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On a record setting weekend Mike Neff and the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang played it smart and took home the driver and crew chief’s 10th career win and fourth this season. Neff tuned and drove his Mustang to four round wins today with an average ET of 4.029 seconds, an astounding tribute to the conditions at Maple Grove Raceway, as well as Neff’s tuning abilities and crew.
“We haven’t seen conditions like this in quite some time. You saw the dragsters and that was really impressive. It was really awesome to watch. What those guys were running is just unbelievable. That showed you what the conditions were like out there. It was a really exciting day of racing,” said Neff, first time winner at Maple Grove Raceway.
Yesterday Neff defeated Tony Pedregon and then had to wait almost twenty four hours for his second round match-up with veteran driver and friend Jim Head. Neff outran Head for the tenth consecutive time and raced right into a match-up with John Force.
In an all-JFR semi-final race Neff ran away from Force to advance to the finals with Johnny Gray, last year’s runner-up at the Auto Plus NHRA Nationals. Force was undone by an engaged throttle stop on his Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE Ford Mustang. When Force hit the throttle his Mustang lurched and failed to hook-up as Neff drove away from the 15-time Full Throttle champion.
Neff is within 54 points of Beckman with two races to go. Beckman padded his lead by 20 points for setting the national ET record, 3.986 seconds. It was a stellar performance weekend but in crunch time and with a possible record looming for Neff he decided to race smart.
“I give credit to Jack Beckman and Cruz Pedregon those three second runs were impressive. I just didn’t have that. I made my career best run a 4.01 and I was pleased with that but I didn’t want to take the chance in the final to try and run three seconds and smoke the tires. I decided to play it safe and make some solid runs and just try and get the round wins,” said Neff. “That was exactly what we needed to do. Beckman and Capps had a pretty good lead on us. We couldn’t give up any more ground. Coming in here realistically we needed to win the next three races to have a shot at it. To get out of here with the win is big. We did all we could here. It feels good to make some forward progress.”
Going into the final Neff did not have lane choice against Johnny Gray who beat new point leader Jack Beckman on a hole-shot in the semi-finals. Fortunately for Neff Gray made that run in the left lane and Neff had made his winning run in the right lane.
“I thought the lanes were pretty equal. Johnny Gray made a great run the round before in the left lane. I am sure they felt comfortable over there. It was nice for me to not have to change lanes even though I didn’t have lane choice. It just worked out,” said Neff.
With two races left in the Countdown to the Championship Neff once again has a chance to become the first driver and crew chief to win a Full Throttle Funny Car championship in the modern era. Last season he battled down to the last day with eventual champion Matt Hagan before finishing No. 2.
“You have to have it all right to get a win any more. The biggest thing is it will be exciting. I want to be able to head out west with a chance,” said Neff. “It would be a downer if we were out of it at this point. It is nice to be alive for the championship.”
Robert Hight and the Auto Club Ford Mustang team had a tall order in the first round when they pulled up beside teammate John Force. It was a tough match-up as both drivers had championship aspirations. After Force outran Hight the 2009 Funny Car champion immediately shifted his focus to making the strongest effort over the last two races.
“There are two races left and our goal is to finish as strong as possible. If the championship is out of reach then we are going to try and outrun every driver in front of us and move up as high as possible in the points,” said Hight. “If we have to race our teammates it should be in the finals not the first round. That will mean qualifying in the top half and we have the Mustang that can do that. We won in Las Vegas in the Spring and I would love to repeat.”
Courtney Force was ousted in the first round by 2011 Funny Car champion Matt Hagan. It was a tough loss for the rookie of the year front-runner who was racing a pink Traxxas Ford Mustang to raise awareness for breast cancer research.
“The points are so tight between about four drivers in the middle trying to get into the top half of the points. It would be a miracle but we still have a long shot at the championship. That is our focus,” said Force. “We are going to keep going rounds and picking up points. We are going to try and go as far as possible. At this point we are trying to get back around my dad and Cruz Pedregon. It will all be really close over these next two races. Every round will count and we have to continue to do well in qualifying and go rounds on Sunday.”
She still has her sights set on moving up in the point standings as she heads to two of her favorite tracks, The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
“I definitely feel comfortable at those race tracks. Especially in October in Las Vegas the conditions can cool down and you can see some more fast racing. We are hoping to get our Mustang running in the low 4.0s again and we’ll get out there and out run these guys. I wish we could have done better in our pink car in Reading for breast cancer awareness. We are just going to go out there and do our best to regain our momentum.
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JOHN FORCE, 63, Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE Ford Mustang
Final Qualifying: 7th at 4.038 seconds, 315.19 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: 0
Race results: Beat Robert Hight, Todd Lesenko. Lost to Mike Neff.
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)
Race results: Beat Tony Pedregon, Jim Head, John Force, Johnny Gray
ROBERT HIGHT, 43, AAA Insurance Ford Mustang
Final Qualifying: 10th at 4.061 seconds, 321.81 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: 0
Race results: Lost to John Force.
COURTNEY FORCE, 24, Traxxas Ford Mustang Final Qualifying: 5
at 4.028 seconds, 317.19 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: +2 (3rd quickest of Q1 and Q3)
Race results: Lost to Matt Hagan