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Halfway through the 2012 NHRA Countdown to the Championship the four Ford Mustangs in the Funny Car stable at John Force Racing will face a tough battle to win the Full Throttle Funny Car championship. With three races remaining all of the teams have a shot at the championship but the odds will be stacked against them after a disappointing day at Gateway Motorsports Park. Mike Neff and the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang was the only JFR Funny Car to advance out of the first round and the team caught a break when point leader Ron Capps also lost in the second round. Neff will leave St Louis 99 points – five rounds – out of first place.
Rookie of the year favorite Courtney Force suffered an unfortunate first round loss this morning in the opening round of eliminations at the inaugural AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals. Despite Force’s better reaction time against Neff, she couldn’t recover her Mustang Funny Car fast enough from an early tire-smoking run. She smoked the tires at the hit and pedaled it. At about the 300 ft. mark, Force’s Traxxas Ford Mustang took a sharp turn to the left and hit the guard wall.
“First round going up there someone had smoked the tires in the lane ahead of us. We thought it would be a better lane. We didn’t think we would have a problem with it smoking the tires, but it did. I did my best to recover it. I just was going after that win light and I pedaled it before it had enough time to settle down and since it was still up on the tire it sent me over into the wall,” said Force.
Neff began on a good pass, then lost traction late and crossed the centerline just past the finish line.
“You know, you get fired up on race day and you try to go out there and win. I thought maybe he got in trouble. You just want to recover your car as soon as you can in hopes that you can get to the other end and something could happen in the other lane. You could get lucky,” said Force.
This weekend Force moved to the fifth spot in the NHRA point standings, just around teammate and brother-in-law Robert Hight. She stacked up five total bonus points from being the second-quickest in the Funny Car field in the third qualifying session and quickest in the final qualifying session.
“We want to keep moving up in the points. We moved up to the fifth spot just over qualifying this weekend. We just have to continue to pick up the points in qualifying and go rounds on Sunday,” said Force.
Force is now 0-2 to Neff in eliminations. She will leave the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals in sixth place after Tim Wilkerson raced to the semi-finals after Force was eliminated in round one.
“We’re both Team Force drivers. Glad that he did well, but we were really trying to get that win for our Traxxas team. It just wasn’t a good day for us out here in St. Louis. My guys are hard at work and we’re just going to get ready for next weekend in Reading,” said Force.
Neff slipped from second to third in the Full Throttle point standings and going into the Auto-Plus NHRA Nationals in Reading, Pennsylvania he will need a strong performance to cut into Capps’ lead. He struggled in qualifying at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals slipping into the field as the No. 13 qualifier. He was matched up with teammate Courtney Force and in a wild first round race he narrowly got the win as his Mustang veered towards the center line. Force’s Traxxas Ford Mustang had struck the tires behind him and the rookie driver scuffed the wall as she tried to chase down Neff.
In the biggest upset of the day John Force and the Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE Ford Mustang lost to veteran Dale Creasy Jr. as the No. 2 qualifier fell to the No. 15 qualifier. This was the fourth consecutive time the 15-time champion has fallen to Creasy in elimination rounds. Force fell back one spot in the points to 10th place in the Full Throttle standings and he is 218 points behind Full Throttle point leader Ron Capps. The variance in points in the bottom half of the Top Ten is so tight that Force is only 59 points – three rounds – out of fourth place.
Robert Hight and the AAA Insurance Ford Mustang were looking to cut into the lead as well, but a clutch malfunction in the opening round versus Ford teammate Tim Wilkerson cost him the round win. In qualifying the AAA Insurance Mustang was good enough to start from the top half of the field but now Hight will to head to Reading with hopes of repeating as event champion in order to get back to championship form. Last year Hight won a tough race on Monday, after rain moved in to delay the finish, defeating Johnny Gray.
“I was out in front of Wilkerson past half-track and then my clutch just welded together. That was it. We had a good car and we’ll take a good car to Reading next weekend. We haven’t gotten off to the start we wanted in the countdown but we are not out of it yet by a long shot. Capps went out in round two so we can still catch him in a couple of races,” said Hight.
* * * *
JOHN FORCE, 63, Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE Ford Mustang
Qualifying: 2nd at 4.060 seconds, 308.35 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: +2 (2nd quickest of Q2)
Race results: Lost to Dale Creasy Jr
MIKE NEFF, 45, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
Bonus Qualifying Points: 0
Race results: Beat Courtney Force, lost to Tony Pedregon
ROBERT HIGHT, 43, AAA Insurance Ford Mustang
Final Qualifying: 7th at 4.090 seconds, 312.06 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: 0
Race results: Lost to Tim Wilkerson
COURTNEY FORCE, 24, Traxxas Ford Mustang Final Qualifying: 4
at 4.073 seconds, 309.70 mph Bonus Qualifying Points: +2 (2nd quickest of Q3) Race results: Lost to Mike Neff.