Saturday, September 29, 2012

(Image credit: Ron Lewis Photography

Inaugural AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals
Gateway Motorsports Park
St. Louis, MO
September 28-30, 2012

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MADISON, Ill. (September 29, 2012) – John Force held tight to the No. 2 spot today as qualifying came to an end in preparation for race day at the inaugural AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals at St. Louis.

Force made his quickest pass of the weekend during Gateway Motorsport Park’s Friday night qualifying session with a 4.060 in near-perfect weather and track conditions. No one was able to take that away from him even after two additional rounds of qualifying today.

Force posted a 4.184 ET at over 292 mph and followed it up with a 4.126 second run at over 304 mph on Saturday. Those two runs combined with Force’s solid qualify effort have the 15-time champion in a good position to do some damage in eliminations tomorrow.

“Well, were all in. We finished in second. This Castrol GTX Ford has got a shot at winning the race. If I can win some races I can win a championship. Courtney is flying. It’s putting me on a diet over the winter. I thought I was dieting good. That 50 lbs. difference must be big out there on a track. She always outruns me.”

“Mike Neff struggled a little bit, but he’s in. It’s a shame he and Courtney have to race each other first round, but there’s one positive; one of them will move to second round. And Robert Hight, he’s back in the game. His crew chief Jimmy Prock fixed it (the car),” said Force.

Courtney Force did not improve in qualifying today, but managed to hold onto the No. 4 spot. Her Traxxas Ford Mustang made two solid runs down the race track and picked up five qualifying bonus points along the way.

“We had a great run last night that put us in the top half of the field in the No. 4 spot. We knew the conditions weren’t going to be right to go after another .0 like that, but we definitely learned a lot in the heat going in to prepare for race day tomorrow.

Force’s two passes included a 4.127 second run in the third qualifying session at over 296 mph which was second-quickest of the round. This session alone scored her two bonus points. Force followed that run with a 4.107 second run at over 304 mph. This was the quickest pass of the final qualifying session, therefore granting her three additional bonus points.

“We had two good runs. We picked up bonus points in both sessions being either the quickest car of the session or second quickest. Every point counts. It all counts when you’re in the Countdown to the championship. The more and more bonus points you can pick up really add up so we’re fighting to get a point anywhere we can, even more on race day tomorrow,” said the youngest Force.

The bonus points and the strong qualifying performance moved the rookie driver around teammate Robert Hight in the Full Throttle point standings and she is now in 5th place one point ahead of Hight. The Rookie of the Year frontrunner will take on her teammate, Mike Neff, in the opening round of eliminations of Sunday.

“Unfortunately I have to race Mike Neff in the first round, but we have a good car. It’s a consistent one and we’re just hoping to move up in the points,” said Force.

For Mike Neff and the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang reeling in Full Throttle point leader Ron Capps will be a tough job. Neff was aggressive with his tune-ups by his own admission and qualified for the field on his last pass of the day today. He will unfortunately have to race teammate Courtney Force and the Traxxas Ford Mustang in the first round. Force’s Mustang has been one of the strongest Funny Cars in qualifying lately.

“That was a nail-biter. I backed it off. I have been too aggressive all weekend. Conditions are much better than that. I could have made a lot better run. That is the thing if you want a shot at winning you have to be in the race. First things first we are in the show. Now I will worry about tomorrow. I am definitely relieved,” said Neff, the No. 13 qualifier.

“My confidence is good. I have been trying a few things and we have been missing it here and there. I have some boundaries to go off of. I’ll be swinging for it tomorrow.”

The pair of JFR drivers have only squared off one time this season with Neff getting the win light in the second round of the season opening NHRA Winternationals.

The AAA Insurance Ford Mustang showed promise on Saturday in the last qualifying session. Robert Hight the defending event champion is confident today’s final round combined with last week’s testing effort will give his team enough momentum to start going rounds in the Countdown. Hight closed out qualifying today with a 4.109 second pass which was the second quickest run of the session.

“We tested last week in Dallas and it went really well. The first run today it smoked the tires out there at about 400 feet. I knew (crew chief) Jimmy Prock was just a few adjustments away from figuring this thing out. This Mustang is where it needs to be. That run proves that we are ready for Sunday,” said a confident Hight.

Hight will once again race Ford Racing teammate Tim Wilkerson in the first round. The two Mustangs raced each other in the first round of the AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals with Wilkerson getting the win. In that match-up Wilkerson was the No. 2 qualifier to Hight’s No. 15 spot. Tomorrow the playing field will be more level as they come into the race as No. 7 (Hight) versus No. 10 (Wilkerson). Hight holds a 12-10 record against Wilkerson but has dropped the last three meetings.

Story Courtesy Dana (Force) Marino (intern) and JFR Media Staff. (Image credit: Ron Lewis).

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