Richmond: John Force Racing Saturday notes

NEFF LEADS JFR MUSTANGS INTO RICHMOND ELIMINATIONS -A. Force vs. Wilkerson, J. Force vs. Hight Huge First Round Match-ups- (RICHMOND, VA) --- As qualifying wrapped up at the 3rd annual Virginia NHRA Nationals first round match-ups with ...

-A. Force vs. Wilkerson, J. Force vs. Hight Huge First Round Match-ups-

(RICHMOND, VA) --- As qualifying wrapped up at the 3rd annual Virginia NHRA Nationals first round match-ups with championship implications shuffled like a deck of cards as drivers moved up and down the qualifying order. When it was all said and done two marquee first round pairings will highlight eliminations tomorrow featuring three of the four John Force Racing Ford Mustangs.

With three drivers holding legitimate championship aspirations the first round tilt between Ashley Force and Tim Wilkerson will be the race with the most pressure on both sides of the race track. For the third time in the Countdown to 1 these two drivers will square-off. They are dead even in the Countdown with Wilkerson evening the record most recently defeating Force in the final at Memphis after Force ousted him in the first round of the Charlotte race.

Force knows that if she wants to keep her championship hopes alive she needs to cross paths with the points leader sooner rather than later.

"It is a good thing to match up with Tim so early. That needs to happen ASAP. We don't want to match-up with him in Vegas or Pomona and still be way behind. It needs to be done now. We have a good enough car and good enough team. We need to earn this championship," said the first female to win a Funny Car national event. "It isn't going to be easy for us. We are going to have to take out the number one guy in the points who has run great all year but that is what racing is all about. You don't want to get it the easy way you want to go straight through the leaders and plow your way right to the finals."

The other major opening round battle will pit teammate versus teammate, legend versus upstart, as 14-time Champion John Force will line up beside 2-time Championship runner-up Robert Hight. Both of these drivers know that going rounds will be the key to winning the POWERade championship and unfortunately one of the teams will be dealt a major set-back tomorrow.

Hight is excited about racing the winningest driver in NHRA history because he respects the race for the championship enough to know that you have to beat the best to be recognized as one of the best. Coming on the heels of a strong test session in Rockingham, NC, Hight feels that his Auto Club Ford Mustang is running about as strong if not stronger than it has all year.

"I am excited because we went testing last week and I honestly believe that has paid off big, huge dividends because we are not dropping cylinders. I hate to even say that so I am going to knock on wood but it has been a long time since we have been through qualifying and not just slayed this thing every run to get there."

"It ran 304 mph which was our fastest speed at 1000 feet. It didn't run through the middle like (crew chief) Jimmy (Prock) wanted it to but that is all easy stuff to fix and you can still win races doing what it is doing. You can't win races when you are dropping cylinders or burning up. I am excited because the car is running good had we not gotten to go and test we probably wouldn't be where we are at and that is huge."

He is also keeping his eye on teammate Ashley Force's first round race with points leader Wilkerson.

"I think this deal worked out alright with Ashley having Wilkerson. The scenarios changed every pair of cars that last session. I think I had Wilkerson, then Beckman had Wilkerson, then Tony Pedregon had Wilkerson and he's the guy we are all gunning for," said Hight. "Now Ashley has him so she still has a shot at the championship and Guido, Ron and that whole team do a great job. I think they can beat Tim Wilkerson tomorrow. She is on the opposite side of the ladder as me, John and Neff so I think she has a good shot of making it to at least the semi finals tomorrow and if she does that we are all going to be looking pretty good."

Rookie of the Year front-runner Mike Neff and the Old Spice Ford Mustang team continue to dominate their rookie contemporaries but also the rest of the Funny Car field. Neff held the number one qualifying spot at the end of Friday's qualifying sessions and by the end of the day on Saturday no one had run quicker but the Pedregon brothers (Cruz and Tony) had both equaled his elapsed time and run faster to the 1000 foot finish line landing in front of him on the qualifying sheet by virtue of the mph tie-breaker.

Neff was still fired up about his team's chances going into the elimination rounds tomorrow especially in light of the fact that he moved up one position, from 9th to 8th, in the POWERade point standings after Gary Densham failed to make the sixteen car field.

"I feel really good. We had three real good solid runs and on the last run the conditions were as good as they have been and we just tried pushing it a little bit harder to try and get that No. 1 spot back and it was just a little bit too much. That is OK we learned where the edge is and we won't try that tomorrow," said the former world champion crew chief turned driver. "All in all we have a great race car. John Medlen and the crew have the Old Spice Ford Mustang thumping. It is just real exciting to be in the front of the pack every session."

-credit: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , John Force , Gary Densham , Tim Wilkerson , Ashley Force , Robert Hight , John Medlen , Mike Neff