MOHNTON, Pa. – Ron Capps is starting the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship in a different position this year, and that means a strong start is necessary at this weekend’s 34th annual Dodge NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway.

After leading the points heading into the NHRA’s six-race playoffs the past two seasons, Capps begins his run for a world title in fourth this time around.

It means the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Funny Car world champion is just 40 points back of Courtney Force, but Capps now has three talented drivers in front of him. That puts extra importance on starting the Countdown to the Championship on a good note, and heading to a track where he won for the first time a year ago, Capps is confident his team can do just that in his 10,000-horsepower NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T.

“We’re all striving to win of course, but we want to make sure we have a good, solid weekend,” said Capps, who 60 career wins. “As many good Funny Cars as there is, somebody from 10th could make a jump into the top three. We just want to maintain what we’ve been doing, but you can’t be shy. You just have to have the whole package. You saw a lot of teams step up in Indy and it shows a lot of teams are ready to go. But we’re excited. I couldn’t wait for last week to get over.”

Reading is the 19th of 24 races in the 2018 NHRA season and the first of six in the Countdown to the Championship, and it’s a moment Capps is excited about after his team’s run earlier this summer.

Capps and his team, led by standout crew chief Rahn Tobler, had back-to-back first-round losses in Brainerd and Indy, but the veteran believes his team will be quick to revert to the performances on the Western Swing that included a win in Seattle and finals appearances at all three races.

That consistency has been a trademark of the team the last several years, and Capps is counting on that to continue during the most important time of the season.

“Rahn is such a big-picture guy and he wanted to make sure we’re Countdown-ready,” said Capps, who has two wins this season. “You have to make sure everything is ready, lined up, maintained and ready to go, but that consistency we’ve had since 2012 is something we’re very proud of. The percentage of times we’ve gone down the racetrack boggles my mind, and that’s all about being Countdown-ready. The whole thing about the Countdown is not changing your approach.”

Capps will keep that same consistent, yet aggressive mindset heading into Maple Grove Raceway as he faces off with Force; Don Schumacher Racing teammates Jack Beckman, Tommy Johnson Jr., and Matt Hagan; Indy winner J.R. Todd; Shawn Langdon; John Force; Tim Wilkerson and defending world champion Robert Hight.

Capps had a memorable duel that went down to the wire a year ago with Hight, and the spotlight this time of year brings is something Capps enjoys.

“You almost wait all year long for this moment,” Capps said. “It’s what you’ve waited for since we were in Phoenix for preseason testing. The buildup to this point is what it’s all about and I can’t wait. Everybody is salivating to get started and it’s a six-race sprint to the finish.

“It’s as much pressure as you’ve ever had, but it’s also the pressure you love. It’s what everybody wants.”