While it was startling to see Michael Phillips, the 2011 Pro Stock Motorcycle race winner here at the Texas Motorplex, hadn't made the field yet after the third qualifying session, Phillips wasn't all that surprised.
First of all, he said, "We've been struggling all year." But more reassuring was his reminder that this is the same circumstance he was in here last September before he made the show in his final chance and was the star of it Sunday afternoon.
Lightning will not strike twice in this case, for Phillips fared worse in the fourth and final qualifying session and will miss the cut. His best run was 7.179 seconds at 186.12 mph on the quarter-mile course, but the bike fell off to a 7.211, 185.33 in the last-ditch effort.
Even if it had happened again -- and Phillips said he's plenty capable -- it still has been a long, hard row to hoe for the Baton Rouge native.
"Went out testing January 16. I crashed the bike, tore it up. And after that, everything we do, the bike's not responding to nothing we do to it," he said. "All year stuff's been breaking that shouldn't break. The front end, it's just like somebody took a saw and cut it in half. We've just been having one thing after another that's been going on with it.
"It's rough, man. We've been from one extreme to the other extreme, comparing notes to last year, [that] engine to this year's motors. We've just been struggling," Phillips said. "I don't know what the deal is. I haven't changed ignitions. I haven't changed front ends. Whatever you can buy to put on these bikes, I done bought everything brand-new and put on it. It's just not responding to nothin' I'm doing to it, so I don't know. It's like somebody got this thing witchcraft or something."
His plan, of course, is eventually to conquer whatever the problem is. "We're just gradually trying to creep back up on our tune-up and get the bike going again," he said.
He wasn't panicked in the pits before the final qualifying session Saturday, for remembered what he went through a year ago.
"Basically everything that's going on now at this race last year is going on again," Phillips said after Q3. "We didn't get in until the last session. So the tune-up that I had on the last session last year is the tune-up I put in it for this [third] session. We went a 6.96 [to qualify 14th here last season]. If I get it where it don't slip the clutch down the racetrack I should be able to go .95, .94, or something like that."
He said, "Right now [the Suzukis are] having a problem with the crankshafts. You can switch from one crank to another crank and you can lose 13 horsepower. Actually, the motor that I ran in 2010, which is the motor I was running the first couple of runs [this weekend], the motor is not up to par.
"This engine here is one I built. I took the clutch set-up and took the clutch set-up from [a previous] motor. It just knocked the clutch out of it the first pass. This thing's got an extra eight or 10 more horsepower than what my other one had. So we're just going to try to go out there and get it stuck to the track and do my job to ride the bike and do like we did last year . . . win the race again," he said.
His fellow racers shouldn’t underestimate him, he said.
"Those guys know I've been out here awhile. I've been Pro Stock racing since 1992, '93. They know I'm one of the best guys up on the starting line. So I can handle my own up on the starting line. If I can get in, I can figure out a way to win," Phillips said. " It's like Dave Schultz said when I first came into this. Dave said, 'You're can be the best rider in the world, but if you can't go out there and race on Sundays, you're nothing'. That's one thing I can do. I can race on Sundays."
But not this Sunday.
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