WILK OUSTED EARLY IN REMATCH WITH CAPPS BUT CLINCHES PLAYOFF BERTH If a large number of people were surprised to see Tim Wilkerson smoke the tires in the opening round at Sonoma, not one of them was more surprised than Wilk himself. After ...
WILK OUSTED EARLY IN REMATCH WITH CAPPS BUT CLINCHES PLAYOFF BERTH
If a large number of people were surprised to see Tim Wilkerson smoke the tires in the opening round at Sonoma, not one of them was more surprised than Wilk himself. After dominating on hot and sunny tracks for the last two weeks, running his win column all the way to a total of 21, Wilk faced the challenge of an instant rematch with Ron Capps after their final-round race one week earlier, and this time the Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang never made it to the 330-foot timer before spinning the tires. For the record, Wilk pedaled the LRS Ford to give chase but Capps powered to a clean 4.188 while Wilk crossed the center line in his bucking machine, and an 8-round winning streak was over. Despite the loss, Wilk clinched a berth in the Countdown playoffs, as did Robert Hight, Jack Beckman, Matt Hagan, and Ron Capps at this event.
Wilkerson's earlier runs at Infineon Raceway gave little indication that tire smoke would be an issue on Sunday, as he cleanly maneuvered his way into the 7th spot with three solid runs out of four. The only failure in his quartet of efforts came late on Friday night when the conditions were changing so rapidly many Funny Car teams were caught in the lanes with tune-ups designed for a much earlier (and warmer) run. To cap off qualifying, Wilk posted his two best times of the weekend on Saturday, under the sun in the middle of the afternoon, running 4.181 in Q3 to take three bonus points for the quickest lap in that session, before following that up with a 4.170 to grab two more points for the second-quickest run in the final session. All signs certainly pointed toward continued success, but if signs and omens where the only determining factors in this sport, getting good results would be a lot simpler than it is and fortune tellers would be a part of every crew.
"We're still looking at the data to try to figure out why it did that, but I sure was surprised to feel it stand up and lose traction out there," Wilkerson said. "We had the choice of running either as the first pair or the last, and after I thought about it a minute we went with the last pairing, just kind of figuring that every minute with the sun on the track might help us. I don't know if going first would've been any different, and I'm not going to waste a second of my time worrying about that, but we now know that waiting to be last pair didn't help, or at least it didn't help relative to the tune-up we had in the car.
"It's also kind of ironic that we stepped up real nicely on our last qualifying run to move back up into the top half, and for that we ended up in a rematch with Ron and his team. You never know how the ladder is going to work out for you, so you just do your best and hope for the best, but it's a little tough to have to race those guys in the first round after such a hard-fought win against them in the final last week. They got us good this time."
In terms of the historical perspective, Wilk's three consecutive final rounds represented a first in his career and, as learned via "Stat Guy" Lewis Bloom last week, Wilk is still the winningest Funny Car driver over the past three years, with 11 Wally trophies to his credit since the beginning of the 2008 Full Throttle campaign. In the here-and-now, Wilk's recent 11-1 streak moved him solidly up into the middle of the Full Throttle Top 10, and despite the opening round loss here in Somona he will head to Denver still in good position, holding down the No. 6 spot in points.
"Just a little bump in the road and another lesson learned, so we'll be okay," Wilkerson said. "We'll go to Denver and try to conquer the mountain with Dick Levi and a whole bunch of his special guests there, and then we have Brainerd after that to settle the Countdown order once and for all. Our goal is still to be in the top five when we start the Countdown in Indy, and it's just up to us to make that happen because the teams were surrounded by are all outstanding and no one is going to gift-wrap anything for anyone. It all ended too quick here, but this sport is hard. I can say that for a fact."
As stated by their leader, Team LRS now heads directly to Denver for the third and final leg of the NHRA Western Swing, and the seventh race in eight weeks. A strong showing at Thunder Mountain will make this long lap of the United States seem like a walk in the park.