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John Sturbin: Capps Forced To The Sidelines In Las Vegas

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, April 1 2012

Ron Capps was a DNQ at Las Vegas this weekend. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Christa L Thomas)

Ron Capps and the Don Schumacher Racing braintrust ran out of “NAPA Know-How” Saturday at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where the veteran Funny Car driver will spend today as a spectator for the 13th annual SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals.

A serious case of tire shake prevented Capps from qualifying for Sunday’s eliminations for the season’s fourth event. It was Capps’ first DNQ this season but second in the last seven Full Throttle Drag Racing Series events dating to the six-race Countdown to the Championship.

Capps was unable to get past about 300 feet on each of his four runs before the car spun its rear tires and lost traction. He wound up 21st among 22 entries with a best 1,000-foot pass of 6.024-seconds at 114.16 mph on his fourth and final attempt. Capps’ Friday numbers were 6.689/92.68 and 7.315/88.03. Saturday’s first run went down at 7.647/68.39.

“It would get out there at the same spot and a quick, violent rattle would send the car into tire smoke,” said Capps, driver of the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T. “You can almost overlay all the computer data from each run and the same thing happens even though (crew chief) Tim Richards made humongous changes.”

Robert Hight of John Force Racing, winner of the last two national events at Firebird International Raceway and Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway, qualified his Auto Club Ford Mustang No. 1 at 4.132/310.98.

Capps and Richards have combined to accumulate more than half a century of drag racing experience, but neither could find the demon that took hold of their Dodge. Other Don Schumacher Racing crew chiefs came by the NAPA pit to lend their expertise, but all were stymied.

“It hurts me a little bit because there’s something there that isn’t simple,” Capps said. “I have the utmost

Ron Capps was not smiling after Funny Car qualifying at Las Vegas. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Christa L Thomas)

confidence in Tim; I was sure we would get down the track on the last run. After Friday’s two runs we knew something was wrong with the car. I could see the angst on Tim’s face when he was trying to figure out the problem so he could fix it.

“It shows you how tough this sport is. When you have a decorated crew chief like Tim Richards and what I consider one of the best crews on the grounds it’s hard to believe that we had four shots and couldn’t qualify.”

The most recent time Capps and his team failed to advance to championship eliminations was last fall at Firebird International Raceway near Phoenix. That occurred during the Countdown playoff and virtually eliminated the Californian from contending for his first NHRA world championship.

Capps rolled into the Las Vegas weekend sixth in season points with 180, a full 100 behind leader Mike Neff of John Force Racing but only five behind 15-time world champion John Force in fifth. Ironically, Capps won the fall 2011 event at Vegas after not making the show near Phoenix.

“It’s a reminder of how difficult this can be even with a great team and a great sponsor like NAPA,” said Capps, who has failed to qualify only 16 times in 367 NHRA national events. “I love this track. It’s been very good to me. We’ll find the problem, fix it and move on. Things like this happen.”

ESPN2/ESPN2HD will air three hours of championship eliminations today from 7-10 p.m. (EDT).

Greg Stanfield overcame a rare engine meltdown to qualify 12th on the Pro Stock ladder in the debut of the new Chevrolet Camaro.

Stanfield – the team’s engine-builder – and crew chief Eddie Guarnaccia shrugged-off the loss of one of their race engines to a broken crankshaft during Saturday’s initial quarter-mile lap. It was the same GM powerplant that on Friday produced Stanfield’s quickest run of 6.727-seconds at 204.88 mph.

“I have never experienced anything like what happened to that crankshaft. It broke at one end when I shifted into second gear,” said Stanfield, driver of the Nitro Fish/Coffman Tank Trucks Camaro that has replaced the team’s Pontiac GXP. Guarnaccia’s crew quickly swapped engines, installing one Stanfield has dubbed “Utility Man.”

“We call it that because it has dug us out of problems before,” Stanfield said. “It was the motor in the car when we won the Pomona (Calif.) race last November.”

Stanfield is paired against No. 5 qualifier Roger Brogdon and his GXP (6.693/205.94) in the first round. Jason Line, the two-time/reigning world champion, secured his 26th career pole via his Friday pass of 6.659/207.34 in his Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac. Line will meet V Gaines in the first round.

Top Fuel driver Spencer Massey and crew chiefs Todd Okuhara and Phil Shuler are aiming to break out of a mild slump today after the native Texan qualified his FRAM/Prestone Top Fuel Dragster No. 2 for the second time in four events.

Massey’s Friday night 1,000-foot pass of 3.825-seconds produced the top speed of qualifying at 322.88 mph. Morgan Lucas, however, won the pole with numbers of 3.817/321.96. Ranked fourth in championship points, Massey will face Steve Chrisman in the opening round.

“Friday night gave us optimal conditions so far and our FRAM/Prestone team was able to take advantage of it,” Massey said. “(Saturday) was different and it will be different on Sunday.”

Massey won the season-opening Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., but has been unable to get past the second round in each of the subsequent two events. Massey said after the team’s strong run on Friday night his crew chiefs planned to experiment on Saturday.

“It was just going out to see what our parts can do and what our car can do on a hot track,” Massey said. “We’ll use that data later this season.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, April 1 2012
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