(09/18/12) --- For the second year in a row Mike Neff reached the final round at the kick-off race for the Countdown to the Championship, on the heels of winning the Mac Tools US Nationals. Tonight unfortunately he suffered the same fate as 2011 losing a tough final to a Don Schumacher Racing Dodge Charger at the 5th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts Nationals. This year it was Ron Capps’ NAPA Auto Parts Charger that out ran the driver and crew chief’s Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. After a five hour rain delay Neff battled his was through four tough rounds and moved up to the no. 2 position in the Full Throttle points.
“We qualified third and ended up second. So, all in all, it’s always a good day anytime you go to the final. It’s a little disappointing having it smoke the tires like that. We didn’t make any changes. We weren’t trying to be more aggressive there at all. We did the same thing all day long so we’re kinda shocked that it did that,” said Neff. “We ran good all day right in there with everyone else. So it was a good day. It’s nice to have a good first race in the Countdown because you just can’t afford to go out early it seems like. So to be able to make a positive gain here today, going from fourth to second in the points, it feels good so we’re not going to complain about that.”
In the final he did not have lane choice, a hurdle he had overcome in the previous two rounds with success. Capps took the right lane relegating Neff to the suspect left lane where his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang overpowered the track and smoked the tires just past the Christmas Tree. Capps winning time of 4.060 was a tick off his winning semi-final time.
Neff outran Johnny Gray in the opening session 4.271 to Gray’s 5.931. His was the second slowest winning ET of the opening round and after that Neff was dead-on. He defeated teammate and boss John Force 4.065 to 4.129 and in a tough semi-final race he ran away from Capps’ teammate Jack Beckman with a solid 5.050 second run to Beckman’s 4.298 second pass. In the semis Capps bested Neff’s time by three thousandths of a second and that proved to be the difference in the final considering it gave him the valuable lane choice decision.
Neff was joined in the second round by John Force after the 15-time champion outran his rookie daughter, Courtney Force, for the first time in 2012. The elder Force was 0-2 against the odds on favorite for Rookie of the Year Honors, Courtney Force.
Courtney Force’s Traxxas Ford Mustang uncharacteristically smoked the tires again in the suspect left lane and Force took the win light.
“You have to get up to race your teammates. I am up because I am 63 and I love what I do. I am out there to win every round. I taught my kid all I can teach her. I have been in mental overload so it was nice to just be out there and racing her. Young people like Courtney and Alexis bring your energy up and I love it. I try and feed off of their energy.”
At the end of the day John Force was pleased with how his team started the Countdown. His optimism was buoyed by the continued strong performance of Neff, Courtney and Robert Hight.
“Neff moved up to second by going to the final today. I held my position. We have three really good race cars. Robert, Mike and Courtney’s Mustangs are all set. My Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE Mustang is coming around. It is starting to show consistency. If we can improve on what we ran this weekend we can go after this championship. I know Guido and Danny are doing their best and getting better every run.”
In the first race of her Countdown career Courtney Force had one of the toughest draws. Her Traxxas Ford Mustang had performed well over the course of the weekend.
“Unfortunately I had to race my dad first round which was not a lot of fun. You know, you never want to race a teammate especially the first race out into the Countdown to the Championship. We had a good car all weekend. Unfortunately the rain kinda caused a problem with the race track and the lane we were in,” said Force.
“Our car smoked the tires right on the hit and I tried to pedal it hoping maybe something would go wrong in the other lanes with Dad’s car. I mean. I never want to wish anything bad on him or anyone, but obviously we wanted to go after that win light because we are in this for the championship and I know my dad is as well. Our heads were in the game. We both had great reaction times for that first round and I pedaled the car. It took me over to the wall. I was trying to get it so bad, but Dad got the win over me and we’re just going to have to learn from that and hope for a better race next weekend along with an awesome Traxxas Shootout for our sponsor.”
Hight was the no. 7 qualifier and on his run with Jeff Arend his Auto Club Ford Mustang destroyed a spark plus causing the BOSS 500 motor to start mixing up cylinders. This was the death blow for Hight’s chances of advancing to the second round. The Auto Club Ford Mustang fell two spots in the points but with five races remaining Hight in eager to get to the Texas Motorplex.
“Losing that spark plug just killed our motor. It was on a killer run but you know that is racing. If something like that has to happen I want it to happen on the first race of the Countdown instead of the last race. I am looking forward to getting to the Motorplex and going rounds,” said Hight.