Neff Earns Improbable NHRA Funny Car Win At Houston

Final round photo courtesy Gary Nastase for John Force Racing

Final round photo courtesy Gary Nastase for John Force Racing

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After the 25th annual NHRA O'Reilly Auto Parts Spring Nationals at Royal Purple Raceway outside Houston, TX one streak ended but another continued.

Robert Hight wasn't able to continue his rampage on the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series Funny Car contingent, but his teammate Mike Neff, who tunes, crew chiefs and drives his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang Funny Car became the third John Force Racing driver to win a national event this year.

In six races, there have been three Funny Car winners and every single one of them drives a Ford Mustang for John Force Racing. John Force, the 15-time Funny Car champion started the season with a win in Pomona and then Hight went on his tear, picking up Wally trophies in Phoenix, at Gainesville, Las Vegas and Charlotte. Finally it was Neff's turn and he tuned himself to victory over Ron Capps' Dodge Charger R/T in the finals at Houston.

Neff wasn't in the show until the final round of Saturday qualifying and his victory over Capps was improbable, as he drove around the quicker driver who hazed his tires at the 700-foot mark in the hot, humid air, posting a winning time of 4.239 seconds at 301.67 mph to Capps 4.476/211.79 pass down the 1000-foot dragstrip. "I don't know what Capps ran in the final but we were running real close together," Neff said. "I did try and pick it up," for the semi-finals and final round. "I don't get intimidated by anybody that I race; we have a good race car and a good race team. We do our own thing."

Neff began the day by defeating journeyman and good friend Jim Head, but he nearly fouled out (leaving before the green lights). In the second round he dusted No. 1 qualifier Cruz Pedregon and placed last year's Houston winner, Jeff Arend on the trailer in the semi-finals. Neff was the runner-up to Arend in the 2011 race here.

Anne Proffit photo

Anne Proffit photo

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This win marks the seventh career Funny Car driver's Wally for Mike Neff but his first of the 2012 season after three final round appearances. He fell to teammates John Force at Pomona and Robert Hight in Phoenix, the first two races of the year. He's also locked into the inaugural Traxxas Nitro Shootout: "I feel good about getting into the Traxxas Shootout because that is something everyone wants to be a part of. I am fortunate to get into that (race) and also I am even more excited about getting the XO-1, 100-mph radio controlled car," as a keepsake. He's the third qualifier after Force and Hight.

Last year Mike Neff owned the Funny Car standings until the Countdown to One shootout began after the Mac Tools US Nationals near Indianapolis. This year he's been concentrating on making the car as good as he possibly can each weekend, but trying not to peak too early, as he might have done in 2011. "Today I definitely backed my way into it. It wasn't the way we like to do it but we will take it. Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good."

With his victory Neff is second in the point standings behind Hight, 597 to 489, while Capps is third with 379 points and Jack Beckman, who failed to qualify for this race lies fourth with 343 to Cruz Pedregon's 342. Johnny Gray, John Force, Bob Tasca III, Courtney Force and Arend complete the top 10 heading into this week's contest at Commerce, GA, the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals on the Atlanta Dragway dragstrip.

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