When Bob Vandergriff Jr., clinched a spot in the Countdown last Sunday, it was far from dramatic.
Vandergriff lost in the first round of the U.S. Nationals to Khalid alBalooshi, but secured the coveted 10th spot when Clay Millican also was defeated in the first round and alBalooshi was beat by Spencer Massey in round two.
“At Indy, I was actually pretty pleased with the way our car ran,” Vandergriff said. “We struggled through the middle part of the season, but we made some changes and fixed a few things and at the last four races we have been running pretty good. At Indy, it took low ET of the first round to beat me. He had to run a 3.78 to beat my 3.81. We ran 325 mph and 284 mph to half track, so our car was really running good. That part I was pretty pleased with.”
Vandergriff is upbeat as he prepares to compete Friday through Sunday in Charlotte, N.C. The six-race Countdown to the Championship begins at Charlotte’s zMax Dragway.
“I have some optimism going into the Countdown,” Vandergriff said. “We kind of limped our way into the Countdown, but now we have a chance to resurrect our season. Like I told my guys, we kind of got a mulligan, and now we have to make the best of our opportunity. I think we can do some damage in the Countdown. We are excited about the way our car is running right now.”
Millican’s quest for a Countdown spot was doomed by the fact he was docked 70 points throughout the season for oil downs. Vandergriff’s team lost no points for oil downs.
“That’s a reflection of our team and of our crew guys and crew chief (Rob Flynn) that we didn’t receive one oil down penalty all season,” Vandergriff said. “That’s one thing that we can hang our hats on a little bit; that we have a good running car now and we didn’t have to suffer any consequences that Clay Millican’s team did.”
Vandergriff said J.R. Todd will compete with him as a teammate at NHRA’s national event in Dallas Sept. 20-23. Todd has competed at four events this season with Vandergriff, the last being at Indy when he upset Steve Torrence before losing in the second round to Antron Brown.
“We are talking about maybe having J.R. at St. Louis (Sept. 28-30), but he will be there at Dallas for sure,” Vandergriff said.
Vandergriff won his first NHRA Top Fuel national event at Dallas a year ago.
Vandergriff also takes pride in the fact he qualified for the Countdown with far less resources than his fellow competitors from Don Schumacher Racing, Al-Anabi Racing, Morgan Lucas Racing and Kalitta Motorsports.
“This is something we need to build on,” Vandergriff said about making the Countdown. “That’s why we have J.R.’s car out there so we can share in that information because of the resources those other teams have.”
Vandergriff’s best 2012 qualifying effort was third at the season-opening Winternationals in February. He also made it to the semifinals in Houston before losing to eventual race winner Morgan Lucas.
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