NAPA’s Capps cuts gap to 8 points heading to last day of season; Beckman earns second straight pole to lead strong DSR qualifying
POMONA, CA – Ron Capps can take the lead Sunday from points leader Robert Hight in the NHRA Finals and become the first NHRA Funny Car driver since 2001 to win back-to-back world championships to close the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season at Pomona, Calif.
Capps trails Hight by eight points and must win one more round in eliminations.
But he also has to make sure that Hight’s John Force Racing teammate Courtney Force doesn’t make an astounding jump from third place where she is 113 points behind Hight. For her to win the championship, Capps and Hight would need to lose in the first round and she would have to win four rounds to get her first title of the season.
“We couldn’t have asked for a crazier day in the overall picture,” said Capps, whose best run of the day was early in the afternoon at 3.897 seconds and 328.22 mph.
“We felt comfortable running that qualifier in the heat. (Crew chief Rahn) Tobler actually wanted to try something that last session. It was sort of a blessing that we didn’t move up as high as we could have in qualifying but Tobler did learn a lot.
“At the Mopar autograph session this morning it was interesting how my teammates were saying how much they wanted to help by taking out Robert and Courtney. That’s a great feeling.
“We know we are the hunters now and not the hunted. That’s a great team over there, and we expect them to have a great day tomorrow so we know we have to have a better day.
“I’ve been saying it all year long, our NAPA AutoCare guys are the absolute best and they make me feel so confident in the car. It’s going to be the most pressure we’ve seen all season. It’s going to be fun to be able to strap into the car, look out at my guys, roll to the starting line and see what happens.”
Capps and the NAPA AUTO PARTS Dodge Charger R/T Powered by Pennzoil team led by Tobler and assistant Eric Lane are aiming to extend the dominance by Don Schumacher Racing that has won four of the last six Funny Car championships.
A season’s worth of drama will be funneled into one Sunday afternoon during championship eliminations scheduled to start at 11 a.m. (PST).
Capps, who qualified sixth, is trying to give DSR its fifth Funny Car world championship in the past seven years.
Hight, who struggled to qualify 15th on his last of four qualifying runs, starts Sunday racing No. 2 qualified Tim Wilkerson. Capps’ first-round opponent is Del Worsham, who qualified 11th.
Capps, who has won eight Mello Yello titles this year, is 105 ahead of Courtney Force, who qualified third and will face Capps if both win their opening round races. Hight is in the same eight-car bracket setting up a possible meeting with Capps in the semifinals if they advance that far.
But Capps could get help from teammate Matt Hagan in the Mopar Express Lane Dodge. If Hagan and Hight win in the first round the former world champions would meet in the second round.
“I’d like to see if we can get out there and help (Ron) Capps out a little bit and maybe try to take out Robert,” said Hagan, who won the last Mello Yello event at Las Vegas two weeks ago.
“But we’ve got to get there. We’ve got to get through first round (against Gary Densham) to be able to help anybody. So, the thing about it is our car’s running good and we always have a lot of luck here at Pomona. So hopefully we can carry some of that into tomorrow.”
Capps earned three bonus points in the third session with a time of 3.897 seconds, which was second best to start Saturday. That cut Hight’s lead to 11.
While the other six DSR nitro teams have been eliminated from championship contention, it didn’t stop them from producing one of their strongest overall qualifying efforts over the past several races. All teams qualified in the top half of their categories to earn lane choice in the first round.
Jack Beckman in Terry and Doug Chandler’s Infinite Hero Dodge Charger R/T was able to hold on to the No. 1 qualifying spot with his run of 3.835 (334.98) on Friday. That gave the team its second consecutive pole and second of the year with crew chiefs Dean Antonelli, John Medlen and Neal Strausbaugh.
The Infinite Hero team also posted the quickest run of the last session with a time of 3.859 (332.34) in the last event of the 24-race NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event.
“We were low of both of the good (night) sessions, but we won’t see that until the final round tomorrow,” said Beckman, who is looking for his first title at Pomona. “I like our chances but it’s not like it’s going to be smooth sailing. We have to make educated, great decisions tomorrow.”
In Top Fuel, Leah Pritchett and the Papa John’s Pizza team led DSR’s dragsters by being the quickest in Saturday’s first session and are seeded third for Sunday. Right behind is teammate Antron Brown, the three-time and twice reigning Top Fuel world champion. Eight-time world champ Tony Schumacher and the U.S. Army team qualified sixth after winning the pole two weeks ago at Las Vegas.