Monday, November 2, 2009

Hight's one race away from unlikely NHRA championship

Robert Hight continued his run as the most unlikely of drivers to win the National Hot Rod Assn. funny car championship. He won at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday and increased his lead in the funny car standings to 105 points with one race remaining in the Countdown to One playoffs, at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona starting Nov. 12.
“That is what Cruz Pedregon did last year," HIght said. "To have a 105 point lead going into Pomona it gives you a lot of confidence. It is still not over.”
Hight’s NHRA postseason is akin to a 16-seed in the NCAA basketball tournament making it to the championship game. And not any old 16-seed team, but the winner of the play-in game. Hight was the last driver to qualify for the Countdown, posting a runner-up finish at Indianapolis in the U.S. Nationals to earn a berth in the playoffs and knocking out the reigning funny car champ, Cruz Pedregon.
“My Auto Club Mustang’s performance gives you a lot of confidence," Hight said. "You don’t have to go out there and do dumb things trying to pull wins out. I did that earlier in the year when we were struggling. I got lucky since I never red-lit. I was trying to do too much because I knew the car needed little help. It doesn’t work that way. You have to do what you know how to do. It is all about confidence.”
He has gone on to win three of the first five NHRA funny car Countdown events. He won at zMax Dragway in North Carolina, Texas Motorplex and Las Vegas.
In the Las Vegas race, he beat John Force Racing teammate Ashley Force Hood in the first round. Force Hood came into the Vegas races in second place and 13 points behind Hight in the standings. She left Vegas still in second place in the standings, but has a 105-point deficit.
“My goal going into this year was to finish fourth or better I would be pumped with that," Force Hood said. "To be fighting for first or second this year has gone better than I ever expected it to. When you are right in the middle of it you get greedy and you want everything. Really if you take a step back I never expected to be running for first. Now after this year we will be gunning for first. That is not to take away from my team we are only three years in. It is not something I expected to happen. The sky is the limit for us next year. If we can have a team like we did this year next year sometimes luck plays a part in it. We will just do the best we can.
"Either way if we can be celebrating in Pomona everything that builds up the stress and the anxiety doesn’t matter. In Pomona if one of our teams is on that stage in first place that is all that matters. That is what we have been working for all season.”
Hight beat Jack Beckman in the final in Vegas and is one race away from capping an unlikely and unexpected championship run.
“It’s a tough pill to lose one when you run that good,” said Beckman, a driver for Don Schumacher Racing and a North Hills resident. “But there’s nothing to do but take your hat off and congratulate the other team. I walked over and I congratulated Robert and, for all intents and purposes that run probably was and is going to be the championship. We’re going to win Pomona and race for second place unless a miracle happens.”
In top fuel, Larry Dixon advanced to the final at Las Vegas and lost to Spencer Massey. However, Dixon closed to a point behind Tony Schumacher in the top fuel standings.
Schumacher lost in the second round and almost saw his lead in the top fuel standings disappear.
Massey won for the second time this season.
Larry Morgan won the pro stock final at Las Vegas. He defeated Mike Edwards, the leader in the Pro Stock standings, in the second round. Edwards has an almost insurmountable 139-point lead with one race remaining.
Andrew Hines won the pro stock motorcycle final, but it will be Hector Arana and Eddie Krawiec battling for the pro stock motorcycle championship in Pomona.
Arana has a 54-point lead over Krawiec in the pro stock motorcycle standings.

Photo: Robert Hight won the NHRA funny car portion of the races at Las Vegas and extended his lead in the funny car standings to 105 points. (NHRA)

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