PHOENIX --- Castrol GTX backed Mike Neff made the most of his final qualifying session racing to the No.2 qualifying position with a blistering 4.096 second run, at the Arizona NHRA Nationals. His run was reminiscent of Robert Hight’s final qualifying run last weekend that catapulted him from outside the field to the No. 1 position. For the driver and tuner of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang Funny Car, making a good pass on his final run puts the driver at ease going into Sunday’s eliminations.
“Like they old saying goes you are only as good as your last run. You can make three really good runs and then you make a bad run it can take the wind right out of you. You forget about those good runs so there is a lot to be said about ending on a high note on the last run. It can make or break your confidence,” said Neff, the 2012 NHRA Winternationals finalist.
Neff’s 4.096 second pass with the quickest of not just the last session but the entire day of qualifying on Saturday. It earned the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang driver three valuable qualifying bonus points.
When Neff looked back at the weekend with his crew chief hat on that final run was just want the two-time world championship wrench turner was looking for.
“That last run was what we have been looking for all weekend. The conditions have been great here. We were on a pretty good run Friday night and something happened and it ran lean and blew up. We made quite a few changes to make sure that didn’t happen again,” said Neff. “When it didn’t go the first run today, that put us up against the wall a little bit. We really needed to go down the track that run to make sure all the changes we made were going to work out. We hit it all pretty close and I am really pleased with that run.”
Neff will face veteran Bob Bode in the first round. They have not raced each other since Neff’s rookie year when No. 9 qualifier Bode defeated No. 8 qualifier Neff at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
In the premier first round match-up No. 5 qualifier and 15-time champion John Force will face No. 12 qualifier and rookie Courtney Force. It will be the first time the two drivers have raced side by side in eliminations. It will be the third time the family duo have made side by side passes going back to the Florida test session in January. Today they paired up twice in qualifying. The trio of runs Courtney has raced beside her father makes the 15-time champ the most consistent track mate for the youngest Force with the exception of Jack Beckman who she has also made three passes beside.
“I gotta race Courtney first round tomorrow. First time I raced Ashley she beat me, but I’m not going to let that happen again so let’s see what happens,” said Force.
“Like Pomona, when you get all four cars qualified, you’ve done your job. Now it’s time to race tomorrow. Courtney’s still learning every day. She stepped up and ran a 4.18, but her Traxxas Mustang has got a lot more in it. I gotta race her first round tomorrow. Mine stepped up and ran a 4.11, Neff jumped up and ran a 4.09, Robert ran a 13, so I got four good Mustangs.”
In his career Force has only lost to one female Funny Car driver, his daughter Ashley Force Hood, who he has a 6-6 record against.
“Auto Club, Ford, Castrol, BrandSource, Mac Tools and Traxxas; I know they’re happy. We were down working all the shows today with Ford in the Midway and yesterday with our BrandSource display. The turnout at the Traxxas deal was huge. The fans are really loving their products. They’re loving all the products. But I think it’s (Traxxas) more of something they can really be involved in and it’s pretty cool stuff,” said Force.
Ironically it was the stellar pass by teammate Mike Neff in the final qualifying session that pushing John Force back on spot from No. 4 into No.5 and first round race with his youngest daughter.
Qualifying for her second consecutive race was a big step for Courtney Force.
“Last Saturday I was just trying to get qualified and now I’m sure we do have a good car; seeing that we did so well last weekend made me more confident going into this weekend. Now, we’re going into Sunday in the field. We are 12th again this weekend, but as long as I have a consistent car and we’re learning new things from it and we have it going a little faster than last weekend, I think we can be competitive.”
At the Arizona NHRA Nationals the 23 year-old driver once again made consistent passes without any problems. On a number of runs she had her hands full but the rookie driver got her Mustang to the lights and posted respectable times every session.
“Qualifying went well. Once again this weekend we had a consistent car. I had to run dad for both of my passes today, which was a lot of fun. He was trying to mess with me a little bit on the tree and that is going to lead to a good race tomorrow since I have him first round,” said Force.
“I’m happy that we wound up 12th. We were working hard to go after a better run on that last pass. We were probably trying to go for a 4.15, but it spun the tires. It was ahead of dad’s car so when we got down about half track it started to spin the tires and then he got around me. It’s definitely all made me feel confident because I think Ron (Douglas, crew chief) learned a lot from that last run and what it did and how we can fix it for first round tomorrow.”
For Robert Hight and the Auto Club Ford Mustang team Sunday can’t get here fast enough. After a disappointing first round loss from the No. 1 position last week in California starting from the No. 8 spot might be a welcome relief for the 2009 NHRA Funny Car champion. It was touch and go but Hight’s ET of 4.132 seconds held onto the No. 8 spot by a mere .002 seconds over Ford teammate Bob Tasca III and will give Hight lane choice in the first round.
“At this race track it is huge to be in the top half for the first round. It’s not that you can’t get down the left lane. John (Force) made a nice run tonight. That was pretty impressive. We were going harder than he was and it just wouldn’t hold. I am pretty pleased because we fixed our Mustang,” said Hight. “Rolling in the gate we dropped a cylinder. Last night was smooth and the first run today was smooth. Now we just have to work on our application. We have fixed what bit us in Pomona. Even the 4.06 run that got us No. 1 it rattled pretty hard. In the first round it rattled but now we have that fixed. Now it is just the matter of getting the application right. You can do more in the right lane. Lane choice is going to be huge tomorrow. I am glad we held onto the top half. I’m not saying you can’t win from the left lane but it will be harder.”
At Firebird Raceway the lanes can be tricky as condition change so being able to pick your race track is a big mental and practical advantage. Hight is planning on using all his driving skills to ensure he can pick his lane after every round win starting with his first round match-up.
“You want to keep lane choice. We are going to be shallow staging at least I am. Let those other guys give it away if they want to roll in deep. I am going to put myself in position to have lane choice in the second round if my Auto Club Mustang goes. We are going to have some hitters tomorrow starting with Bob Tasca III.I am going to go out there and race smart.”
Hight and Tasca III have met seven previous times with the JFR driver holding a 4-3 advantage.
Final round eliminations will begin at 11 a.m. tomorrow.