining four qualifying spots with eight other drivers tomorrow.
"We had a mechanical problem. It broke the No. 3 rod at about two seconds and we still had the quickest 330 time. The spark plug looks cherry on that cylinder it just broke the rod. There was some mechanical problem that caused that," said Hight. "We are probably going to fall out of the top spot for the US Smokeless Showdown. We'll see what happens tomorrow hopefully it is a little bit cool and we can step up. We need to step up and run in the top half to stay in the top spot for the Showdown."