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Capps Chasing Funny Car Title A Point At A Time

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, September 23 2016
Ron Capps pursuit of his first NHRA championship continues this weekend near St. Louis.

Ron Capps pursuit of his first NHRA championship continues this weekend near St. Louis.

Ron Capps is pursuing his first NHRA Funny Car world championship with a point-padding plan that is as basic as one…two…seven.

Capps earned seven of a possible 12 bonus points when he was second-quickest twice, and fastest nhra logoonce, during four sessions of qualifying for last weekend’s ninth annual NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C. Capps added five more points over his closest challenger, reigning world champion Del Worsham, by qualifying No. 2 while Worsham placed 12th for Round 1 of the Countdown to the Championship.

Despite a semifinal loss to eventual event-winner/16-time world champ John Force, Capps extended his playoff point lead from 30 to 42 over Worsham.

“Pretty good weekend. Truth be told, it wasn’t a bad points weekend,” said Capps, seeded No. 1 among the 10 Funny Car title contenders based upon his five wins and three runnerup finishes in the season’s first 18 races. “Some fans hate this Countdown, and believe me, if there is somebody who should dislike it, it would be our NAPA team this year because when they reset the points (prior to zMAX) it erased more than 200 points from our lead.

“But I have to tell you, it has really turned these last six Countdown races into a fun time. I’m excited with the car that we have with (crew chief) Rahn Tobler.”

Working with Tobler and assistant Eric Lane, Capps has held the point lead since June. Only the top three drivers are awarded points _ from three for the lowest elapsed time to one for third-quickest _ during qualifying. Capps and Tobler will continue to preach the importance of pocketing every “little point” during Round 2 of the Countdown this weekend at the fifth annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Ill., near St. Louis.

“We’ve lost those ‘little points’ and we’ve lost the championship by less than a round,” said Capps, a four-time title runnerup. “I know I have for sure a few of those times I finished second. I know Tobler worked real hard on being aggressive in qualifying. Look what happened _ track records, No. 1 qualifying, taking those little, small points.

“Those little points are going to win the championship, there’s no doubt about it. If you can do that three or four times out of qualifying, that’s going to add up to half a round here, half a round there. By the end of the year, if you sit back and total it, it’s going to be several rounds of just those little points.”

Worsham, two-time/reigning world champion Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Drew Skillman (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also were last year’s winners of the Midwest event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1 for the first time. The race is the second in the NHRA’s six-race postseason.

Capps earned five pole positions during the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series regular season to start the Countdown as No. 1 seed for the third time in his 21-year career. While Force celebrated his record 146th national event victory last Sunday, Capps and Tobler focused on the long run.

“I can tell you you’re going to need probably semifinals, at least, throughout the Countdown,” said Capps, driver of the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T fielded by Don Schumacher Racing. “You might be able to have a hiccup here and a hiccup there, maybe have a second-round (loss). But as we’ve seen in the past, there have been teams that have gone from fifth and higher that have just come alive and won races in the Countdown, gone on to have big wins near the end of the Countdown. That’s sort of what we’re trying to do, keep going.

“We had a pretty good streak going with the wins. Then the final rounds up through Brainerd (Minn.), lost a close one, didn’t get in the final. Sonoma (Calif.) we didn’t feel we were that good, got to the final. We won the Seattle makeup race. Those wins are great. But it’s the ones we let get away that will hurt you at the end of the year when you look back. We’re going to just try to keep winning rounds.

“Many of the races we won, I feel like Tobler and our team won it before we even did the burnouts. The intimidation, you sometimes force another team to push harder than they want to will force them into mistakes.”

Capps has earned three national event victories (1997, 2005, 2007) in four previous final-round appearances at Gateway, a facility that typically puts the most savvy tuners to the test. “If you get weather and you get some sunshine, St. Louis could possibly be a little more challenging because you get the humidity there,” Capps said during a recent national teleconference. “Gosh. Yeah.”

A year ago at Gateway, Capps set a career-best ET of 3.937-seconds.  After qualifying fourth, he lost in the semifinals to two-time world champion/DSR teammate Matt Hagan. Capps’ current all-time best is 3.843-seconds at 330.23 mph set in August at Pacific Raceways in Kent, Wash., near Seattle.

“We have such a great, competitive field of drivers and you can’t take anything for granted,” said Capps, a 51-year-old native of Carlsbad, Calif. “This is one of the most fun years I’ve had, but it’s hard to enjoy it because you’re so engulfed in this Countdown. Fans are having a blast.

“It’s just one race at a time, and that’s all we’re focused on. It is fun to be able to do that and have a race car that I can trust will be as quick as anybody on race day. It’s going to be a lot of fun the rest of the way.”

Meanwhile, Capps _ a student of the sport _ is well-aware that he is the winningest driver to never have won a championship. “It doesn’t weigh on me,” said Capps, whose 50 national event victories include 49 in Funny Car and one in Top Fuel. “I’m sure the guy that’s the third in line as the winningest driver…that gets mentioned, I automatically think of (Top Fuel’s) Doug Kalitta. I think he’s one of the most talented drivers we have in the sport. I know it doesn’t weigh on him either.

“I know the time is going to come. But for me, I’m OK with it because I wake up in the morning and I started in this sport as a crew guy and worked my way up. I’m the American dream, if you will. I wanted to drive some day, but had to start from the very bottom wiping tires. I had people let me hang around their cars and learn and worked my way into a driver job. I’ve done it for a living. I have a house, a family, that this sport of NHRA has given me. But since the very beginning, I’ve done it for the love of just racing, driving a race car.

“The championships, I never sat down as a kid, and I can’t give you some story as a 5-year-old where I said, ‘Some day I’m going to be a world champion.’ I never thought about being a Mello Yello champion. I just wanted to be a race car driver and I wanted to drive a Funny Car. It will come, I’m sure. We got a great team. I know this Countdown has changed things, the way things are looked at a little bit. But I’m pumped. I have one track I never won on personally, it’s the Maple Grove track (Round 3 in Reading, Pa). I’ve never won there. Come close. I think this could be the year.”

Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature rounds at 2:45 and 5:15 p.m. on Friday and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday at 1:45 and 4:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday.

Fox Sports 1 will televise one hour of live qualifying coverage Friday at 7 p.m. (EDT). On Sunday, the network will air one hour of qualifying coverage at 2 a.m., as well as three hours of live finals coverage starting at 2 p.m.



The AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals also will feature competition in the NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series and the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series.

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AAA INSURANCE NHRA MIDWEST NATIONALS FACT SHEET

TRACK RECORDS

Top Fuel _ 3.718-seconds by Steve Torrence, Sept. ‘15; 329.99 mph by Dave Connolly, Sept. ’15.

Funny Car _ 3.883-seconds and 330.47 mph by Matt Hagan, Sept. ’15.

Pro Stock _ 6.492-seconds by Greg Anderson, Sept. ’15; 213.47 mph by Jason Line, Sept. ’12.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 6.796-seconds and 198.58 mph by Hector Arana, Sept. ’13.

NATIONALS RECORDS

Top Fuel _ 3.671-seconds by Steve Torrence, July ’16, Sonoma, Calif.; 332.75 mph by Spencer Massey, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn.

Funny Car _ 3.822-seconds by Matt Hagan, Aug. ’16, Brainerd, Minn.; 335.57 mph by Hagan, May ’16, Topeka, Kan.

Pro Stock _ 6.455-seconds by Jason Line, March ’15, Concord, N.C.;  215.55 mph by Erica Enders, May ‘14, Englishtown N.J.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 6.728-seconds by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 199.88 mph by Hector Arana Jr., March ’15, Concord, N.C.

POINT STANDINGS

Top-10 competitors entering the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals, second event of the six-race NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship playoffs:

Top Fuel_1.  Antron Brown, 2,226; 2.  Doug Kalitta, 2,184; 3.  Steve Torrence, 2,126; 4.  Brittany Force, 2,110; 5.  Tony Schumacher, 2,099; 6.  J.R. Todd, 2,074; 7.  Shawn Langdon, 2,067; 8.  Leah Pritchett, 2,054; 9.  Clay Millican, 2,052; 10.  Richie Crampton, 2,046.

Funny Car _1.  Ron Capps, 2,194; 2.  Del Worsham, 2,152; 3.  John Force, 2,144; 4.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,132; 5.  Matt Hagan, 2,122; 6.  Courtney Force, 2,094; 7.  Robert Hight, 2,093; 8.  Jack Beckman, 2,084; 9.  Tim Wilkerson, 2,067; 10.  Alexis DeJoria, 2,036.

Pro Stock _1.  Jason Line, 2,233; 2.  Greg Anderson, 2,183; 3.  Vincent Nobile, 2,129; 4.  Bo Butner, 2,123; 5.  Allen Johnson, 2,095; 6.  Chris McGaha, 2,082; 7.  Shane Gray, 2,081; 8.  Drew Skillman, 2,073; 9.  Jeg Coughlin Jr., 2,052; 10.  Erica Enders, 2,020.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _1.  Andrew Hines, 2,205; 2.  Chip Ellis, 2,161; 3.  Angelle Sampey, 2,156; 4.  Eddie Krawiec, 2,120; 5.  LE Tonglet, 2,106; 6.  Jerry Savoie, 2,099; 7.  Hector Arana Jr., 2,083; 8.  Hector Arana, 2,052; 9.  Matt Smith, 2,042; 10.  Cory Reed, 2,032.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, September 23 2016
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