Englishtown: Capps, Johnson preview

Skoal Racing teammates look for improved performances during upcoming three races in row. ENGLISHTOWN, N.J., May 12, 2003 - Maybe three races in three weeks is what Ron Capps and Tommy Johnson Jr. need. The Skoal Racing teammates haven't...

Skoal Racing teammates look for improved performances during upcoming three races in row.

ENGLISHTOWN, N.J., May 12, 2003 - Maybe three races in three weeks is what Ron Capps and Tommy Johnson Jr. need.

The Skoal Racing teammates haven't enjoyed much racing good fortune lately in the first four events during the busiest part of the season - seven races in nine weeks.

What remains are the final trio - beginning with the K&N Filters SuperNationals, May 16-18, at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park. Then come the O'Reilly Summer Nationals at Topeka, Kan., May 23-25, and the Lucas Oil Route 66 Nationals at Joliet, Ill., May 30-June 1.

When completed, the season will be nine races old and approaching the halfway point in the 23-event POWERade Series.

Both drivers took some positive reinforcement with them following the Summit Racing Southern Nationals at Commerce, Ga.

Capps' Green Skoal Racing Funny Car crew has been looking for tune-up consistency that disappeared when an engine explosion at Gainesville, Fla., in March sent the car into the guard wall and precipitated the chassis receiving a new front half.

Several more mechanical malfunctions, including a throttle stuck wide open, have contributed to Capps' dropping from the POWERade Series lead gained when he won at Phoenix in February.

The throttle wouldn't close as Capps crossed the finish line on his last qualifying attempt at Atlanta (May 3). He shut off the engine and the blower exploded, the resulting fire burning the car's Camaro body and rendering useless all the fuel system, clutch management and other data gathering wires.

"A lot of people don't realize what kind of job our Green crew did after the fire we had," said Capps. "The guys did a heck of a job. It was like building the car from scratch. The fire burned the body, all the computer lines and all the air hoses off, so the crew had to tear everything out and re-plumb it Saturday night and rebuild it like a brand new car."

The repairs worked as Capps ran 4.898 seconds at 314.46 mph to beat Scotty Cannon in the opening round.

"Really, for it to go out and run a 4.89 like it did in the first round was unbelievable," he said in praise of the crew's effort.

It was important, too, because it was his first round win in three races.

Crew chief Ed "Ace" McCulloch and his assistant, Todd Okuhara, toiled long and hard to find the root of their problems. They tested Monday after the Atlanta race to work on the combination.

"Considering the trials and tribulations we went through, to come out of it with a quarterfinal finish was pretty good," Capps added. "I know my crew will have everything ready when we begin qualifying Friday at Raceway Park. In the next three weeks we're going to find out who is tough and who isn't. I know all of us at Don Prudhomme Racing are tough."

Capps is sixth with 406 points. He's just eight behind Johnny Gray and 88 behind No. 3 Del Worsham.

"It's such a long, grueling season, and I think the drivers who are hot right now and really doing well are going to go through a struggling period . . . they just haven't seen it yet," he remarked. "Right now we're seeing ours and the plan is to snap out of it and start peaking toward the end of the year."

The SuperNationals, Capps agrees, would be the best place to begin.

Tommy Johnson, Blue Skoal Racing Funny Car

Johnson and the Blue crew have been trying to avoid first-round losses but they had a string of three straight races of quarterfinal finishes ended at Atlanta when Johnson lost a close one to Frank Pedregon.

Crew chief Mike Green continues to finesse the tune-up while Johnson has been either sixth or seventh in points for the last four events. He's now seventh with 349.

Although he hasn't had some of his best performances at Raceway Park, Johnson is confident that's about to change.

"Maybe this is the year I start running well at certain tracks," he said, noting that he's not run well here. "I got the weight off my shoulders when I qualified at Atlanta (May 3, after going 0-2 since joining Prudhomme's team) and I'd like to see us run better at Raceway Park."

To accomplish that, plus win a race and add to his point total, crew chief Mike Green had Johnson testing after the Atlanta event so he could work on a hot-weather tune-up.

"It was warm in Atlanta on race weekend and we seemed to be about one-tenth of a second behind," Johnson continued. "We seem to still be struggling a bit with our warm weather, sunny conditions tune-up. We have the car running good and consistent, but when it comes to slippery race tracks, we're still a little off. Not that it's way off, but just not as good as it would be if we have an overcast day."

Johnson might've done better had a small piece of aluminum not lodged in a fuel line, slowing the fuel intake and the elapsed time against Pedregon.

"It happened at the hit of the throttle, so we were at a disadvantage," he added of the 4.929-second, 314.31-mph run to the winning 4.910 at 311.20. "The engine runs better on fuel than it does on aluminum. I was actually surprised I didn't win the race," Johnson said. "I never saw Pedregon at the finish line, it was that close."

Like most every driver, Johnson doesn't mind the looming three consecutive races.

"I believe the more you race the better you get, so that doesn't bother me. Bring them on."

SuperNationals qualifying is scheduled at 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. Friday and 1:30 and 4 p.m. Saturday. Racing begins Sunday at 11 a.m.

-sr-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Frank Pedregon , Del Worsham , Ron Capps , Tommy Johnson , Scotty Cannon , Don Prudhomme , Johnny Gray , Tommy Johnson Jr.