Las Vegas: Ron Capps preview

Will it be a winning streak of two for Capps, Green Skoal Racing Crew at Las Vegas? LAS VEGAS, March 27, 2002 - After hitting the jackpot in his last visit to The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Ron Capps doesn't want to appear too greedy. ...

Will it be a winning streak of two for Capps, Green Skoal Racing Crew at Las Vegas?

LAS VEGAS, March 27, 2002 - After hitting the jackpot in his last visit to The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Ron Capps doesn't want to appear too greedy. But what's wrong with winning races? Isn't that what he's supposed to do?

The answers, of course, are: nothing and yes.

So Capps, who will be at the controls of Don "The Snake" Prudhomme's Green Skoal Racing Funny Car, will be looking for career win No. 13 and his first victory in the 2002 NHRA Powerade Series at the Summitracing.com Nationals at the Strip at LVMS, April 5-7.

Capps' 12th triumph came last October and gave crew chief Ed "The Ace" McCulloch and Prudhomme's Funny Car team a sweep of the two 2001 NHRA races at LVMS. Tommy Johnson Jr., Capps' teammate and driver of the Blue Skoal Racing Camaro, won this event a year ago.

After three races, Capps is fourth with 199 points but trails leader John Force by just 51 points and runner-up Del Worsham by 17. Third-place Tony Pedregon is three ahead of Capps.

The first three events were run over an eight-week period, but Capps and his fellow competitors now are staring at an extremely busy schedule that contains seven races in nine weeks. By the time the seventh one (Route 66 Nationals at Joliet, Ill.) is completed it will be early June, but the 23-race championship chase hunt should be far from over.

Following are some of Capps' thoughts on the 2002 season as he prepared for the Summitracing.com Nationals:

Q - Because you are making your first trip to Las Vegas this season, what are the odds that you and teammate Tommy Johnson will sweep the two races there again this year?

A - I'd say our chances are good, especially when you look at our last two outings there. We believe we can win every race we go to but everything came up right both times at Vegas last year and we came away winning those races. I feel good about the chances of our Skoal Racing Green crew, especially after our race at Gainesville, Fla. (March 17). We struggled a little at Gainesville but the crew dug down deep and put two good runs together, then we lost a close race in the semifinals. I hope the weather pattern for Las Vegas shapes up to be a warm one because my crew chief, Ed "The Ace" McCulloch is plenty savvy when the track gets hot. That gives us a little more confidence going into Vegas.

It's always nice to go back to a track where you are the defending champion but, in a sense, it puts a little more pressure on you. The object is to win the championship and stay consistent. We have fought some problems during the first three races and Ace has really had his hands full trying to track down some gremlins that we had. The key to winning the championship is to get through some of those weekends when you aren't doing so well and try to get the best result you can. When you're doing well on a weekend, you're going to win races or be runner-up. To be honest, the first three races weren't stellar for us but we still went to two semifinals and one quarterfinal. Now that Ace has found the problems, the performance of the car is going to improve and I think we're going to be pretty pleased with the results of those early races."

Q - The Funny Car standings are very close after the first three races. Do you expect the championship chase to stay that way all season?

A - I hope so. I thought it would be. We were a little apprehensive going into Gainesville because John Force was ahead of us by 90 points and I thought he wasn't the one you want to give a big lead to. But, lo and behold, he lost in the first round at Gainesville and we took advantage by making up some points. You just never know. It is conceivable this battle could stay close most of the year.

Q - After going 26 races without racing Johnson, was it a relief to finally get that one out of the way in the first round at Gainesville?

A - Yes it sure was. Everybody kept bringing up the fact that we hadn't raced each other, but we knew it was bound to happen. We had a lot of Skoal Racing people from Greenwich, Conn., at that race so we had a little bit of added pressure on us. I approach racing Tommy like I do anyone else. I need the (championship series) points. My crew wants to win and I'm sure Tommy's crew feels the same way. My Green crew looked over and said it was just another 20 points toward the Powerade championship and he just happened to be our teammate. (Capps beat Johnson with a 4.966-second run to Johnson's traction-plagued 7.008.)

Q - Does it make a difference knowing you're going up against a driver who has his car set up exactly like yours?

A - That's what makes it tough because I knew my crew chief was also tuning his car. I have all the confidence in the world in the Green Skoal Racing car I drive on Sundays so there's no way I'd think any different about how the Blue Skoal Racing car is going to run. That made me more nervous because I was pretty confident our car was going to run pretty good, and that meant that the Blue car was going to run good, too.

Q - The first three races of the season were run over an eight-week period. Now, going into Las Vegas we are starting a string of seven races in nine weeks. Is that kind of schedule a benefit or a hindrance?

A - I think it's a benefit. For me, there's nothing better than getting buckled into the car with only four days off between races. After two weeks off between races, I'm itching to get back into the car. As a driver, I'm very comfortable when we have a lot of races - like seven in nine weeks.

Q - Warmer than normal temperatures at Gainesville seemed to take away some consistency in the new Goodyear tires. Do you as a driver think about that at all?

A - Yes, especially because in the next seven races we are going to be going to tracks where the weather will be warm and the track temperature is going to be warm. Those new tires are safer, but it is also a trickier tire when the weather gets warm. The crew chiefs are going to do their best to figure out the tire and make it go quicker when it's warm. As the fans saw during eliminations in Gainesville, there were a lot of cars that had to be pedaled to get down the track. A driver has to focus on keeping the car in the center of the groove and you have to take extra precautions because of the tire. We aren't comfortable with the tire yet. It's going to take some getting used to.

Q - Has that put more pressure on the driver?

A - I think so. Last year I didn't have to worry about pedaling the car too often. The car went down the track on Sunday and that gives a driver a lot of confidence. When that happens, you don't pedal it as much and you get out of practice, but the Gainesville race brought all that back. We had to focus on saving the run.

For the Record . . .

The Capps-Johnson Skoal Racing showdown at Gainesville was the first time the drivers raced as teammates. Overall, they are 2-2 in head-to-head competition. Johnson won the first two meetings, defeating Capps at the 1996 Winternationals when both were driving Top Fuel dragsters and in the Funny Car finals at Reading, Pa., in 1999. Capps has taken the last two, beating Johnson in Memphis in 2000 and at Gainesville.

-sr-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Del Worsham , Ron Capps , John Force , Tommy Johnson , Tommy Johnson Jr.