INDY WINNER HIGHT PURSUES CAPPS, FORCE IN POINTS RACE Auto Club Driver Would Lead if 2007 Rules Were Applied READING, Pa. -- If this was 2007, the year the NHRA debuts its version of NASCAR's "Chase to the Championship," Robert Hight would ...
INDY WINNER HIGHT PURSUES
CAPPS, FORCE IN POINTS RACE
Auto Club Driver Would Lead if 2007 Rules Were Applied
READING, Pa. -- If this was 2007, the year the NHRA debuts its version of NASCAR's "Chase to the Championship," Robert Hight would be considerably more optimistic about his chances in a Funny Car points battle that moves this week to Maple Grove Raceway for the 22nd annual Toyo Nationals.
His overpowering victory in the Labor Day Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Ind., one in which he posted the quickest time in every round of competition, thrust Hight back into at least mathematical contention for the championship.
Unfortunately, with five races remaining, he knows that to reach the pinnacle, he can't depend solely on the performance of his Team Castrol/Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang.
He'll have to rely on the misfortune of others, namely front runners Ron Capps and John Force, the latter his mentor, teammate and father-in-law.
The 2005 Rookie-of-the-Year, Hight moved to within 159 points (eight racing rounds) of the lead by winning two weeks ago on drag racing's biggest stage. Now, he's focused on Maple Grove, where he was beaten in the second round last year by eventual series champion Gary Scelzi.
If next year's rules were applied to the current race, Hight now would be leading Capps, Force and everybody else in the Funny Car division.
"Sure I wish the deal started this year," Hight smiled, "because we'd be ahead. I think (NHRA's Countdown to the Championship) will be exciting, but the thing is, that's a year away and I don't think (the 2006 title) is out of reach. I don't want to wish any misfortune on John or Capps, but anything can happen.
"With the win at Indy, we can see the leaders and we know we've got the best car out there."
It would be difficult to dispute the latter statement. The 37-year-old Californian has started seven races this season from the No. 1 qualifying position, a performance that enabled him to earn the No. 1 seed for the Skoal Showdown Funny Car bonus race and become the first driver other than Force to claim that distinction in 17 seasons.
Over the last two years, he's started the Jimmy Prock-prepared Auto Club Ford from the front 13 times, twice as often as any other Funny Car driver.
The problem has been a lack of race day consistency although Hight's Indy performance suggests that Prock finally may have found a way to harness the Mustang's 8,000 horses.
"We have a car that actually has run good in all conditions, whether it's cool or whether it's hot," Hight said, "but to win you have to make four perfect runs on race day."
Hight's Indy performance also makes him the favorite to end more than a full season of front-runner frustration in the class.
Not since August, 2005, has a Funny Car driver won from the No. 1 starting position. Hight, who won his first two races from the "pole," wants to be the driver to end that streak.
"I want to do that," he said, "and I know we have a car that can. I'm not at all superstitious. Do I think there's a curse? No. I don't. I just think that we're in a very competitive class where you have to make four perfect runs on race day to win.
"At Indy, we missed doing it by one-thousandth of a second (the difference between his time as the No. 2 qualifier and Force's 4.691 second effort that go the No. 1 position)."