Baytown: Capps, Johnson preview

Johnson, Blue Skoal crew want to build on solid Vegas outing; Capps, Green crew search for consistency in Spring Nationals. BAYTOWN, Texas, April 9, 2003 - Maybe Tommy Johnson Jr. is looking for luck in all the wrong places. He tried Las Vegas...

Johnson, Blue Skoal crew want to build on solid Vegas outing; Capps, Green crew search for consistency in Spring Nationals.

BAYTOWN, Texas, April 9, 2003 - Maybe Tommy Johnson Jr. is looking for luck in all the wrong places. He tried Las Vegas last weekend and came up empty-handed, just like so many who visit that city's plethora of gaming establishments.

Now he's switching his focus to Houston Raceway Park, site of the O'Reilly Spring Nationals, Friday through Sunday.

What Johnson needs is a little racing luck to find his way back into the NHRA POWERade Series winner's circle. His last victory came a little more than two years ago at Las Vegas - when Winston still sponsored the series. Since then, however, he's been to five finals with no wins.

One of those second places occurred at HRP last year and it automatically made him the answer to a drag racing trivia question: Who did John Force beat to claim his milestone 100th win?

If you guessed Johnson, you'd be correct.

The Indianapolis-based driver didn't get to the title round in Las Vegas last week, but probably should've. He was moving away from Whit Bazemore when the engine expired with a boom. Moments later, the fuel tank exploded, too.

Until then, Johnson's performance was consistent and solid. Crew chief Mike Green was able to produce three 4.8-second runs during qualifying, the best a 4.817 seconds at 314.24 mph, good enough for fifth starting spot.

On race day, Johnson's 4.804 (at a career topping 321.04 mph) was the quickest of the first round. He followed with a 4.880 decision (also the quickest of the round) over Del Worsham.

"The car is starting to show promise," said Johnson. "I'm excited about that, but the outcome wasn't very good. The engine just blew up. It's frustrating to lose that way, but the potential here is so positive."

The heat generated when the fuel tank expired melted all the electrical and air-timer lines, forcing the crew to virtually rebuild the car to prepare for this weekend's outing.

"I'm sure excited about the car's potential," Johnson commented. "We did exactly what we wanted to do at Vegas. The tune-up has been a work in progress. Things are starting to come around, but we aren't really fine-tuned yet. Mike said he doesn't expect to have it squared away until midseason, but then we should be in the top four cars.

"I think we're really a contender now . . . and the wins come after that."

Johnson did move up two places to seventh with 210 points, six behind Johnny Gray and 24 behind Del Worsham in fifth.

Capps Looking for More Consistency

After leading the Funny Car standings after two races - including a win at Phoenix - Ron Capps finds himself fourth in points now and looking for more consistent outings like the one in February.

"We started the year great, then did a little struggling at Gainesville (Fla.) when we hit the wall after the engine exploded. That set us back a bit," commented Capps. "We fixed the car for Las Vegas but it was like starting the season all over because they front-halved the car and it was quite a bit different from my feet forward.

"This sport is so tough. You have to prove yourself every time out," added Capps, who advanced to the quarterfinals at Vegas, losing to eventual race winner Tony Pedregon. "We tested some parts Ace (crew chief Ed 'Ace' McCulloch) has wanted to try on Monday at Las Vegas. There's so much competition in this class now that I don't worry about who I'm going to race in the first round because I know everybody is going to be tough."

Capps has 287 points, 17 behind Whit Bazemore and 36 behind runner-up Gary Densham. Pedregon is in front with 348.

Capps' IROC Test Goes Well; Another Scheduled for Chicago

Yes, Ron Capps impressed the International Race of Champions driving staff during his audition for the 2004 four-race IROC series. He was the first drag racer given the opportunity to prove he could turn left - at 180 mph - around the 2.66-mile Talladega, Ala., track.

His trial was so successful that he's been invited to the 11/2-mile ChicagoLand Speedway in Joliet, Ill., for another round, with the possibility of going to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for one more test session.

"The real key will be the oned at Chicago. That track is much more a driving test," said Capps. "You have to be in and out of the throttle and more in control of the car. That's when I'm going to be able to really see if I have what it takes."

Veteran NASCAR driver Dick Trickle was quite impressed with Capps after the Talladega run.

"He did an excellent job," he said. "We had him up front, behind us, three wide and he had great car control the entire time . . .very impressive."

NASCAR drivers Dave Marcus and Andy Hillenburg and World of Outlaw drivers Steve Kinser and Danny Lasoski also helped Capps through the test sessions.

"One of the best things was coming back and having some of the drivers and crew members from other teams come up and say 'great job, you're representing us and you're doing a great job,'" added Capps. "I went down there to try and learn a little bit and not be dumb. I tried to enjoy myself but still take it seriously because maybe there's a possibility of something happening next year.

"The NASAR guys were great. The brought me in and treated me gingerly, then threw me to the wolves - driving 180 miles an hour, racing side-by-side, 14 inches apart. It was a blast."

-dpr-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Dick Trickle , Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , John Force , Andy Hillenburg , Gary Densham , Danny Lasoski , Steve Kinser , Johnny Gray , Tommy Johnson Jr.