BROWNSBURG, Ind. (Nov. 7, 2017) - After 23 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series events and 67 rounds of Sunday eliminations this year, it comes down to one critical weekend for reigning Funny Car world champion Ron Capps and Don Schumacher Racing's NAPA AUTO PARTS Dodge Charger R/T team led by crew chief Rahn Tobler.
Capps and his team Powered by Pennzoil already have had a miraculous season by winning a series-best and career-best eight NHRA Wally trophies including two of five in the Countdown to the Championship playoff, which concludes this weekend with the NHRA Finals that begins Friday at Pomona, Calif.
Tobler with assistant Eric Lane have tuned the NAPA Dodge into 12 final rounds and won four straight titles in April and May, each of which are career bests for Capps. They start the Finals with a 52-15 record in elimination rounds, and two round wins this Sunday will match Capps' career best set a year ago.
The NAPA team dominated the 18-race regular season this year and sat atop the championship points standings after 16 of 23 races, but will be ranked No. 2 this weekend after John Force Racing's Robert Hight, who also has won twice in the Countdown, took the lead by 15 points two weeks ago at the penultimate event near Las Vegas.
While those accomplishments will provide great memories at some point, what will matter most after Sunday's final round will be if the NAPA team can last one round longer than Hight.
"Our NAPA team with Tobler and all our NAPA AutoCare Center crew have earned a lot of firsts this year, and another one would be defending our title," Capps said.
A year ago, Capps clinched the championship after qualifying on Saturday at Pomona when he put the points gap beyond the reach of DSR teammates Tommy Johnson Jr. and Matt Hagan, who finished second and third, respectively.
"Winning a championship has been bigger than I could have ever imagined for a lot of different reasons," said Capps, who ranks second on the all-time Funny Car wins list with 57. "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."
When he arrives at Pomona this week, he'll be facing a new points format.
For 2017, NHRA put added emphasis on the Pomona finale by increasing points values by about 150 percent meaning a driver can collect up to 191 compared to 130 a year ago. A driver can earn up to 16 qualifying bonus points (was 12), 10 instead of eight for winning the pole and 30 instead of 20 for each round win on Sunday.
"NHRA's new points-and-a-half system at Pomona is going to make it pretty exciting," he said. "We haven't had to come from behind many times this year but we will at Pomona, but it's going to be fun. I look forward to getting with my crew guys and trying to battle."
The last Funny Car driver to defend his title was John Force, winning crowns in 2001 and 2002.
"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 left 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."
RON CAPPS, NAPA AUTO PARTS Dodge Charger R/T
Crew chief: Rahn Tobler; Assistant: Eric Lane
Pts Events Wins Rup Semi Qtr 1st rd Poles DNQ W/L
2017 2nd 23 8 4 2 5 4 0 0 52-15
CAREER 506 58* 54 91 103 182 21 19 679-429
*57 FC/1 TF
Career best time, speed: 3.839 sec. (2017, Phoenix); 333.58 mph (2017, Phoenix)
BY THE NUMBERS
Last event, Oct. 29, Las Vegas: Qualified No. 6, lost in first round to John Force
A year ago at Pomona 2: Qualified No. 5, lost in second round to John Force
In February at Pomona 1: Qualified No. 4, lost in championship round to Matt Hagan
Career at Pomona 2: Wins 0, Runner-ups 2 (2008, 2010), Poles 2 (2012, 2015)
Career at Pomona: Wins 3 (1998, 2009, 2016), Runner-ups 6 (2006, 2008, 2010, 2013, 2015-twice),
Poles 3 (1999, 2012, 2015)
COUNTDOWN TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS
(Official standings through Las Vegas 2; 23rd of 24 events; DSR drivers in CAPS)
1. Robert Hight (4) 2548 ----
2. RON CAPPS (8) 2533 -15
3. Courtney Force 2423 -125
4. JACK BECKMAN (2) 2396 -152
5. MATT HAGAN (4) 2387 -161
x-6. John Force (1) 2306 -242
x-7. TOMMY JOHNSON JR. (1) 2276 -272
x-8. Tim Wilkerson 2237 -311
x-9. J.R. Todd (2) 2233 -315
x-10. Cruz Pedregon 2163 -345
x=eliminated from championship contention