It is safe to say that 2020 has been a bit of an odd year.
Race cancellations, shortened race weekends, a shrunken NHRA schedule, nothing has been as it seems. So with one race remaining before closing the book on an NHRA season unlike any other, Ron Capps desperately wanted to finish the year strong. More specifically, he wanted to top the Funny Car field – for the first time all year.
On Saturday, Capps did just that, driving his NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car to the top spot to earn his first top qualifier award of the year and the 25th of his career at the Dodge NHRA Finals presented by Pennzoil at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“These last two races I was so bummed thinking I’m not going to get my Camping World hat before the end of the year,” Capps said. “When they held me at the other end of the track, I thought for sure one, if not all four cars, were going to run quicker than that. I felt like there’s a little bit on the table we left out there, but we’re happy with it. Now we’d love to win and get the real (hat) for winning the race.”
Capps ran a 3.902-second pass at 327.98 mph in the second and final qualifying session of the afternoon to drive around teammate and championship points leader Matt Hagan. He improved from seventh on the ladder after round one, but explained that a new car, plus a few new parts the team wanted to try out, led to the team’s slow start.
“Today was the first time we actually got to warm this car up. This is the backup car that we won the Gatornationals with and then had to break out (last week at Houston) after the explosion and almost won again. We decided to keep this car out and (Rahn) Tobler asked me about it. I said, ‘I love the way it drives. It feels good’ and he was happy with the data,” Capps said. “We also had some DSR parts that we needed to try. That first lap we had to back everything down to make sure we didn’t blow it up or smoke the tires and not learn anything. Then, in Q2, (Tobler) went up and made all the calls he needed to make and, just like a bracket car, it ran almost where he wanted it to run.”
Capps was especially excited to watch crew chief Tobler and the rest of his crew continue to show the confidence that has guided this team to great success over the past few years. Specifically, he talked about the chemistry between the team, and the fun in watching them work before a big session.
“My locker is right up there with the crew chiefs, so I hear what they’re talking about. I’ve worked on these long enough that I understand what they’re talking about,” Capps said. “Tobler is good at communicating to me what to expect in the car. We work well together, that way I know what he’s trying. I know what the car is doing. I’m certainly paying attention to where he’s working on making the car quicker so I’m ready in case it doesn’t work out.
“I watch them go back and forth and come up with a battle plan. It is so fun for me as a guy that has worked on them all my life. Mechanically, I love what these cars are all about and it’s extra fun having a crew chief who’s old school and allows me to give feedback.”
Matt Hagan qualified second with a 3.911 at 327.82 mph, setting himself up nicely for the championship finale on Sunday. Alexis DeJoria qualified third with a 3.915 at 322.42 mph, while Tommy Johnson Jr. (3.915) and Bob Tasca (3.929) rounded out the top five. Jack Beckman, the fourth person in the four-man title fight alongside Hagan, Johnson and Capps, qualified 10th with a 3.996.
Following Saturday’s qualifying rounds, Hagan maintains a two-round lead over the competition. However things could get very interesting if Hagan and his Don Schumacher Racing teammate Beckman both advance out of the first round. If the pair move on, they would meet in the second round with championship implications on the line. If Hagan makes it to the semifinals, he will claim his third Funny Car world championship. If he doesn’t, the door is wide open.
Capps draws Chris Morel in round one on Sunday, Hagan gets Cruz Pedregon, Johnson matches up with Jim Campbell and Beckman, who will give up lane choice after qualifying in the bottom half of the field, will face Paul Lee.
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) October 27, 2020