FORCE CLINCHES SHOWDOWN SPOT, NEFF LEADS JFR IN READING QUALIFYING (READING, PA) --- On a day when the improbable became possible John Force Racing placed four Mustangs in the top sixteen at the Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals and team leader John...
FORCE CLINCHES SHOWDOWN SPOT, NEFF LEADS JFR IN READING QUALIFYING
(READING, PA) --- On a day when the improbable became possible John Force Racing placed four Mustangs in the top sixteen at the Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals and team leader John Force raced his way into his 24th consecutive US Smokeless Showdown (25th overall) slated to be contested at the 54th Mac Tools US Nationals in two weeks. It was an amazing turn of events and another magical achievement for Force who at the end of 2007 had serious doubts about his racing future.
"After last year and that crash in Dallas I really didn't think that I'd be able to put this thing back in coming from behind like I had to do. We missed races but you just keep the faith and you keep going down the road. You keep doing what you do and believing in your crew chiefs and your team. It was a long shot and I remember last year Herbert screaming on the starting line when he got into the Countdown," said a jubilant Force. "(NHRA announcer) Bob Frey had me so screwed up I didn't know if we were in our out. Finally I went up to the tower and got an answer. To be in for Castrol, Ford, Old Spice, AAA of Southern Cal, BrandSource, and Sanyo we've done our job and it is just really cool."
For his efforts Force will square off against No. 1 qualifier US Smokeless Showdown rookie and daughter Ashley Force.
"I'm racing Ashley first round and that is really what I wanted to do most. I didn't want her to go to the Showdown for her first time and me not be in it with her. I made it by the hair on my chinny, chin, chin and we'll see what we can do in Indy," said Force.
Force entered the Toyo Tires Nationals trailing Jack Beckman, Gary Scelzi, and Jerry Toliver in the US Smokeless Showdown standings but he moved around the three veteran drivers by virtue of DNQs from Scelzi and Toliver and by out qualifying Beckman. Force will be joined in the Showdown field by daughter Ashley Force and son-in-law Robert Hight the No.1 and No. 2 qualifiers respectively.
Force can clinch the third spot for John Force Racing in the Countdown to One with at least a semi-final finish tomorrow. He will start his quest towards solidifying his position with a first round race versus long-time nemesis Ron Capps.
Sunday also kicks off with critical first round match-up that will pit No. 3 qualifier, Rookie of the Year front-runner and POWERade No. 10 driver Mike Neff against teammate Robert Hight. This will be the fourth time in seventeen races these two drivers have met each other in eliminations with Neff holding a 2-1 edge over the 2005 Rookie of the Year winner.
"You definitely don't want to race your teammate first round especially right now. Hight has a tough car. They struggled a little this weekend but they could jump up and fire a shot first round. They can run as well as anybody right out of the gate it doesn't matter where they qualify. That is kind of what happened to us last week against Tim Wilkerson," said Neff. "We qualified good and we got a bad draw. Here we qualified No. 3 and we have to race Robert (Hight). There are just no breaks. There are no gimmes out here. We have been running pretty good this weekend. The last run down the track we didn't make it but we wanted to try pressing it just to see where we were at so we learned some things on that run. I think we will be able to give them a good race."
For Hight the head-to-head meeting with Neff is frustrating on two levels. Hight naturally hates to race any of his teammates and he feels that he has a car that is capable of racing from the top of the ladder not the bottom.
"We just struggled this weekend. We made some mistakes but I am not going to make excuses. I am glad we are in the show but I hate to race Mike Neff in the first round. He has a lot on the line but we are going to give him a good race tomorrow. My team can get it together and we are going to have to if we want to have a shot at winning the Showdown or racing for a championship," said the two-time Championship runner-up. "If we are going to have to struggle I would rather do it now than when we are trying to win a championship. I have a lot of confidence in Jimmy and my team. I know we have the right combination to win a championship we just need some luck to go our way."
"There are teams in front of us and behind us that have had a lot of luck this year. We have been snake bit. There are a lot of really good teams running right now and if you want to beat them consistently you are going to have to be on top of your game every run on Sunday," added Hight."We have proven we can do that but we need to be more consistent. Honestly, that is going to be the key: consistency."
Ashley Force took a step back in performance under hotter conditions at Maple Grove Raceway but is optimistic about going rounds tomorrow after clinching a spot in the Countdown to One. The sophomore driver is hoping starting from a little deeper in the field will improve her chances after qualifying No. 1 the last two races only to lose first round match-ups to Tim Wilkerson and Ron Capps.
"We only have this race and then Indy. This race is a great start to getting ready for Indy. Indy is its own separate race. We all want to do good at Indy," said the 2007 Rookie of the Year. "For now we are not thinking of the countdown and we are thinking about being prepared for the biggest race of the year. We want to be organized and feeling good when we go into Indy. That is why tomorrow is important."
JOHN FORCE, 59, Castrol Tection Extra Ford Mustang
Qualifying: 5th at 4.139 seconds, 300.73 mph
First Round Opponent (W-L): Ron Capps (40-17)
Quotes: On getting into US Smokeless Showdown, "I had to do everything right the last two races to have a shot. We were lucky enough that we qualified high in Brainerd and here (Reading). Other guys struggled and today two of them didn't make the show. Luck was a big part of this but we'll take it."
ASHLEY FORCE, 25, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
Qualifying: 6th at 4.143 seconds, 296.63 mph
First Round Opponent (W-L): Tommy Johnson Jr. (3-1)
Quotes: On clinching spot in Countdown to One, "It means everything. Even though everybody wants to win races it is just so exciting to be able to say you are racing for the championship even if you are a million years away from winning it. Last year when we weren't in the countdown I was bummed. I also knew that we were a new team and we had been through a lot of ups and downs. This year we got our head on straight and we are more focused and not so emotional. We were consistent and it paid off for us."
ROBERT HIGHT, 38, Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang
Qualifying: 14th at 4.204 seconds, 290.32 mph
First Round Opponent (W-L): Mike Neff (1-2)
Quotes: "We just struggled this weekend. We made some mistakes but I am not going to make excuses. I am glad we are in the show but I hate to race Mike Neff in the first round. He has a lot on the line but we are going to give him a good race tomorrow. My team can get it together and we are going to have to if we want to have a shot at winning the Showdown or racing for a championship."
MIKE NEFF, 41, Old Spice Ford Mustang
Qualifying: 3rd at 4.134 seconds, 298.40 mph
First Round Opponent (W-L): Robert Hight (2-1)
Quotes: "You definitely don't want to race your teammate first round. Especially right now that is a tough car. They struggled a little this weekend but they could jump up and fire a shot first round. They can run as well as anybody right out of the gate it doesn't matter where they qualify."