LAS VEGAS, NV —- Courtney Force raced to her third final in the last five races and retook the Mello Yello Funny Car points lead with a runner-up finish at today’s 14th annual NHRA Nationals. The second year driver moved around Johnny Gray for the points lead when she outran Matt Hagan in the semi-finals but in the finals the driver of the Traxxas Ford Mustang smoked the tires against two-time Funny Car champion Cruz Pedregon.

This was the second time for Courtney to face Pedregon in a national event final. The last time the pair matched up was the finals of the Auto Club NHRA Finals to close out the 2012 season with Pedregon also prevailing in that race. Pedregon becomes the fourth different Funny Car driver to win in 2013 following Courtney Force, Ron Capps, and Johnny Gray. Last year at this point only John Force and Robert Hight had won Funny Car events and it took eight races to have four different winners (John Force, Robert Hight, Ron Capps and Jack Beckman)

Starting from the No. 2 qualifying spot today, Courtney Force beat out three major competitors to reach her second final of 2013 and made her way up the Mello Yello Funny Car point standings from the third spot into the points lead.

“Our car ended up in the No. 2 spot this weekend which was great for us. We were just trying to get some consistent runs down the track. I struggled a little bit with the right lane throughout qualifying trying to keep the car straight down there, but we made good runs and we were happy” said Force.

 In the first round of eliminations Force took on fellow Ford racer and pilot of the Levi, Ray & Shoup Mustang, Tim Wilkerson. Force was 3-0 against Wilkerson in prior events, but turned on another win light when she ran low ET of the round. Wilkerson was up in smoke at about 200 feet and Force posted a 4.109 ET at 314.46 mph.

“The pressure was on on race day and I feel like our team did a great job. I feel like I improved more as a driver on Sunday than I did during qualifying. I had a tough matchup each round, but our team pulled off some great round wins over some of our biggest competitors,” said Force.

Force took lane choice over Del Worsham, who was 1-0 against the 24-year-old in their previous match-up. Force had .072 reaction time to Worsham’s .167 on the tree. Force made a 4.153 second run at 312.06 mph against Worsham’s 4.198 ET.

Force also scored lane choice over Matt Hagan in the semifinals. Force was 4-2 against Hagan in prior events. Hagan was up in smoke at about 100 feet, and Force took it straight down the groove to move on to the final round.

“Race day is where it counts and we had a great, consistent race car all day up until the final round,” said Force. “The great thing about coming to Las Vegas this weekend is that we have a consistent car. We were able to run in the heat of the day and run well at night when the temperatures drop, so we’re excited.”

Force lost in the finals when her Traxxas Ford Mustang went up in smoke alongside Cruz Pedregon.

“We’re excited to get to Charlotte and we’re leaving here in the points lead. We can’t complain about it. We made it to the final round and we’re happy,” said Force.

Brittany Force became the fourth member of her immediate family to win a round in the NHRA Mello Yello Series Sunday but the first to do so in Top Fuel when she drove her Castrol EDGE dragster past the Mac Tools hybrid of Doug Kalitta in the first round of the 14th annual Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“My Castrol Edge team ended up No. 11. We ran first round against Doug Kalitta and I got the win. It was my first professional round win ever and I was really excited about it. It was huge for our Castrol EDGE team, John Force Racing and all of our sponsors Ford, Traxxas, Auto Club, Mac Tools and BrandSource,” said the second youngest Force daughter.

It not only was Brittany’s first round win since turning pro, it was the first round win for John Force Racing, Inc., in a pro category other than Funny Car; it was the first round win by a Ford-powered dragster since 1970; and it was the first round win for a Team Castrol Top Fuel car since Pat Austin beat the late Blaine Johnson in the second round at Topeka, Kan., on Oct. 1, 1995.

Brittany’s Castrol EDGE dragster had lane choice over seven-time Mello Yello Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher in round two by virtue of her quicker first round elapsed time 3.846 to 3.843 seconds. Both dragsters launched hard but Schumacher pulled away quickly as the Castrol EDGE dragster hazed the tires after a few hundred feet.

“I went out there second round against Tony Schumacher, who I’ve been waiting to run for a while just because he’s Tony Schumacher. We lost that round, but we had a good day. Courtney went rounds so it was a great day as a whole for John Force Racing.”

“I’m still learning on each run and getting a better. I’m trying to work on improving my lights. My team’s really excited that we’re moving up in the points. We’re almost into the top ten. Our plan is to qualify at all the events and try to go more rounds so we can move up there into the top ten,” said Force, the Automobile Club Road to the Future Award contender.

With her strong qualifying effort and the first round win of her career the rookie driver moved up from 15th in the Mello Yello Top Fuel point standings to 12th place. The driver from Yorba Linda, Calif., is only a round and a half (32 points) outside of the Top Ten point standings.

After the race Top Fuel winner Tony Schumacher had nothing but praise for the rookie driver.
“She has a long good career ahead of her. She will be tough to beat. I just didn’t want to be her second round win,” said Schumacher.

Robert Hight and the Auto Club Ford Mustang team had a solid turn around weekend qualifying No. 1 for the second consecutive year at the NHRA Nationals. The perennial Las Vegas winner took out veteran Jeff Arend before falling to Alexis DeJoria and the Tequila Patron Funny Car in the second round. DeJoria had lane choice and that proved to be the performance tipping point at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. In a close race DeJoria crossed the finish line a nose in front of Hight, 4.141 to 4.157 seconds.

“There is no one hanging their heads in the Auto Club pits. That was a tough race to lose but you have to tip your hat to (crew chief) Tommy DeLago and Alexis DeJoria. We made a good run and they were just a little quicker,” said Hight, winner of the last two Nationals. “I am glad we made two of the quickest runs in qualifying and we got a big first round win today. We’ll load up and get ready for the Four-Wide race. I won there last year and we are ready to get back at it.”

Hight will leave Las Vegas with a much improved race car and a secure hold on seventh place in the points and the Auto Club Ford Mustang is only three points out of sixth place.

The Castrol GTX Ford Mustang was the first John Force Racing Mustang to fall to a surging Alexis DeJoria on Sunday at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. As the No. 9 qualifier Force relinquished lane choice to DeJoria and at 200 feet his Funny Car lost traction as the Tequila Patron pulled away.

Force, the team owner, was pleased with the overall team effort considering Brittany won the first round of racing for a JFR Top Fuel dragster, Courtney retook the Mello Yello Funny Car points lead and Robert Hight’s Auto Club Mustang continued to improve in both qualifying and on race day.

“You gotta look at the overall picture. Robert Hight and Auto Club walked out with a No. 1 this weekend and Courtney was No. 2. My Castrol GTX Mustang was in the bottom half, but it’s starting to get respectable. To watch Brittany step up to the plate and get that first round win for John Force Racing this early in the seas
on was pretty cool. And we leave here with the points lead. I got whooped by a girl, but I know her dad is happy and I’m good with that. We’re going to go to Charlotte and I think we’re starting to get back on track,” said Force, the 15-time Funny Car champion.