NHRA: Robert Hight looks for another jackpot in Las Vegas

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When people think of John Force Racing, it’s almost always about team founder and patriarch, 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion and the winningest driver in drag racing history, John Force.

But when it comes to success thus far in the first three races of 2019, folks are talking not so much about Force but rather more about JFR team president Robert Hight.

It’s not a surprise, really.

Robert Hight (Photo: NHRA)

Hight, a two-time NHRA Funny Car champ (most recently in 2017), has blasted out of the starting gate with outstanding success and consistency. He won the season-opening race in Pomona, California, reached the semifinals in the following race at Chandler, Arizona, and last week won the 50th anniversary Amalie Motor Oil Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida.

To say the 49-year-old Hight is red hot is an understatement.

This is huge, my fourth time winning here,” Hight said following the Gatornationals. “This is a big one, the 50th. There will only be one of these. It seems like my boss, John Force, always wins the big races. He just seems to win all the cool races but I finally got one.”

Hight, who is also Force’s son-in-law (married to Force’s oldest daughter, Adria), has blasted out to a big lead in the Funny Car points standings, holding a 105-point edge over “Fast Jack” Beckman. Matt Hagan is third (-115 points), followed by Force (-130) and Tommy Johnson Jr. (-139).

Hight, along with all the regular racers on the NHRA national event tour, are enjoying this weekend and next weekend off. But Hight is already thinking about how he can continue his run in 2019 at the next race, the Denso Spark Plugs Four-Wide Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, April 5-7.

John (Force) probably is not going to want me going to Vegas because I beat him the first three races,” Hight laughed. “It would be cool if we were racing in the final.”

Robert Hight (Photo: NHRA)

Force has been chasing a milestone win since last season: his next triumph will be the 150th of his storied NHRA career.

That car and that team are really stepping up,” Hight said. “John’s going to get some wins. His 150th is coming, I know it is. It’s a lot of fun right now in our camp because all our cars are running well. It’s probably the most fun I’ve had in a long time.”

The key to Hight’s success thus far has been hallmark consistency established in the setup on his Chevrolet Camaro Funny Car that has been dialed in by crew chief Jimmy Prock and assistant crew chief Chris Cunningham. That consistency streak actually began last season, when Hight finished second in the standings and won four races, the most victories he’s earned in a season since 2014, when he won five races.

Given he already has two wins in the first three races of 2019, there’s no question Hight, Prock and Cunningham have definitely hit upon a winning combination.

I’ve never seen a fuel car so consistent as what I have right now, especially a Funny Car,” Hight said. “Jimmy Prock is on it. He and Chris Cunningham are really happy with the clutch package we have and they keep talking a lot about how my car ran in 2017 (when he won his last championship).

It just responds and it repeats, so that’s a good sign. … Hopefully it gets better and better.”

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IMSA’s Bill Auberlen joins NASCAR America to discuss this weekend’s race at Lime Rock

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Turner Motorsport GTD driver Bill Auberlen joined NBC Sports’ Marty Snyder on NASCAR America Presents the Motorsports Hour Thursday to discuss a variety of topics, including Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship race at Lime Rock Park.

Auberlen, alongside co-driver Robby Foley, enters Lime Rock with a great amount of momentum after finishing on the GTD podium at Watkins Glen and taking the GTD class honors in the most recent IMSA race at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park.

There’s also an extra incentive for the duo to win this weekend as well, as Auberlen is one win away from tying Scott Pruett for the most IMSA victories all-time.

Both drivers will have to be on their A-game this weekend, however, as Auberlen stated that Lime Rock is one of the tougher circuits on the IMSA calendar and compared the 1.5-mile Connecticut road course to a short track.

“It’s what we call the bullring of our season,” Auberlen said. “It is a 54-second lap and we’re going to go around it a million times before the end of the day. It’s going to be a hot one, and I think whoever survives this is going to be on the podium.”

Luckily for the GTD and GTLM teams, with no Protoype and LMP2 entries competing at Lime Rock this weekend, the worry of having to yield to entries from the faster classes is gone.

“These Protoypes are so fast now, that interacting with them, you can’t imagine,” Auberlen said. “We have radars in our car that can alert us when they are coming.

“They get on you so fast that if you’re not always looking or something is not telling you they’re coming, you could have a problem and catch into them. That’s gone. Now it’s going to be focus-forward. You’re going to be focused on everything ahead of you. You got GLTM in there at the same time, but they’re virtually the same speed as us – just a little bit faster.

“It’s going to be nice. When you stand on that podium you might be able to go for an overall victory.”

Live race coverage of IMSA’s Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock Park begins at 3:00 p.m. ET on NBCsports.com and the NBC Sports app with an encore presentation of the race airing later in the evening at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

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