CONCORD, N.C. – The way Ron Capps looks at it, the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship might as well be restarting this weekend during the NTK NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway.
It’s a nod to just how competitive the Funny Car class has been through the first two playoff races, leaving a pile of contenders bunched up heading to Charlotte.
Capps is right in the thick of things as usual, sitting fourth in points, just 44 behind leader Robert Hight. He felt he had a car capable of winning the first two races, and though Capps fell short, it’s only given the former NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world champion more confidence heading into the Charlotte race.
Of note, Capps is the defending winner in his 11,000-horsepower NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat.
“As bunched up as it is right now, it’s almost like the Countdown just started against going into zMAX,” Capps said. “We just have to continue to do what we’ve been doing. We’re not changing much and if we can run like we have the last two races, we’ll be alright. We lost a chance at winning the first two races and I feel like we had a car that could win. We just stepped over the line a little bit, but we learned a lot and we’ll be ready this weekend.
Charlotte is the third of six races in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, and the 21st of 24 races during the NHRA season, with the race coming at a key point in the Funny Car title picture.
There have been four different finalists and two different race winners at the first two Countdown to the Championship races, though Capps is still looking to join that group.
He qualified No. 1 in Reading and advanced to the semifinals, running a career-best 3.837-seconds at a whopping 339.28 mph, also picking up a round win in St. Louis.
Capps wants to take it a step further in Charlotte, a track that has provided plenty of good moments and will present a fast track.
“I’m glad to see zMAX and Charlotte coming, especially with the performance we’ve worked on and found,” Capps said. “The conditions we’re going to see – and that track is unbelievable – we’re going to need every bit of it. We were very consistent (in Capps’ title year in 2016) and we put pressure on opponents, and that’s the key, making someone feel like they have to step outside the box to beat you.
“You’ve got to have that, especially going against some of these top-tier teams. You’re going to have to make them feel like they need to push harder than they would have.”
Capps knows the importance of a fourth career Charlotte victory against a loaded Countdown to the Championship field that starts with Hight, who is also after his first playoff win in 2019.
Sixteen-time world champ John Force is just 13 points out of first, while Reading winner and Capps’ Don Schumacher Racing teammate Jack Beckman is 24 points back.
But Capps also has to be on high alert against the likes of St. Louis winner Shawn Langdon, defending world champion J.R. Todd and Bob Tasca, as all are within 80 points of the lead.
It exemplifies the championship talent in the class, which makes doing well in Charlotte so critical for Capps, who will be showcasing a special NAPA NightVision paint scheme during the weekend.
“It’s so tight right now in Funny Car, these next two races could decide who’s going to have momentum heading into the final two events,” said Capps, who has three wins in 2019 and 64 in his standout career. “Looking at who won those first two races, it kind of bunched it up even more. It’s very, very tight right now.”