To say that John Force Racing (JFR) has been a dominant player in recent years at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals would be stating the obvious.
Mike Neff rolled to his second straight U.S. Nationals title on Sunday after he disposed of Tim Wilkerson in the final with an impressive 4.079-second pass at 311.05 mph. It was also JFR’s fifth consecutive Indy event crown and its sixth title in the last seven years.
Previous JFR Indy winners include Robert Hight (2006, 2008) and Ashley Force Hood (2009, 2010).
“It seems like it was a never-ending saga here this weekend,” said an energy-drained Neff. “But, it’s the U.S. Nationals. There’s just something about it – you just know there’s a lot more at stake even though you try to tell yourself it’s just another race.”
Neff, the 45-year-old with the Hollywood good looks, knew going into the 2012 version of the NHRA’s most prestigious race that he would have to restore his confidence as driver of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang on which he also is the crew chief.
A two-time winner already this season (at Houston and Norwalk, Ohio), Neff, the mechanic, had been the harshest critic of Neff, the driver, especially after a foul start in the quarterfinals two weeks ago at Brainerd, Minn.
“I felt bad for my team, my sponsors, everybody involved,” he said. “They all put the work in and to just blow it like that (is painful). I’ve done that too many times, but we were determined to try and stay positive. I think we still have a great shot at the championship.”
Clearly, Neff will carry a great deal of momentum going into the opening round of the six-race Countdown to the Championship at Charlotte’s zMAX Dragway in two weeks.
“We’ve had a good car all year,” he said. “We’ve been kind of racing under the radar and trying different things. Some of them have worked and some haven’t, but now it’s time to put everything together.
“Nobody accumulated more points than we did last year (in reference to his runaway victory in the NHRA’s 17-race regular season). But, like it or not, the championship is based off six races and you have to try and plan so your program is strongest in those last six races.
“The tricky thing about racing is sometimes it just doesn’t work the way you want it to. The thing is, if it was easy, everybody would be winning. Drag racing is all about making adjustments. Whether it’s Charlotte or Vegas or Indy, the track may be the same, but the conditions that you have to deal with are never the same.”
Despite his loss to Neff and a subsequent 10-point oil down penalty, Wilkerson managed to take the 10th and final Countdown position.
And, even after Wilkerson beat him in round two, Jeff Arend still clinched the ninth spot in the standings as the tour now prepares to head to North Carolina for the second time this year.
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