(Photo courtesy John Force Racing)

Season for John Force Racing on the line at Texas

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Even though there are still three races remaining in the NHRA Countdown to the Championship, this could be one of the most crucial weekends ever for John Force Racing.

Heading into the AAA Texas FallNationals at Texas Motorplex in Ennis, Texas, team patriarch and 16-time champion John Force is in sixth place in the Funny Car ranks, 138 points behind series leader Ron Capps.

Son-in-law and JFR president Robert Hight is in eighth place, 175 points behind Capps.

“The Texas Motorplex is the first super track,” Hight said. “Billy Meyer was a Funny Car racer so I think this track is built for Funny Car performance with the all-concrete race track. It might be a little warm but this track can handle a lot of horsepower. If the conditions hold up I think you could for sure see some track records and possibly national records.

“This championship will be in play every round of qualifying. … These next three races will be about focusing on the little things and just going out and not making mistakes.”

Rounding out the three-Funny Car operation at JFR is John Force’s youngest daughter, Courtney, who comes into this weekend in ninth place, 186 points behind Capps.

“We all have one goal with our team at John Force Racing and that is to have someone win that Funny Car championship,” Courtney Force said. “Right now I am not in the best position but I am sure going to give it all I have. I am still going for it because all our teams still have a shot.”

Admittedly, it’s been a struggle for all three drivers at times during the first three Countdown events.

While John Force won the playoff opener at Charlotte, he’s made early exits in the subsequent two races at St. Louis (second round) and lost in the first round at Reading (Pa.).

Hight reached the second round at Charlotte, the semifinals at St. Louis, but took a big hit when he lost in the first round at Reading.

Likewise, Courtney Force has lost in the first round in two of the first three races and reached the second round at St. Louis.

“This race will most likely be our last shot to stay in contention for the championship,” Courtney said. “We realize that and we are going to handle that pressure as best we can.

“If we want to make a difference in this Countdown we are going to need to perform this weekend. Unfortunately, since the Countdown started we have been struggling and we haven’t been doing as well as we would have liked. We haven’t been going rounds and it has really hurt us. We have shuffled down the point standings when all season long we were in a great position.

“This has been a pretty good track to me and my team (she’s a former winner at the Motorplex. “I definitely feel more confident going in.”

With a maximum of only 390 total points to be earned in the remaining three races, you can understand that every member of the JFR organization is focused on doing just one thing in Sunday’s final eliminations: win.

If not, there will only be 260 total points available between the last two races of the season – Las Vegas and the season-ending event at Pomona, California – and chances of a rebound for the title are virtually nil by that point.

“We have won in Dallas twice but we need to win this weekend,” Hight said. “There are three races left and I feel like we have a Funny Car that can win all three. It will be tough but we have been running really good numbers and my guys have been busting their butts since the U.S. Nationals.

“I think you have to just throw out Reading and focus on these last three races. There isn’t any extra pressure because we have always been focused on trying to win the championship again.”

Perhaps the driver with the best chance of still earning a championship for JFR is John Force’s other racing daughter, Brittany, who is currently ranked third in the Top Fuel standings, 118 points behind series leader and defending champion Antron Brown.

Brittany reached the second round at both Charlotte and St. Louis and the final round at Reading.

“Reading was huge for our team,” Brittany Force said. “Going to the final was a big step especially now that there are only three races left.

“Now it is all about the teams that are going to be at the top for the next few races. We didn’t get the win but we got to the final and we are going to build on that. That is what we need to keep doing, winning rounds. If we keep having success on Sunday then this championship is not out of our reach.”

While Brittany continued to discuss her own championship hopes, what she said applies to her other three teammates heading into these final three races, as well.

“I think doing well in Dallas and Las Vegas will be a big factor for the championship,” Brittany Force said. “Our goal is to have a chance to win the championship when we get to the Auto Club Finals in Pomona.

“We are going to do everything we can to be in a position where we can win. We go into every race thinking we can win and it starts with the first round of qualifying. This has been an amazing season and these last couple of races will be even more exciting with the championship on the line.”

Coming Thursday afternoon: Column on John Force’s return to the racetrack that changed — and almost claimed — his life.

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Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”