LAS VEGAS, NV --- The hot and windy conditions at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway helped Robert Hight and the Auto Club Ford Mustang hold onto the No. 1 qualifying position, his second of 2012, at the 13th annual SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals. Hight will start from the top of the field for the 41st time in his career and the 6th time at The Strip. His position was in jeopardy as track conditions improved during the final qualifying session and there were a number of moves behind Hight.
“That last qualifying run was something to see if you were a fan in the stands. We saw Courtney (Force) run the first 4.14 out there and then the 4.14s just kept coming and coming. I was worried about some of those cars in front of me like Cruz Pedregon, (Matt) Hagan, (Mike) Neff and especially Bob Tasca III along side of me,” said the new points leader. “(Crew chief) Jimmy (Prock) was hoping for more than that 4.13.”
“It blew up right in the lights too. Maybe it was starting to hurt itself a little bit. That is how close this class is. Two thousandths ahead of number two and if you look at the top five there is less than a hundredth of a second between us. That is Pro Stock like right there. It is pretty exciting to think we can go from a place like Gainesville where we could just throw everything at it and run low 4.0s and my Auto Club Ford did really well there. Then you come here it is hot and we are right at the top again. Jimmy definitely has a lot of confidence right now.”
“That run this morning the 4.21 we were very pleased with that. It was a little slow early compared to Neff’s 4.18 that was really a stellar run. If we could have run early like him we would have been right there. All of our Ford Mustangs are running really good and that is what you need. It is not going to get any easier.”
As the defending champion at the SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals Hight will be trying for his third win in a row, a feat he has accomplished once before. In 2010 Hight won three consecutive races (Atlanta, St. Louis, and Topeka). So far this season Hight has collected wins at Phoenix and Gainesville heading into tomorrow’s race.
In the first round Hight will face Terry Haddock who he has never raced in eliminations. For the crewman turned racer Hight understands no driver can be overlooked in the ultra-competitive Funny Car class.
“It goes to show you because we were No. 1 qualifier in Pomona and we went out first round. Terry Haddock has been a spoiler before and he would like for nothing more than to knock us out first round. We have to be on our game tomorrow. I think it is supposed to be a little cooler.”
“Every race is the same. You are always nervous for first round because you have all night to think about it. Once you get done with first round you only have 75 minutes to think before the next race. That is really what you want. If I had my choice I would go out there right now again and run. We have to wait all night and the conditions will change. That is what makes this so exciting.”
With temperatures expected to be in the 60s during first round tomorrow the various crew chiefs will earn their money trying to coax their respective Funny Cars down this race track.
“It is going to change everybody’s tune up. You are going to have to adapt to the air. You are going to have to make big changes. You saw some Funny Car guys out there tonight with tire shake,” said Hight. “That’s how you know how good this race track is at 100 degrees. If that track at first round is upper 80 degrees. You are going to see some mid to low 4.0s and you will see some exciting side by side racing.”
With the No. 1 spot in qualifying secured Rob Fritsch of Sandy, Oregon won the “Win with Force” promotion sponsored by BrandSource and will receive a front loading washer and dryer set.
JFR teammate and previous points leader Mike Neff will face 2010 Funny Car champion Matt Hagan in the first round. For a few minutes during the final qualifying session Neff was paired up with boss and teammate John Force. Once Neff made his 4.153 second pass he jumped away from Force and into a head to head race with Hagan.
“I was expecting it to run a lot better than that. It is good that I don’t have to race Force tomorrow, he’s my boss, in the first round. That is always a good thing. He gets uptight when we have to race each other first round. It is all good,” said Neff, during his top end interview after the run.
Early in the final qualifying session attention turned to performance numbers as Courtney Force posted a solid 4.147 second run behind the wheel of her Traxxas Ford Mustang. Once that number hit the scoreboard crew chiefs dove into their tune up notebooks and ETs dropped at a rapid pace putting Hight’s original 4.132 second Friday night run in jeopardy.
At the end of the day the youngest Force was happy with the performance of her Traxxas Ford Mustang and equally excited about her prospects at her “lucky” track. Force’s No. 4 qualifying position is the best start for any of the front runners for Rookie of the Year consideration.
“I feel like this is a little like my lucky track. This is the track where I made my first 300 mph run and it was a night run. Hopefully the luck will stay with me and we’ll get some more round wins tomorrow,” said Force, a leading Rookie of the Year candidate.
“It was good to come back and get it going from A to B. We didn’t have the quickest car out here but on that last run I knew I was in the show but we wanted to see what it would do. This Traxxas Ford Mustang pulled off a great run. It put us No. 2 and then we got bumped back a couple places. I am happy where we are at. I am happy we were able to change some things and make an improvement on that last pass.”
Finally, John Force will start race day competing beside long-time friend and veteran Gary Densham. Force qualified No. 9 and will give up lane choice to his former teammate.
“I get my buddy Densham in the first round. We have raced each other all over the country. I know he can put up a good number and we’ll have to make sure this Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE Ford is ready to go. I know Guido and Danny will give me a good race car and I’ll be ready on the starting line,” said Force.
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