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Capps Eyeing Flopper Firsts In Pomona

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, November 13 2021

Ron Capps is off and running in Funny Car at Pomona. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA)

Longtime NHRA Funny Car star Ron Capps is counting on a career-first to close-out his second world championship this weekend at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.

A fulltime competitor in Funny Car since 1997, Capps never has won the season-ending Auto Club NHRA Finals at the facility the Southern California native considers his home track. Winner of the COVID-19 impacted mid-summer edition of the Winternationals at Pomona earlier this season, victory in the 56th edition of the traditional finale would secure Capps’ second title in a wide-open Funny Car class.

Capps powered to the second-quickest run of Friday’s opening session of time trials to add three points to his lead _ which now sits at 61 _ over Don Schumacher Racing teammate Matt Hagan. Round victories are worth 30 points this weekend under a points-and-a-half system installed by NHRA for this event. Capps covered the 1,000-foot distance in 3.908-seconds at 329.83 mph in a round paced by Robert Hight of John Force Racing at 3.894-seconds at 330.55 mph.

Hagan, the three-time/reigning world champ, currently sits 12th on the 16-car ladder. Capps’ provisional 61-point lead is just over a two-round advantage. Sixteen-time world champ John Force sits third on the ladder after Friday’s session with numbers of 3.939 and 328.14 while two-time world champ Cruz Pedregon _ now 85 points behind Capps _ is fourth after his pass of 3.939 at 321.96. 

If Capps is successful in maintaining or adding to his current lead through Saturday’s final two qualifying sessions, he would begin Sunday’s eliminations with a three-round advantage over Hagan.

“One thing I’ve known is ‘Guido’ (co-crew chief Dean Antonelli) and John Medlen have always done well at the World Finals, so I’m leaning on that and hoping it continues,” said Capps, the 2016 world champion and driver of the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat. “I’ve never closed the deal at the season-ending race, so that would be especially big to do it this weekend. 

“The championship is looming and we’re going to keep trying to do what we’ve done all year. We have to approach it like normal, but this would mean the world to win another championship. It’s been a really crazy year in Funny Car and whoever wins this year, they will definitely have earned it.”

Hight was joined by Mike Salinas (Top Fuel), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) as provisional No. 1 qualifiers in the seventh and final race of the Countdown to the Championship in Top Fuel and Funny Car (sixth for Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle) and the 2021 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season.

Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock) and Jianna Salinas (Pro Stock Motorcycle) won the most recent Auto Club NHRA Finals, which took place in 2019. The 2020 event was canceled due to the pandemic.

This year’s event will be televised on FOX Sports 1 (FS1), including three hours of live final eliminations coverage starting at 4 p.m. (EST) on Sunday. Two hours of qualifying coverage on FS1 will begin at 2 p.m.

Capps posted his second and most recent victory of 2021 by trailering Hagan on Oct. 10 in the final of the NHRA FallNationals at Hall of Famer Billy Meyer’s Texas Motorplex in Ennis. A 56-year-old resident of Carlsbad, Calif., Capps is aware of how quickly the standings have been reshuffled during a season that has featured a remarkable number of lead changes.

Capps, in fact, has led at four different times this season, recapturing the point lead at Bristol Dragway and holding it for back-to-back races for the first time this year thanks to a runnerup result during the Dodge//SRT NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 31.

“I definitely attribute the position we’re in to the consistency we’ve had all year,” said Capps, who has 68 career wins. “We’ve been very consistent in qualifying and on race day and it’s been fun to navigate where we’re at right now. This has been one of the most closely-matched years we’ve ever had in Funny Car, so it’s definitely been an interesting year, but I’ve been through a lot of championship chases. It seems like it’s going to come down to the last day of the last race to win a championship, so it’s going to be exciting.”

Hight, a three-time world champ at JFR, is looking to qualify No. 1 for the third time this season in his Auto Club Chevrolet Camaro SS and 71st time overall.

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Fresh off back-to-back final-round Top Fuel appearances, Mike Salinas earned the provisional pole during Friday’s lone session of time trials in his Scrappers Racing dragster.

Salinas covered the 1,000-foot distance in 3.694-seconds at 328.78 mph. If those numbers hold, Salinas would secure his second No. 1 qualifier this season and the eighth in his career. Salinas currently is third in points, trailing only world champions Steve Torrence and Brittany Force.

“We’re having a good time and we want to finish this season strong,” said Salinas, who has advanced to the final round in three of the past four races. “That’s our plan and it helps when you have a team like this and you know the car is going to run well. They’re making this fun. I know what I need to do and if I show a good example, that’s all that matters.

“We’re going to have a good time with it and we push each other. This place (Pomona) is very special and this is where everyone wants to win. It would be a great way to finish the year off.”

Point leader Steve Torrence _ the three-time/reigning world champion _ currently is second after his Friday run of 3.698-seconds at 317.05 mph as he bids for a record-tying fourth consecutive world title. Torrence’s opening run in his family-owned dragster extended his lead to 108 points over Brit Force. Steve’s father and teammate, Billy, qualified third Friday at 3.713 and 330.47.

A 38-year-old resident of Kilgore, Texas, Steve Torrence notched his milestone 50th career Top Fuel victory at Las Vegas and has promised he will not ease off the throttle. 

“We’re not going to do anything different,” Torrence said. “We’re just going to go out there and try to win the race. To have the success we’ve had, I can’t believe it. I’m just the guy that gets to sit in the seat and drive the best race car on the property. I’m humbled to be able to do it and our group of guys, we’ve been together since 2013 and that’s been the key to our success.”

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Pro Stock point-leader Greg Anderson shot to the top of the ladder in his Chevrolet Camaro SS with a quarter-mile run of 6.566-seconds at 210.21 mph. That pass gave Anderson four qualifying points and extended his lead over four-time/reigning world champ Erica Enders to 35 with two rounds of qualifying remaining.

If Anderson’s numbers hold, he would qualify No. 1 for the 12th time this year and 118th time in his career. Enders currently sits fourth after running 6.589 at 209.04. Like Anderson, Erica is chasing a fifth world title in her Elite Motorsports Camaro after her final round appearance in Vegas. Kyle Koretsky currently is second on the ladder at 6.584 and 208.71 while Rookie of the Year contender Dallas Glenn is one spot behind at 6.584 and 208.59 _ giving KB Racing Camaros the top three spots in provisional qualifying.

“We just have to keep doing what we’re doing and execute,” said Anderson, who became the all-time leader in “Factory Hot Rod” victories with his 98th during the FallNationals at Texas Motorplex in Ennis on Oct. 10. Anderson broke out of a tie with mentor Warren Johnson, the “Professor of Pro Stock” and a six-time world champion at The Plex.

Anderson has scored four wins, four runnerup finishes and 11 poles through 16 races in his bid for a fifth Pro Stock championship. “It doesn’t make much sense for us to change our game plan because the bottom line is we have the best package when we execute,” said Anderson, a 60-year-old resident of Charlotte, N.C.  “We’ll treat it as another race and go do what we do best and that’s go and try to win.”

Enders said she is embracing the pressure associated with the finish of another Pro Stock season. “We’ve definitely been in a bunch of high-pressure situations and I expect nothing less in Pomona,” said Enders, a 38-year-old native of Houston. “We were excited to close the gap in Las Vegas and were able to give ourselves a chance, and we just have to go do our job this weekend.

“I have to be up on the wheel, we’ll have to have our car tuned up as best we can and we’ll just go out there and battle and see what happens. It will definitely be exciting for everyone in Pomona.”

Matt Smith is seeking a fifth Pro Stock Motorcycle world championship and started his weekend perfectly by earning the provisional pole. Smith covered the quarter-mile in 6.779-seconds at 201.19 mph aboard his Denso Auto Parts/Stockseth/Matt Smith Racing EBR.

Smith would earn his fifth pole of the season and 48th of his career if those numbers hold through Saturday. Smith pushed his lead to 22 points over Steve Johnson and 33 points over three-time world champ Angelle Sampey on Friday. Johnson currently sits third at 6.811 and 197.39 with Sampey right behind at 6.819 and 196.76. Karen Stoffer, who has advanced to two straight final rounds, currently sits second at 6.785 and 197.97.

Johnson, meanwhile, is determined to play Matt Smith spoiler. “I’ve been chasing this championship for a long time and to be in this position, I’m over the moon,” said Johnson, who has three wins and three poles in 2021. “I’ve dreamed of it and we’ve applied some action and now the dream is getting pretty close. We’ve got a lot of heart and it’s really, really going to be fun.”

Johnson, a 60-year-old resident of Birmingham, Ala., has found new life aboard his four-valve Suzuki in a career that’s stretched 30-plus seasons. His victory at the most recent race in Las Vegas set up a viable championship scenario in Pomona. Johnson has performed at a high level all year, advancing to five final rounds while praising a team that has him in title contention against star riders like Smith and Sampey. 

“You can have a fast motorcycle, but if you can’t ride it, it’s not going to be fast,” Johnson said. “We’ve got great parts, great education on how to put the parts together and we learned a little more about riding the motorcycle. We’re doing a good job making sure there are no leaks in our boat.”

Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1997) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was inaugural recipient of the Texas Motor Speedway Excellence in Journalism Award (2009). His list of freelance clients has included Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, NASCAR Wire Service and Ford Racing).

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Friday’s provisional qualifying results after the first of three rounds of time trials for the 56th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif., the last of 20 events in the 2021 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series. Qualifying will continue Saturday for Sunday’s final eliminations:

Top Fuel _ 1. Mike Salinas, 3.694-seconds, 328.78 mph; 2. Steve Torrence, 3.698, 317.05; 3. Billy Torrence, 3.713, 330.47; 4. Antron Brown, 3.719, 329.26; 5. Shawn Langdon, 3.747, 324.05; 6. Tripp Tatum, 3.752, 306.67; 7. Clay Millican, 3.756, 321.12; 8. Alex Laughlin, 3.759, 324.83; 9. Doug Kalitta, 3.759, 321.65; 10. Cameron Ferre, 3.880, 299.66; 11. Brittany Force, 4.446, 172.87; 12. Brandon Welch, 4.766, 167.66; 13. Leah Pruett, 4.954, 145.83; 14. Josh Hart, 5.107, 135.48; 15. Buddy Hull, 6.274, 98.66; 16. Justin Ashley, 6.384, 104.60.

Funny Car _ 1. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.894, 330.55; 2. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 3.908, 329.83; 3. John Force, Camaro, 3.939, 328.14; 4. Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 3.939, 321.96; 5. Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Camry, 3.954, 318.92; 6. Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 3.975, 318.24; 7. Tony Jurado, Mustang, 3.988, 316.08; 8. Chad Green, Mustang, 4.002, 315.19; 9. Jeff Diehl, Camry, 4.031, 314.24; 10. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.346, 221.09; 11. Paul Lee, Charger, 4.432, 248.98; 12. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.483, 187.65; 13. Alex Miladinovich, Camry, 4.734, 206.67; 14. J.R. Todd, Camry, 4.978, 154.23; 15. Terry Haddock, Mustang, 6.460, 116.42; 16. Chris Morel, Charger, 7.165, 90.61. 

Not Qualified _17. Jim Campbell, 7.606, 78.24; 18. Bobby Bode, 10.548, 81.44.

Pro Stock _1. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.566, 210.21; 2. Kyle Koretsky, Camaro, 6.584, 208.71; 3. Dallas Glenn, Camaro, 6.584, 208.59; 4. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.589, 209.04; 5. Mason McGaha, Camaro, 6.589, 208.10; 6. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.594, 208.62; 7. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.594, 208.49; 8. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.617, 209.59; 9. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.620, 208.10; 10. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.648, 208.42; 11. Aaron Stanfield, Camaro, 6.721, 179.37; 12. Cristian Cuadra, Ford Mustang, 6.776, 180.14; 13. Troy Coughlin Jr., Camaro, 6.822, 171.58; 14. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 11.215, 97.02; 15. Bo Butner, Camaro, 16.368, 103.70; 16. Marty Robertson, Mustang, 22.614, 38.12.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _1. Matt Smith, EBR, 6.779, 201.19; 2. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.785, 197.97; 3. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.811, 197.39; 4. Angelle Sampey, Suzuki, 6.819, 196.76; 5. Andrew Hines, Buell, 6.906, 196.82; 6. Freddie Camarena, Suzuki, 6.935, 195.28; 7. Eddie Krawiec, Buell, 6.949, 196.53; 8. Chris Bostick, Suzuki, 6.973, 194.63; 9. Ryan Oehler, EBR, 7.019, 193.77; 10. Scotty Pollacheck, EBR, 7.330, 138.02; 11. Angie Smith, EBR, 9.665, 88.80; 12. Kelly Clontz, Suzuki, broke.

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UPDATED 2021 COUNTDOWN TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE/PROFESSIONAL WINNERS

Sunday, Sept. 12 _ Maple Grove Raceway, Reading, Pa. Billy Torrence (Top Fuel); Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car); Greg Anderson (Pro Stock); Steve Johnson (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Sunday, Sept. 19 _zMAX Dragway, Concord, N.C. Josh Hart (Top Fuel); Tim Wilkerson (Funny Car); Kyle Koretsky (Pro Stock); Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Sunday, Sept. 26 _ World Wide Technology Raceway, Madison, Ill. Steve Torrence (Top Fuel); Matt Hagan (Funny Car); Erica Enders (Pro Stock).

Sunday, Oct. 10 _ Texas Motorplex, Ennis. Justin Ashley (Top Fuel); Ron Capps (Funny Car); Greg Anderson (Pro Stock); Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Sunday, Oct. 17 _ Bristol (Tenn.) Dragway. Mile Salinas (Top Fuel); Alexis DeJoria (Funny Car); Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Sunday, Oct. 31 _ The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Steve Torrence (Top Fuel); Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car); Dallas Glenn (Pro Stock); Steve Johnson (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Sunday, Nov. 14 _ Auto Club Speedway, Pomona, Calif.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, November 13 2021
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