Going into final eliminations at the 28th Auto Plus NHRA Nationals John Force Racing is poised to cut into the Full Throttle points lead of Ron Capps and Jack Beckman, the current No. 1 and No 2 drivers, with three races left on the schedule. Mike Neff tuned and drove his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang to two career best ETs yesterday, 4.026 and then 4.017 seconds, and today pushed the boundaries on a superior track surface. Neff will go into race day as the No. 3 qualifier behind two of the quickest 1000 ft. runs in NHRA history. Beckman is the No. 1 qualifier with a 3.989 second pass followed by Cruz Pedregon at 3.997 seconds.
Ironically, if Neff could make a run a shade quicker than Beckman’s 3.989 seconds his 4.017 second time would meet the NHRA’s certification requirement for a back-up time (a time within 1%) and Neff could leave Pennsylvania with 20 bonus points and a new national ET record. Neff’s window to set the national ET record would be a run between 3.978 and 3.988 seconds to keep his 4.017 second back up time.
John Force ended the qualifying sessions at historic Maple Grove Raceway by manhandling his Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE Ford Mustang down the tricky right lane with an ET of 4.041 seconds which was third quickest of the session. Unfortunately there was some shuffling of the ladder and Force was relocated to the No. 7 qualifying spot and a first round match-up with another championship contender and teammate Robert Hight.
“Our hot rods are running good. This track was great. I was glad we got two shots today. The weather looked like it was going to wash us out but it held off. I got a bonus point in that last session so Guido and Danny G have a handle on this Mustang. Neff is third and has a chance to move up in the points. Courtney and I will have lane choice,” said Force.
“Robert runs 4.061 and is in the bottom half which is unusual for most races. I hate having to race teammates in the first round. It is hard to get up to beat a guy like Robert or Courtney or Neff but I will do it. This is almost Castrol’s backyard so we will give them a good race tomorrow and may the best man win.”
It is safe to say that the winner of this first round tilt will continue to have championship aspirations and the loser will continue to battle to reach as high in the points standings as possible. With a tight battle shaping up in the bottom half of the field combined with an unfortunate DNQ by Countdown driver Tim Wilkerson a move up the ladder is possible for both drivers.
Last year Robert Hight qualified No. 11 and went on to win a rain delayed Auto Plus NHRA Nationals. In the first round last year he had to beat veteran Ron Capps. Tomorrow Hight will have a tall order as he takes on boss and 15-time Funny Car champion John Force in his quest for a repeat win at Maple Grove Raceway.
“I don’t like racing a teammate in the first round especially John. We aren’t out of this championship countdown and if we want to get back into the thick of things we are going to have to go rounds tomorrow. The conditions will hopefully be good and all the teams are looking at the weather,” said Hight, who won the race on Monday morning last year outpacing Johnny Gray. “
“I can’t control the weather so I am going to get something to eat and get some rest. John is the best driver out here and I’ll have to be on top of my game tomorrow. My Auto Club guys are going to give me a good race car and I am going to do my job on the tree. It will be exciting for sure.”
This will be the first time Hight has raced Force in the 2012 season and he has a career 14-11 record against the winningest driver in NHRA history. The pair have never raced at Maple Grove Raceway.
Courtney Force raced her pink Traxxas Ford Mustang Funny car to her career-best elapsed time today in the first pass of the day; the third qualifying session. She ran a 4.028 ET at 317.19 mph alongside Ford driver Tim Wilkerson and moved up six spots to the No. 4 qualifying position.
“I got my career-best ET (elapsed time) today out here in the third qualifying session. We have great conditions out here in Reading. We ran a 4.028 at 317 mph. It definitely was my quickest, but not my fastest (career-best). We went up to one of the top spots and picked up a point to help us in the countdown to the championship,” said Force.
Force is sporting the pink Traxxas Funny Car Ford Mustang body to commemorate breast cancer awareness month and to raise support for breast cancer prevention and research.
“It was a great day out here for out Traxxas Ford Mustang team representing our pink body on our race car and really just using it as a tool to bring awareness to breast cancer,” said Force.
Force made another great at 4.046 seconds, 319.60 mph on her final qualifying shot beside teammate and brother-in-law Robert Hight. Neither car improved on this pass and by the end of the session Force was bumped down one spot to the No. 5 qualifying position.
“We’re really hoping to keep this car running consistent. We had a good pass with a 4.05 on our last run and actually had the national speed record at one point before it got taken away from us again,” said Force.
Force will go into Sunday with lane choice over Matt Hagan, last year’s NHRA Full Throttle World Champion. She is currently 2-1 against Hagan in previous events. The 2012 lead candidate for Auto Club’s Road to the Future Award for top “Rookie of the Year” last beat Hagan in the final round of the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Northwest Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries in Seattle, Wash.; the location of her first national event win.
“We’re just excited. We have a good car going into race day. We’re in the top half of the field. We’ll have lane choice in the first round against Matt Hagan. Things are looking good for Sunday so fingers crossed that we can get this pink Traxxas Ford Mustang Funny Car in the Winner’s Circle for all of those affected by breast cancer,” said Force.
* * * *
JOHN FORCE, 63, Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE Ford Mustang
Final Qualifying: 7th at 4.038 seconds, 315.19 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: 0
First round opponent (W-L): Robert Hight (11-14)
MIKE NEFF, 45, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
Final Qualifying: 3rd at 4.017 seconds, 318.84 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: +5 (quickest of Q1 and 2nd quickest of Q2)
First round opponent (W-L): Tony Pedregon (13-8)
ROBERT HIGHT, 43, AAA Insurance Ford Mustang
Final Qualifying: 10th at 4.061 seconds, 321.81 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: 0
First round opponent (W-L): John Force (14-11)
COURTNEY FORCE, 24, Traxxas Ford Mustang Final Qualifying: 5th at 4.028 seconds, 317.19 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: +2 (3rd quickest of Q1 and Q3)
First round opponent (W-L): Matt Hagan (2-1)