TOPEKA, Kansas -- The fact that John Force knows exactly how many Winston Championship points separate his Castrol GTXÃ‚Â® Ford Mustang from the WWF Camaro driven by second place Jerry Toliver might surprise those who connect with the...
TOPEKA, Kansas -- The fact that John Force knows exactly how many Winston Championship points separate his Castrol GTXÂ® Ford Mustang from the WWF Camaro driven by second place Jerry Toliver might surprise those who connect with the nine-time Winston Funny Car Champion only through his scattershot TV interviews.
However, not only does the 89-time tour winner know that his lead in the bid for a record-tying 10th Winston title is 226 points, he also knows that the few points available during qualifying for this week's (Sept. 29-Oct. 1) 12th annual Advance Auto Parts Nationals can be as valuable over the long haul as the 110 that go to the race winner.
"I count every point," Force said as he prepared for the season's 19th event. "That extra six points, the difference between 220 and 226? That's another round."
What the eight-time Auto Racing All-American was saying is that instead of being ahead by 11 competitive rounds (each round won is worth 20 points), he actually leads Toliver by 12, the result of qualifying points earned in the season's first 18 races.
"That's why qualifying is so important," Force said. "If Toliver goes out and qualifies No. 1 (and gets the eight-point bonus) and we stumble and qualify at the back of the pack (the No. 9 through No. 12 qualifiers earn two points; 13 through 16 get one apiece), he cuts the lead to 220 or less and picks up a whole round on us."
As a result, don't expect the defending champion to hold anything back -- especially on a Heartland Park-Topeka track on which he has been so successful.
"I love Topeka," Force enthused. "It's great to be back."
And why not. In 16 career appearances, the 51-year-old icon has qualified No. 1 eight times, gone to the finals on nine occasions and won six titles -- three in the now defunct spring race and three in the last four years at the Advance Auto Parts Nationals.
Last year, despite cold weather that postponed eliminations for a day, he crushed the competition, lowering the track record to 4.797 seconds en route to a final round victory over Tommy Johnson Jr.
The significant statistics for Toliver and the other challengers to the throne, however, are that Force NEVER has lost in the first round at Topeka and has won 81.8 per cent of his individual races (45 of 55).
"It's not over," Force said of the points race. "We're it better shape now than we were two months ago but all it takes is for (Toliver) to get on a roll and us to get in a slump and the lead is gone. That's what cost us the championship in 1992. We thought the race was over and went into test mode."
At the time, Force believed that losing the '92 championship (when Cruz Pedregon won five of the last six races) was the worst thing that could have happened to him. In retrospect, it has become the worst thing that ever happened to the competition because the sport's most prolific winner now knows not to take anything for granted.
He may be 226 points ahead -- but he's still counting every single point.
DID YOU KNOW:
John has qualified for 248 consecutive events dating back to the 1987 World Finals, a Funny Car division record....John is the only drag racer ever named Driver of the Year for all of American motor racing (1996).....Heartland Park-Topeka is one of four tracks on which John has broken the 4.80 second barrier (along with the Texas Motorplex, Houston Raceway Park and Gainesville Raceway) ....John has qualified on the "pole" 97 times in his career. On only six of those occasions has he lost in the first round . However, he's done so twice this season -- at Houston to Bob Gilbertson and two weeks ago at Reading, Pa., to Tommy Johnson Jr.....John has beaten Gary Densham, the racing schoolteacher, 20 times in 21 career meetings.
The Race on TV:
TNN will provide coverage from 4:30-6 pm (ET/PT) Sunday Sunday Oct. 1.
Pro qualifying at 2 pm and 6 pm (CT) Friday; 11 am and 4 pm (CT) Saturday; Finals at 10 am (CT) Sunday.