POMONA, CA – It is a long shot but a shot none the less for the 2012 Full Throttle Funny Car championship for the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang tuned and driven by Mike Neff. Going into the final day of the 2012 season at the Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona Neff is the No. 10 qualifier and will start his championship quest against Paul Lee.
Neff is undeterred by the task in front of him and has the confidence of a crew chief who has two world championships on resume including the 2010 comeback win by John Force on the final day of the season.
“We are going to go out and give it everything we’ve got. We are going to try and win the race. We are going to have to see what happens in first round. That is all we can do. Anything is possible,” said Neff at the end of the day Saturday.
“They (Capps and Beckman) could oil the track down and we win the race after they went out in the first round. Who knows? Anything can happen and our goal is to go out there and win the race. We are going to run as hard as we can and see where that takes us. We have come back on Sunday before but I know this is a long shot but we have a shot.”
As the number three driver in the Full Throttle points Neff would need some help from former JFR driver Tony Pedregon and rookie Alexis DeJoria, Capps’ and Beckman’s first round opponents, respectively. If both the Don Schumacher Racing drivers fell in the first round Neff would need to win the race and set the national elapsed time record in the process to win the championship by seven points. Beckman is the current national ET record holder at 3.986 seconds set at the Auto-Plus NHRA Nationals two races ago.
Capps is 23-27 versus the two-time Funny Car champion Tony Pedregon in his career. They are 9-9 in their first round match-ups with Capps having the most recent victory two weeks ago in Las Vegas. Capps is 2-0 versus Pedregon this season.
Beckman is 6-1 versus rookie Alexis DeJoria this season. He has beaten here twice in the first round in the Countdown.
Courtney Force qualified No. 4 today and stayed in the top half of the pack; the highest qualified car for the John Force Racing team. She will go into Sunday with lane choice over 2011 Funny Car Champion Matt Hagan. Force is 2-2 against Hagan in previous matchups.
“I’m excited going into tomorrow. We ended up in the No. 4 spot. We have a great race car and it’s a consistent one running in the 4.0’s. We’re just excited to be doing well for the final race of the season,” said Force.
The 24-year-old a lock for Auto Club’s Road to the Future Award for top “Rookie of the Year” began the day in the No. 3 spot which held from her opening qualifying pass on Thursday at 4.032 seconds; a career-best for the rookie driver.
The first session of the day resulted in the youngest Force running a 4.090 ET at 312.21 mph. She then made an impressive pass straight down the groove to wrap up the day with a 4.039 ET at 317.12 mph, but was eventually bumped down to the No. 4 spot after driver Ron Capps made a move to the No. 1 position.
“We’re happy to be qualified at the top for the final race of the year and it’s good to be back at my home track,” said the Yorba Linda resident.
“It’s pretty crazy how far we’ve come as a team. These Traxxas guys have given me a great race car and I can’t say enough about my crew chiefs Ron Douglas and Dan Hood. They are great at what they do and give me the best car they can let me take it from there,” said Force.
The Traxxas team has also been nominated for NHRA’s Hard Working Crew Award for 2012 in the Funny Car category for their victory in Seattle in only their 15th race. Fans can vote for Courtney and her Traxxas crew online at nhra.com/hardworkingcrew.
While Neff will be battling for the championship there will be an equally compelling battle behind him for the Nos. 4-8 positions in the Full Throttle point standings. The Auto Club Ford Mustang and driver Robert Hight could make a run up the point standings but first they will have to defeat a tough first round opponent in Johnny Gray. The veteran driver is looking to pick up his third win of the season.
“We have a tough race first round against Johnny Gray. You want to end the season on a high note. The off-season seems like it is twice as long when you don’t have success on the last day of the season. We are going to head straight to Las Vegas in a couple days to start working on 2013,” said Hight.
“We still have a job to do tomorrow and that is to race hard and represent Auto Club and all our sponsors. Hopefully things will fall Mike Neff’s way, the weather will cooperate and he has a shot at a national record. Our team has fought hard and we are going to continue to battle until the season is over.”
The match-up will be a classic No. 8 versus No. 9 qualifier match-up with Gray’s 4.046 second run from the final qualifying session giving him lane choice over Hight’s 4.053 second run from the third qualifying session today. In that third session where conditions will closely resemble round one tomorrow Gray smoked the tires and recorded a 8.640 second, 71.08 mph run.
John Force will be trying to book-end his season with a win tomorrow. The 15-time champion opened his season with a win at the historic NHRA Winternationals but since then the winningest driver in NHRA history has been shut-out. He can turn his season around with a first round win and some success from his Castrol teammate Mike Neff.
“Capps throwing that low ET and Beckman having it earlier. Boy, they have the critical points that we needed. But Neff can still win this championship. I ain’t going to take no until the end. We have some great cars here,” said Force. “Robert (Hight’s) car is starting to fly.
Heck, I ran a 4.07. This is a tough field; one of the toughest I’ve ever seen. Mike Neff is right there in the running. He pushed it every run trying to look at that national record. We’re also watching oil downs. If they have some oil downs, well, no one thinks about that. I think about everything.”
While the team owner is looking for more championship success the paternal side of John Force is pleased with the performance of his youngest daughter and driver of the Traxxas Ford Mustang.
“Most of all, in this hunt is another good car; Courtney. I know she’s disappointed she wasn’t running in the threes, but her car is flying. Ron Douglas is doing a great job. She would have run quicker, but her little angel (nephew) Jacob (Hood) fell asleep in her tow vehicle at about half-track.”
Finals eliminations will start at 11 a.m. with Top Fuel then Funny Car.