Hight, Brown and Line set Firebird pace
There were plenty of storylines at the 28th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals, where clashes between teammates occurred in the final round of all three Full Throttle Drag Racing Series car categories Sunday at Firebird International Raceway.
But the most important and enduring story for the NHRA might be the continuing development of Courtney Force. The 23-year-old daughter of Funny Car racing legend John Force beat her father in the first round of eliminations, then posted a career-best 4.099-second pass in besting Todd Lesenko to advance to the semifinals.
Courtney's potential run to a Wally trophy was halted in the semis by her teammate Robert Hight, who went on to top Mike Neff in an all-John Force Racing finals.
Courtney Force's 4.199-second pass in the semis lost out to Hight's 4.158.
"If she keeps this pace going, next race she will be in the finals," Hight said. "She's doing a great job, and I can tell you right now she is ready to go to Gainesville."
John Force's youngest daughter qualified 12th and successfully went up against her father for the first time ever in in the first round of eliminations, winning with a 4.146 ET at more than 307 mph as John's Castrol Mustang dropped a cylinder.
John Force has spent several years racing daughter Ashley Force Hood, but Sunday marked his first elimination run against Courtney.
"It's hard to get in that fight mode where you want to drill the competition -- hard to get that way against your family no matter how hard I try," Force said. "I went through it with Ashley. There is just a difference in emotion. You love your kids, and you want them to do well. But I just choked it out there. The car dropped a cylinder."
Unlike her more reserved sister Ashley, Courtney has the same kind of outgoing personality that drag racing fans love (or loathe) about their father. She looked confident and composed in what was only her second top-level NHRA Full Throttle Series event.
"I knew having my dad in the first round was going to be tough," she said. "I raced him in qualifying a couple times. I hate beating him, but my car went out and ran pretty good, and he got in trouble early in the right lane.
"Second round, I had the best of the round, so that definitely gave me a lot more confidence going into the semis. I was excited to get my first second-round win in a Pro category. It must be rookie luck because I am still in shock that I am even out here driving one of these."
Hight went on to edge Neff 4.139-4.168 in the all-JFR finals as hotter conditions produced slower times.
"I'll be honest; I would not have bet on a 4.13 beating Neff in the final," Hight said. "We didn't have a chance if Mike Neff was running like he was running all day. That has been a tough, tough car. I am not sure what kind of a problem he had on that last run, but [crew chief] Jimmy Prock just made it go down the left lane, and we picked it up a little from the round before.
"I've been to the final here a couple times, but I never got the job done. This is big," Hight added.
Top Fuel: Brown extends Schumacher's drought
Don Schumacher Racing has owned the finals in Top Fuel so far in 2012, with Antron Brown emerging victorious at Firebird.
Seven-time Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher finished second to a DSR teammate for the second event in a row as his string of final-round losses reached eight, extending over a full year.
Brown has won four straight final-round matchups against Schumacher in that time span.
It was the 16th Top Fuel win of Brown's NHRA career, matching the 16 he achieved in Pro Stock Motorcycle. His 3.793-second/319.82 mph run barely bested Schumacher's 3.813 at 318.17.
Brown finished second to DSR teammate Spencer Massey at the season-opening NHRA Winternationals and took the Top Fuel points lead with his win at Phoenix.
"Winning never gets old," he said. "Tony's running good, and Massey's team is running on mean. We have three strong cars at DSR, and we bow out against each other. That's what pushes us."
Pro Stock: Toe-ing the Line
Summit Racing also put two cars into the Arizona Nationals finals, squaring off defending Pro Stock champion Jason Line against teammate Greg Anderson.
The Summit duo put on a superb drag race, getting out of the box within a hundredth of a second of each other. Line's 6.558-second, 211.69 mph pass barely nosed Anderson's 6.570/211.06 mph effort.
"It feels good to get my first win here in Phoenix," Line said. "We've had one of the best cars in the class for the first two races but weren't able to close the deal in Pomona, so it's great to get the job done today.
"This car is absolutely phenomenal right now," he added. "It's taken a lot of hard work by everyone on this team, both here at the track and back at the shop, to get us in this position, so I'm glad we were able to get this win for them today."
Pomona winner Anderson left Phoenix with a 209-208 points lead over Line.
John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing and other motorsports for ESPN.com.
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