Mike Neff has tuned cars for the best drivers the NHRA has to offer.
Now he’s hoping to become one of the best himself.
With four victories this season, Neff leads the Funny Car standings by 125 points over teammate Robert Hight heading into this weekend’s 30th Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway.
Neff, who left the driver’s seat last year to tune team owner John Force back to dominance, has held the No. 1 spot since Houston where he advanced to the finals, but lost to Jeff Arend. It was one of seven finals appearances in 14 races this season. Neff owns a 30-10 rounds record with championships at Gainesville (he beat Cruz Pedregon), Englishtown (beat Cruz Pedregon), Norwalk (beat Ron Capps) and Chicago (beat Arend).
“I’m very satisfied right now,” said Neff, who tuned Gary Scelzi to the Powerade Series Funny Car championship in 2005 and was a tuner for Larry Minor Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing.
“I definitely didn’t expect to do this well,” he added. “I didn’t really know what to expect going into this season. I hoped to be competitive, but to be able to do as well as we have, I’m very pleased and thankful for that.”
Neff said this season’s success carried over from last year when he helped John Force win the last two events and the Funny Car Championship.
He’s hoping to create more momentum in the next two races before the Countdown to One begins. It won’t be easy as Neff has struggled in the last three events. At Denver, Force beat him in the quarterfinals. That was followed by two first-round exits at Sonoma and Seattle.
“Staying No. 1 is really important because every point is going to count,” said Neff. “It will come right down to the end and it could be decided by a couple of points. Getting those 30 bonus points could make the difference. We’re hoping to hang on to that going into the championship.
“But, if you’re going to try something, now is the time to do it. Once you make sure you’re in the Countdown you’re going to start testing some things because you’re not going to take any unknown risks and try something during the Countdown.”
Neff’s fear is that he will hold the No. 1 spot until the end. If he doesn’t keep the top spot entering the Countdown or even during the Countdown, he said he won’t mind. He said it’s sometimes easier to come from behind because you have nothing to lose and it’s easier to take chances with the car if you’re behind.
Having won the last race of the season the last two years, once as a driver and last year as a crew chief, there should be a level of confidence, no matter where he sits in the standings.
But Neff said he’d like to have things clicking during the Countdown.
“We’re hoping we peak during the Countdown,” said Neff. “Somebody is going to time it out and they’ll be running their best during the Countdown. I’m just hoping that we’re at our best. I know anything can happen. I do think we have as good a chance as anybody.
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5856.