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DENVER -- This weekend, the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series heads to Denver for the Mopar Mile-High Nationals. Mike Neff, co-crew chief of the Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang Funny Car of John Force, talks about the challenges he faces with the change in altitude and the upcoming Countdown to 1.
Q. GOING INTO DENVER AS A CREW CHIEF, YOU HAVE YOUR HANDS FULL WITH THE CHANGE IN ALTITUDE AMONGST OTHER CHANGES TO CONDITIONS. WHAT IS THE PLAN GOING INTO THIS WEEKEND’S RACE?
A. Our strategy is going to be to try to make as much power as we can. That’s the problem with Denver. It’s a mile high, roughly 5,500 feet elevation and it’s just hard to make power to run good. We’re going to try to make sure we’ve got the engine tuned up and we’ve done our homework on that. To make sure we’ve got good power will be the first task and then making sure you can make it run on eight cylinders. The trickiest thing going into Denver is trying to get the engine set-up correctly. Denver is a challenge. That’s the biggest challenge of the year just because the conditions are so different and you never really know for sure. You’re not really comfortable until you get started and you just have to hope for the best. That’s one place where you’re just happy when it’s over so you can get back down and race in the normal conditions.
Q. AS A CREW CHIEF YOU USE THE DATA FROM PAST RACES TO HELP YOU WHEN YOU GO INTO THE NEXT WEEKEND’S RACE. DENVER IS NOT ONE OF THOSE RACES YOU CAN DO THAT IS IT?
A. No, you can go off of your previous years there, and a lot of things change over the course of a year so it always seems like you have something a little bit different each time you go back than you had the previous year. Denver is definitely tricky and there’s some luck involved. It’s just picking that right set-up and if you can get it close right out of the start on your first run then your weekend can be a whole lot easier. If you get off on the wrong foot it can really get difficult throughout the weekend.
Q. YOU’VE CLINCHED A SPOT IN THE COUNTDOWN NOW AND YOU ONLY HAVE THIS WEEKEND’S RACE AND BRAINERD BEFORE IT STARTS IN INDY. DO YOU APPROACH DENVER AND BRAINERD AS TESTING OPPORTUNITIES?
A. Somewhat, but we’ve pretty much got all of the parts and everything that we’re going to be able to run for the rest of the year. We won’t be experimenting with anything. Right now it’s just a matter of fine tuning and getting the most out of what we have and getting the car to perform good on the different track temperatures that we haven’t been good at. When the track has been cool we’ve been really fast and when the track has been hot we’ve been really good about getting it on track. We’ve been a little off when the track is in the 120 degree range and that’s what we’re trying to work on. The other thing is that our goal is to go into the Countdown in that number one spot. We’ve been leading the points all season and we certainly don’t want to give that up now right before the Countdown and every point counts. It’s good to have that little extra 20 points for being the number one. It’s definitely something that we want to try to do.
Q. HOW HAS THE EXCITEMENT BEEN WITH JOHN FORCE AND THE TEAM AS YOU APPROACH THE COUNTDOWN STILL IN THAT NUMBER ONE SPOT?
A. He’s been great. Nothing has really changed. He’s been excited and I think he’s relieved now that all of the cars are going to be in the Countdown. That’s the first task. Honestly, everything goes away then. It doesn’t really matter what we did throughout the year once you get into the Countdown. Once that Countdown starts you’re going to have to perform at your best to win that championship. It’s almost like starting over. It’s pretty much anyone’s ballgame once that Countdown starts.