Mike Neff, driver and crew chief of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, threw everything he had at the track at Maple Grove Raceway on the first day of the 28th annual Auto-Plus NHRA Nationals. He was rewarded with his two quickest elapsed time runs of his career, 4.026 then 4.017 seconds, and a provisional No. 2 qualifying position. Jack Beckman will hold the provisional No. 1 position with a 3.989 seconds run after he benefited from an undetected oil down that moved him to the back of the pack.
Neff was the No. 1 qualifier after the first session when he lowered the boom on the Funny Car field with a 4.026 second run beside Cruz Pedregon’s 4.034 second run. The next quickest time was teammate Courtney Force at 4.091 seconds. For Neff, the crew chief, that first run was exactly what he was looking for.
In the second session Neff earned the right to be in the last pair of Funny Cars to go down the track by virtue of his superior performance in the opening session. Surprisingly, after Matt Hagan and Bob Tasca III ran Beckman and Jeff Arend were directed by the NHRA Safety Safari to execute their burnouts but as the Funny Cars were backing up they were told to shut off as track officials down track detected oil on the track. When it was obvious the clean-up would take a while the two cars were allowed to go back to their pits and re-fuel. Then they benefited by running at the back of the pack with the advantage of better conditions and having seen all their competitors’ runs.
Neff improved on his career best time with a 4.017 second run at 318.89 mph. It was far and away the best run of the session until Beckman one upped him a few minutes later. Neff picked up five qualifying bonus points and will go into Saturday with one of the strongest Mustangs underneath him he has had this season. This was Neff’s second best qualifying start after his Gatornationals effort when he made the quickest run of the first three sessions before finally qualifying No. 4 for that event.
“I am not disappointed with that. That is a great run and that is the quickest I have run. Two good runs and I will take it. We love Maple Grove and this race track has some of the best conditions we have seen all year. Hopefully these next two days will be even better. It is an exciting time to be racing,” said Neff.
“You have to be pleased with those two runs. My Castrol GTX Ford Mustang did everything I wanted it to. The first run was set up just like one of our quick runs in testing after St. Louis and this track was better so the run was quicker. I didn’t do too much to it for the second run because I knew I had a good tune up. I am excited and ready to go tomorrow. If we get good conditions I think we can continue to run strong,” said Neff from the top end after recording his career best ET.
While Neff was leading for JFR the way he was followed by strong performances from his teammates. John Force and the Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE Ford Mustang will go into Saturday as the provisional No. 5 qualifier after stepping up in the second session with a 4.038 second run. Force made two solid runs on Friday and is in position to improve on Saturday with good conditions. Force’s 4.038 was his quickest run since his 4.01 last season at this event which was good enough for the No. 2 qualifying position.
“Neff ran that 4.02 and he jumped right up there in the first session. We have been testing a little bit and we are learning every day. I am out here with Castrol and this is kind of like home for them. You want to flex your muscles and run. This Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE Ford Mustang flexed its muscles and so did Robert,” said Force.
“In the second session Neff ran good. It would have been nice to run later like Beckman did. It makes your car run better but it wasn’t his fault. They moved him to the back because of an oil down. We are starting this deal off good. We will see what the weather brings tomorrow,” said Force. “There could be national records set. Mike Neff has a shot at that. You can get excited about the conditions but you can’t get too excited because you wear yourself out thinking about what could be. The trick is to get excited Sunday night when you run like that and you win.”
Robert Hight and the Auto Club Ford Mustang are right behind Force with a 4.061 second run and the provisional No. 6 spot. Hight is looking to make a move at Maple Grove Raceway as the defending event champion. A number of Countdown contenders are in the bottom half of the field including Full Throttle point leader Ron Capps as well as Jeff Arend and Tim Wilkerson.
“We are in the top half going into Saturday. We don’t know what the weather is going to do but hopefully we’ll get a couple more shots. The conditions are some of the best we have seen this season. I know Jimmy Prock knows there is more out there and we will go after it whether it is in qualifying or on race day,” said Hight. “I am glad to see Neff running those low number and Force running 4.03. We can all learn from that and move forward as a team. Our goal is to get everybody in the top half and hopefully knock out some of the people in front of us in points.”
Courtney Force showed off her one-of-a-kind pink Traxxas Funny Car Ford Mustang today in the opening round of qualifying in an attempt to commemorate breast cancer awareness month and raise support for breast cancer prevention and research.
“This is my first time competing at this race track. We’re out here with a pink Traxxas Ford Mustang trying to bring awareness to breast cancer and using it as a tool to represent those who are suffering from breast cancer, survivors or those who have been affected in some way,” said Force.
Force made a 4.091 second run at 311.99 mph straight down the race track in the first session, sending her to the No. 3 spot right behind Cruz Pedregon and teammate Mike Neff. She picked up one bonus point for being third-quickest of that session.
“Our Traxxas Ford Mustang made a great first pass with a 4.091. It put us in the No. 3 spot and we gained a bonus point from that for being third-quickest. These last few races are crucial for bonus pints. We really need to pick up all we can,” said Force.
In the second session Force got to the 660 ft. marker when her Traxxas Ford Mustang spun the tires. She clicked it off and coasted the rest of the way down the race track. By the end of the session, Force was sitting in the provisional No. 9 spot.
“Going into the second round we were really pushing our Mustang hard with the good weather and good track conditions. We ended up spinning the tires down at the other end, which was unfortunate, but we have a good car and we’ll go after it again tomorrow. The conditions will hopefully be a little better. We’re going to see what this pink Traxxas Ford Mustang is capable of,” said Force.