NHRA: Hight hoping to stay above the field
Robert Hight has been on the outside looking in before.
He prefers the view he has entering this weekend's Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway.
Back in 2009, Hight showed everyone how the Countdown to the Championship should be done as he barely snuck into the 10-team postseason before winning the Funny Car championship. Again last year, Hight snuck into the countdown in dramatic fashion by winning at Indianapolis.
Those dramatics won't be needed this year as Hight will open racing Friday with a 47-point lead in the Funny Car division. His closest competitor is his car owner John Force. Sitting in fourth place is his teammate Courtney Force. It's a good time to be a member of the John Force Racing team.
"It is the best it has ever been," said Hight. "We believe one of us can win. There have been a lot of finals where there has been two of us racing against each other. It's a lot of fun right now. There is a lot less pressure when the only person really breathing down my neck is the owner. It's fun. We're going to make the best of it and have some fun."
Statistically speaking, Hight's season has been fun. He has qualified no worse than 10th and that was at Gainesville, Fla., where he ended up beating John Force in the finals to move from second to first in points. Hight has not relinquished his stranglehold on the lead since then.
He again beat John Force, along with Tim Wilkerson and Alexis DeJoria, in the finals of Charlotte 1. He won at Houston and then again at Atlanta, where he topped Courtney Force in the finals. It's the third time in his career he has won three straight events.
"What a difference a year makes for me," said Hight. "I'm enjoying where I'm at a year later. I've had fun this year and I'm enjoying, it, but I'm not taking anything off. Now is the time to put everything behind us. We've won a lot of races, but all of that is thrown out the window. When they reset the points after Indy, anybody can get hot. We proved that by winning from the 10th spot. John did it last year and started low. Cruz Pedregon has done it before.
"We're coming into Brainerd looking at a few more fine adjustments and then we've got what we got going into the biggest race of the season. We look at Brainerd as a warm up to what's coming, We want to leave Brainerd saying we have a steady car and a steady team and we can win the championship."
Hight is 5-2 in his seven finals appearances and owns a 32-11 rounds record this season. His last win came at Denver when he knocked off John Force.
"Confidence is 90 percent of this as a driver and as a crew chief," Hight said. "If you believe in yourself, and your crew chief believes in his ability to tune a car, good things are going to happen. Confidence is everything. But confidence is only as good as your last run. This sport is so humbling. You could be racing along great and then it can reach up and slap you."
The confidence of the Auto Club Ford Mustang team might be a little light, however, as the team has struggled to get out of the quarterfinals the last two events. But there is no one Hight has more confidence in than crew chief Mike Neff.
"Last year John (Force) and I made a big switch with our teams and crew chiefs and we struggled," said Hight. "This year I came into a good team with Mike and his crew. We just had a mountain to climb. I learned you have to start all the way back in February at Pomona. You have to be on top of things. I want to win a championship. It's nice being the leader and dominant car all year, but I want to win."
Hight admitted it won't be easy, especially with his own teammates chasing him down. There's also defending Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals champion Ron Capps sitting in third and fellow Dodge driver Tommy Johnson in fifth. That's why Hight is hoping for good things at BIR this weekend. Last year Hight qualified fourth and lost to Wilkerson in the quarters.
"Brainerd is a great race track and really all about the conditions we're going to be faced with," said Hight. "It's too early to look at the weather, but that will mean everything. But Indy can be hot, too. Brainerd can be hot.
"This will be a good tuneup for us. It's a good race track to learn on. We really are focused going into Brainerd. We do not want to leave Brainerd thinking we need more changes or need to improve. You talk about confidence -- this is where we can get some."
Qualifying for the Mello Yello series begins 3 p.m. Friday with the Funny Car finals happening around 3:55 p.m. Sunday.