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Capps Determined To Stay No. 1

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, November 10 2017

Funny Car driver Ron Capps is within reach of winning a second straight Funny Car championship. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

Fifteen points separate Ron Capps from the “coolest part” of a last-chance bid to extend his reign as NHRA Funny Car world champion.

“Winning a championship has been bigger than I could have ever imagined for a lot of different reasons,” said Capps, previewing this weekend’s season-ending 53rd annual Auto Club NHRA Finals. “The coolest part has been seeing the No. 1 on the car. I had been the No. 28 in Funny Car since 1997 and said the only way I’d change it would be if I won a championship. And we were able to do that.”

Robert Hight of John Force Racing will take a 15-point lead over Capps, of arch-rival Don Schumacher Racing, into Friday’s first of two rounds of qualifications at Pomona (Calif.) Raceway.

NHRA officials have added a new gimmick to the finale in all four professional categories by increasing point values by approximately 150 percent _ meaning a driver can collect up to 191 points compared to 130 a year ago. A driver also can earn up to 16 qualifying bonus points (formerly 12), 10 instead of eight for winning the pole and 30 instead of 20 for each round-win on Sunday.

“We haven’t had to come from behind many times this year but we will at Pomona,” said Capps, who ranks second on the all-time Funny Car wins list with 57. ”It’s going to be fun. I look forward to getting with my crew guys and trying to battle.”

Capps’ title defense to-date has featured a series/career-best eight Wally trophies including two of five in the first five races of the Countdown to the Championship playoffs. Crew chief Rahn Tobler and assistant Eric Lane have tuned the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T into 12 finals and won four consecutive titles in April and May, each of which are career bests. Capps will start the Auto Club Finals with a 52-15 won/loss record in eliminations. Two round-wins on Sunday will match his career-best set a year ago.

The NAPA team dominated the 18-race regular season this year and stood atop the point standings after 16 of 23 races. Hight, the 2009 world champion, forged his 15-point lead at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 29.

“The way I look at a 15-point lead is, we just have to go further than Capps,” said Hight, a two-time Countdown winner this season. “No matter what, we need to go one round further than him, or we both lose in the same round, and it’s over. But our goal going into Pomona is to win that race, go in there and go four rounds and cap off a championship with a huge win at our home track in front of our sponsors, at the Auto Club Finals. That’s what we’re going to do.”

For the record, the last Funny Car driver to defend his title was John Force, who prevailed in 2001 and 2002 as part of his record 16 world championships.

“Our NAPA team with Tobler and all our crew have earned a lot of firsts this year, and another one would be defending our title,” said Capps, a 52-year-old resident of Carlsbad, Calif. Recall that Capps clinched the championship last year at Pomona after qualifying on Saturday and putting the point gap beyond the reach of DSR teammates Tommy Johnson Jr. and Matt Hagan, who finished second and third, respectively.

“When you leave Pomona at the end of the season without winning the championship you don’t understand how big a deal it is until it happens,” said Capps, who has exited the finale as the championship runner-up four times. “Walking through the house and seeing the trophy has been amazing. I can’t explain what it has meant to see it every time I walk in or out of the house.”

Hight took over the point lead via a second-round victory over car-owner “Brute” Force in Las Vegas, after Capps’ first-round loss to Force. Hight’s Countdown run has anchored his championship chase. In addition to his two victories, Hight has recorded two semifinal finishes and three No. 1 qualifiers. Hight has four wins in the past 10 races and qualified No. 1 six times during that span under the tutelage of crew chief Jimmy Prock, becoming the first Funny Car driver to blast into the 3.70s.

“We haven’t been in this position in the last few years,” said Hight, a 48-year-old resident of Yorba Linda, Calif. “At the beginning of every year, you hope you can go down to the wire and be in the hunt. It’s exciting. Fifteen points isn’t much, and we’re racing a good car there with Capps. He’s won a lot of races this year but I think we have the momentum, and I’m excited about Pomona. It’d be cool if it went down to the final round.”

Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Johnson Jr. (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the season-ending race that will be televised on FOX Sports 1 (FS1), including live finals coverage starting at 4 p.m. (EST) on Sunday.

Hight’s Chevrolet Camaro SS will carry a special California Highway Patrol paint scheme for this event, the same black-and-white colors the car sported in the season-opening Winternationals in February at Pomona, as well as the July race at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway.

“I’m not going to lie, I was a little nervous (at Vegas), but you have to learn how to channel that pressure and that energy,” said Hight, who saw his beloved Los Angeles Dodgers lose a seven-game World Series to the Houston Astros. “And we just have to do the same thing at Pomona we did at Vegas. One of the pitchers from the Dodgers (Rich Hill) made a statement that really hit home for me, and that is, you have to focus on the process, not on the outcome.

“That’s really it. If you start changing the way you race because you’re nervous and you’re worried about the points, or worried about winning or losing, you will lose, you’ll beat yourself. You have to focus on what got you here, don’t change anything and keep doing it. I like our chances. Pomona is a good racetrack for us, and we’ll run good there.”

Hight has competed in 25 races at Auto Club Raceway and qualified for all 25, including every race since the 2005 Winternationals, his NHRA debut. Hight has four victories at Pomona _ three in the Winternationals (2006, 2008 and 2011) and one in the Auto Club NHRA Finals (2007). Overall, he has six final-round appearances, most recently in the 2011 Auto Club NHRA Finals.

Hight is 37-21 in 58 elimination rounds (.638) at Pomona, with a 15-11 mark in 26 rounds in the NHRA Finals (.577). All three of his Pomona poles have been scored in the the Winternationals (2009, 2010, 2012).

Hight’s 41 career victories are fourth-most in Funny Car history, behind Force (148), Capps (57) and retired two-time world champ Tony Pedregon (43). Hight is 20th on the all-time professional victories list, one behind Pro Stock Motorcycle multiple-champions Angelle Sampey and Eddie Krawiec.

In Top Fuel, Texan Steve Torrence will try to claim his first world championship. The eight-time 2017 winner in his Capco Contractors dragster holds a 20-point lead over JFR’s Brittany Force and her Monster Energy dragster and an 84-point advantage on Doug Kalitta and his Mac Tools dragster fielded by Kalitta Motorsports.

The Pro Stock title will be decided in an all-Ken Black Racing scrum. Four-time world champion Greg Anderson, driver of the Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro, has a 40-point lead over teammate Bo Butner and his Jim Butner’s Auto Camaro. KB Racing’s Jason Line, the three-time/reigning world champ, sits third in his Summit Camaro, 76 points behind Anderson.

Eddie Krawiec’s bid for a fourth Pro Stock Motorcycle championship is within grasp as qualifying gets underway. Krawiec and his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson Street Rod currently lead 2010 world champ LE Tonglet and his Nitro Fish Racing Suzuki by 150 points.

The Auto Club NHRA Finals also will feature competition in the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series. 

Two qualifying sessions are slated for Friday and Saturday with final eliminations slated for 11 a.m. Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will televise one hour of live qualifying coverage Friday at 6:30 p.m. (EST) and another hour of live qualifying Saturday at 6 p.m. FS1 will air three hours of live eliminations coverage starting at 4 p.m. (EST) on Sunday.

Point standings (top-10) following the 17th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, penultimate event of the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs:

Top Fuel _1. Steve Torrence, 2,527; 2. Brittany Force, 2,507; 3. Doug Kalitta, 2,443; 4. Antron Brown, 2,392; 5. Leah Pritchett, 2,361; 6. Tony Schumacher, 2,340; 7. Clay Millican, 2,326; 8. Shawn Langdon, 2,267; 9. Terry McMillen, 2,261; 10. Scott Palmer, 2,169.

Funny Car _1. Robert Hight, 2,548; 2. Ron Capps, 2,533; 3. Courtney Force, 2,423; 4. Jack Beckman, 2,396; 5. Matt Hagan, 2,387; 6. John Force, 2,306; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,276; 8. Tim Wilkerson, 2,237; 9. J.R. Todd, 2,233; 10. Cruz Pedregon, 2,163.

Pro Stock _1. Greg Anderson, 2,597; 2. Bo Butner, 2,557; 3. Jason Line, 2,521; 4. Tanner Gray, 2,413; 5.Drew Skillman, 2,384; 6. Erica Enders, 2,286; 7. Allen Johnson, 2,235; 8. Jeg Coughlin Jr., 2,234; 9. Chris McGaha, 2,207; 10. Vincent Nobile, 2,052.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _1. Eddie Krawiec, 2,628; 2. LE Tonglet, 2,478; 3. Andrew Hines, 2,427; 4. Scotty Pollacheck, 2,406; 5. Hector Arana Jr., 2,400; 6. Jerry Savoie, 2,393; 7. Matt Smith, 2,345; 8. Karen Stoffer, 2,252; 9. Angie Smith, 2,209; 10. Joey Gladstone, 2,200.

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, November 10 2017
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