Capps, Johnson to battle rivals, altitude at Mile-High Nationals

MORRISON, Colo., July 16, 2003 - With the second half of the NHRA POWERade Series beginning in the this quaint town not far from downtown Denver, it would be geographically correct to say that, no matter what, the remainder of the season is all down hill from here.

Skoal Racing teammates Ron Capps and Tommy Johnson Jr. are anxious to return to the tight confines of their Funny Cars - Capps in the Green one, Johnson in the Blue - if for no other reason than it means their return to sea level isn't too far away.

The team does like Denver. It just doesn't like the tune-up changes necessary to run competitively in the altitude slightly above 5,280 feet.

"One good thing is that it's equal for everybody," said Johnson of the racing conditions for the Mopar Mile-High Nationals, July 18-20, at Bandimere Speedway. "Some crew chief who hits the altitude combination well can win the race."

It can be a crap shoot. Johnson advanced to the finals the first time he drove his family-backed Top Fuel dragster in the Mile-Highs in 1991. He finished second and hasn't been involved in another final here since then.

"We are ready to go racing," Johnson pointed out. "Our car hasn't run well at the last two races. We are determined to make it better this time."

Johnson suffered first-round losses at Columbus, Ohio, and St. Louis, but is nonetheless pleased to be seventh in the standings with 619 points. And he's currently a provisional starter in the prestigious Big Bud Shootout, where drivers earn qualifying points at the 22 races preceding the Shootout and only the top eight qualify for the $100,000-to-win championship.

Johnson has 2,220 points and a rather comfortable lead over Scotty Cannon and Dean Skuza, who are tied for eighth at 2,085.

"We did struggle a little bit," added Johnson, who was runner-up at Chicago last month, "but all-in-all it has been a good first half. The team has turned the corner. We've learned a lot and are putting it to good use. I've qualified for every race so far this year and I haven't been able to say that here before."

The former Ottumwa, Iowa, driver who now resides in Indianapolis, said there have been some ups and downs this year, but "this is a young team that is turning the corner," he said.

That would be good news for both team owner Don "The Snake" Prudhomme and crew chief Mike Green.

Johnson has been as low as ninth in points, but that was for only one race, and he's hovered around sixth and seventh places since then, settling in seventh right now behind reigning Funny Car champion John Force, 703-619. Tony Pedregon leads with 1,106.

Capps, meanwhile, has a victory (at Phoenix) and a second (at Englishtown, N.J.) on his 2003 NHRA POWERade Series resume. He begins the last half of the campaign fifth with 738 points. He has been to the semifinals at the last two stops.

He's had the proverbial roller-coaster ride in 2003, too. His win at Phoenix boosted him into the series lead for one race. Since then he's been holding down fifth place. He is 67 points, a little more than three rounds of racing, out of third place, currently held by Del Worsham.

As for the Shootout, Capps is the reigning champion who is currently sixth with 2350 points.

Capps has a runner-up finish at Denver (1998) in his only final-round visit at altitude.

"We'll be facing the heat in Denver along with the altitude," Capps commented. "I am excited because I think we have a car that can win in those conditions.

"Ace (crew chief Ed 'Ace' McCulloch) has been working on a clutch setup to use during the summer months and it responded at Columbus and St. Louis, both places where it was hot and humid."

The Skoal Racing teammates have qualifying sessions scheduled at 5 and 8 p.m. Friday and 3 and 6 p.m. Saturday. Sunday eliminations begin at 12:30 p.m.