14-Time Champ Takes Unusual Step to Shake Things Up in Ford Camp
BRAINERD, Minn. – John Force’s announcement after the 28th annual Lucas Oil Nationals created a far bigger stir than did his advance to the semifinals at Brainerd International Raceway.
Faced with the possibility that son-in-law and teammate Robert Hight might not make the 10-driver lineup for the NHRA’s Countdown to One playoffs, Force dropped a bombshell Sunday night.
“I said I wouldn’t shuffle my crew chiefs for three races,” said the 14-time series champion, “but I am moving a driver. Today, (I think) I earned enough to get my Castrol Mustang into the Countdown. It’s not secure, but it’s close enough. To be safe, I should have gone one more round, but I didn’t (so) I’m going with what we’ve got.
“I have about a 100 point lead with two races to go. Somebody is going to really have to do some damage to catch me, but we’ve got to get Robert back in the hunt, so I’m going to move Robert over to my car and I’m gonna drive the Auto Club Mustang.
In the aftermath of Force’s announcement, the two crews were changing the hardware Sunday night, putting Force’s seat and cockpit controls in Hight’s Ford while moving Hight’s equipment into Force’s Mustang.
Force solidified his hold on the No. 8 transfer position Sunday, putting some distance between himself and Neff (68 points). Hight, meanwhile, will move to Reading, Pa., for this week’s Toyo Tires Nationals with work left to do.
He is 12th in points, 30 behind Matt Hagan, 60 behind Cruz Pedregon and 70 behind Neff. To secure a starting slot, he has to pass two of the three before the end of the Labor Day Mac Tools U.S. Nationals.
“We caught a break when Tony beat Cruz,” Hight said of his plight. “That was big for us. We’re only three rounds behind Cruz for the 10th spot. We have two races (remaining before the field is set) and I am up for the challenge. I’ve been in pressure situations before and I am confident in my abilities.
“Not qualifying was tough, trust me. I want to be out there racing for Auto Club, Castrol, Ford, Mac Tools and the rest of our sponsors. We are not out of this Countdown by a long shot.”