Ron Capps loves Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS - Everyone likes to come to this gaming capital on a roll. They would all love to hit the jackpot. Ron Capps is no different. He arrives on a hot streak - runner-up finishes at the last two NHRA national events - in time for...

LAS VEGAS - Everyone likes to come to this gaming capital on a roll. They would all love to hit the jackpot. Ron Capps is no different. He arrives on a hot streak - runner-up finishes at the last two NHRA national events - in time for the inaugural Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, April 7-9. Capps, driving Don "The Snake" Prudhomme's U.S. Tobacco Co. Camaro Funny Car, is experienced at winning races at new sites. His 1997 victory at Gateway International Raceway near St. Louis was not only the first at the facility, it was his first NHRA win driving a Funny Car. He's added six more wins since then, but the last was 28 races ago, in October 1998. It's the belief of Capps, Prudhomme and crew chief Ed "Ace" McCulloch that it's only a matter of time before the team visits the winner's circle. And the successive second-place finishes add credence to the optimism. "With the way things are going right now, it's tough to be unhappy about being runner-up at the last two races," said Capps. "We have a championship-caliber team. This is a long season and we are in the title hunt, within striking distance of the lead." Capps is third in points with 217, 16 behind second-place John Force and 90 behind leader Jerry Toliver. It should come as no surprise that the two drivers in front of Capps beat him in final rounds this millennium - Force at Phoenix (Feb. 27), Toliver at Gainesville, Fla. (March 19). "It feels very good to be coming to Vegas with a car that's performing like ours has been," Capps commented. "We have a car capable of qualifying No. 1 and winning races. Obviously Ace has a great (tune-up) baseline, although we don't know what the track surface will be like. If it's like (the new tracks at) Chicago and Bristol (Tenn.), it'll have the potential to be one of the best tracks we'll see this year, once it gets some rubber built up on it." McCulloch's tune-ups have put Capps in the No. 1 qualifying position at Phoenix (4.858 seconds), sent him to his quickest career run (4.838 seconds at Gainesville) and rebuilt his driving confidence. "The way the car is running has helped me get back to driving like I was a couple years ago," said Capps. He won five times and finished second to John Force in points in 1998. "It's so refreshing going to the next race knowing we're just a hiccup from being in first place," Capps continued. "It's tremendous being in the points chase at this time of the year because in one race the top five could get shuffled pretty quickly; that's how close it is right now. We aren't thinking championship yet. We are thinking of just staying within striking distance. Teams don't want to peak this early. There are still 20 races to go." Capps and his Funny Car cohorts agree that a string of 13 races in the next 18 weeks - carrying through the first week in August - will separate the contenders from the pretenders. "I feel good about racing that many times in 18 weeks because of the way Ace operates," Capps said. "He's very, very organized and precise in everything he does. He's very consistent with what he does. That's what it's going to take, especially now that we're beginning our grind of back-to-back races and back-to-back-to-back races. It's going to take a well-oiled machine to win the championship and we have that with our U.S. Tobacco Co. team." McCulloch has proved the car is competitive. At Gainesville, for example, Capps had the quickest run during eliminations (4.838 seconds) for the second straight race. He beat Al Hofmann, Del Worsham and Scotty Cannon before tire shake, followed by a wheelstand, enabled Toliver to take the win. "The tires shook and I had to pedal (the throttle)," Capps recalled. "When I got back in the throttle, the front end came up and all I could see was horizon. I was looking for Toliver out my side window. When he went by, I got out of the throttle and pedaled it to get the front end down." Toliver won with a 5.071 at 296.50 mph to Capps' 6.185 at 155.76 mph. Capps already has been to more finals this year (two in three races) than last season (one in 22 tries). The next order of business is winning, and the new Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway could be the place to start.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Al Hofmann , Del Worsham , Ron Capps , John Force , Jerry Toliver