Commentary

Neff, not Hight, defends JFR's roll

Updated: April 30, 2012, 2:58 AM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

BAYTOWN, Texas -- Mike Neff probably never won with a worse overall performance. And Robert Hight has rarely lost, if ever, with a better car.

That's the way the drag race goes sometimes. You win some you should lose, and lose some you could win.

For John Force Racing, the winning streak continues. No, not the one most people were hoping to see. That streak ended for Hight.

Neff, Hight's teammate, kept JFR a perfect 6-0 in the 2012 NHRA season with Neff's victory over Ron Capps in the finals Sunday at the O'Reilly Spring Nationals.

But the day was a little bittersweet for the Force team, watching Hight's attempt at a record-tying fifth consecutive Funny Car victory fall two rounds short in front of a near capacity crowd at Royal Purple Raceway.

[+] EnlargeRobert Hight
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireRobert Hight couldn't keep the good times rolling in Baytown.

Morgan Lucas won for the second time this season in Top Fuel, Vincent Nobile was a repeat winner at RPR in Pro Stock and Andrew Hines won his third consecutive Pro Stock Motorcycle event on the Baytown track.

People can claim the best machine of the day won in those three classes. For Neff and his Ford Mustang, maybe not. He was winless in 2012 and hadn't exactly overpowered anyone all weekend at RPR. He didn't have to this time.

Capps' car, which was strong all weekend and eliminated Hight in the semifinals, failed in the end.

The Capps flopper almost crossed the center line about 100 feet past the starting line. He fought it and kept pedaling all the way to the finish, but it was too late. Neff was steady (although a relatively slow 4.239 seconds elapsed time at 301 mph) but it was good enough.

"To be honest, I didn't do a lot of things right this weekend," Neff said. "I got pretty lucky to get out of here with a win. I definitely backed my way into it, but it's nice to catch some breaks. Sometimes it's your day and sometimes it's not. So we'll take it."

It wasn't Hight's day. In a way, Hight's remarkable winning streak came to an end by both Ron Capps and Jack Beckman. This wasn't the NAPA Dodge that Capps had to start the season, the one that failed to qualify at Las Vegas. It's the Funny Car and crew that Beckman had to start the season, including crew chief Rahn Tobler.

Beckman, a true team player, was standing behind the starting line cheering Capps on in the final.

Robert Hight When you are in a streak like this, you start to get superstitious. … The truth is none of that really matters. It's all silly stuff. What really gets you here and how we won these races is hard work. …

-- Robert Hight

"But it's sort of like watching an old girlfriend with someone else," Beckman said on the ESPN telecast.

Beckman's old girlfriend, uh, team also got jilted in the final.

None of that mattered to Hight. It just flat hurts to get beat two rounds short of joining some Funny Car legends who managed to win five in a row in one season -- Don Prudhomme, John Force and Cruz Pedregon.

"It was quite a ride," Hight said. "If you look back, it is almost May and this streak started in February. I would be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed, but to have the kind of success we had over those months is awesome. We'll go to Atlanta next weekend and start a new streak."

Hight had been fast and steady for four races before his team missed the setup against Capps and spun the tires at half track.

"When you are in a streak like this, you start to get superstitious," Hight said. "You start thinking, 'I have to do this because I did it last race.' You get on an airplane and you think you have to sit on the right side because you did that last week and the week before.

"The truth is none of that really matters. It's all silly stuff. What really gets you here and how we won these races is hard work. If you thought superstition mattered, that just takes away from [crew chief] Jimmy Prock and the whole Auto Club team. They made this happen, and I did my share along the way."

Hight and his team did everything right for four and a half races. Neff did little right all weekend at RPR. He wasn't even in the field until his final qualifying attempt Saturday. He almost red-lighted in the first round Sunday, spun the tires and held on win over Jim Head.

But Neff won and Hight didn't. What can you do? Sometimes things happen in racing that don't make a lot of sense.

 

"I talked to Robert," Neff said. "I know he's disappointed and it's unfortunate. It was a heck of a string they put together. His car was running better than anybody's today, but it only takes one little thing to derail you. Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.''

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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