Topeka: Capps, Johson preview

Skoal Racing teammates Capps and Johnson take aim at reaching Summer Nationals final together TOPEKA, Kan., May 22, 2003 - In the first year as teammates on Don Prudhomme's Skoal Racing Funny Car team, Ron Capps and Tommy Johnson Jr. did not...

Skoal Racing teammates Capps and Johnson take aim at reaching Summer Nationals final together

TOPEKA, Kan., May 22, 2003 - In the first year as teammates on Don Prudhomme's Skoal Racing Funny Car team, Ron Capps and Tommy Johnson Jr. did not race each other once during the 24-race 2001 season.

The pendulum swung the other way last year and they tangled four times, twice in the first round and twice in the semifinals. Capps won three of the first four. So far in 2003, Capps' Green Camaro and Johnson's Blue Camaro have lined up in opposite lanes just once, in Sunday's SuperNationals semifinals at Englishtown, N.J., and Capps won again.

So it's only natural these two friendly rivals would like their next meeting to be in the final round, not only guaranteeing a victory for Prudhomme's team, but a crowded winner's circle.

"That's been our goal since Tommy joined the team," said Capps. "I know Tommy and I really get psyched up when we race each other. We both want to win. It doesn't matter who we race, but whenever we race each other it's for team bragging rights."

The next chance could come this weekend during the O'Reilly Summer Nationals at Heartland Park. Qualifying begins Friday with sessions at 5 and 8 p.m. and Saturday at noon and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. Sunday.

Capps won here in 1998 - when rain forced the finals into early Sunday morning - and was runner-up in 2000. Johnson was runner-up in 1999 while driving for Joe Gibbs.

"I've had a lot of good races at Topeka," said Johnson, who called Heartland Park his home track while he lived in his hometown of Ottumwa, Iowa, before moving to Indianapolis last year.

"The best I've done there is that runner-up in '99," he continued. "Maybe we can go one better this year. Anything we do will be better than last year when I didn't qualify here. I know there's not even a remote chance of that happening this time."

Crew chief Mike Green has Johnson's Blue Skoal Racing entry running very consistently, boosting his driver's confidence.

"Everything we've said earlier in the year is beginning to happen," Johnson said. "Mike is fine-tuning the combination and it's really coming around. The performance is where it needs to be and now we have to work on consistency.

"In four of our five runs last weekend at Englishtown we ran between 4.80 to 4.82 seconds, so we believe we should be able to qualify among the top half of the field and contend for the race win in Topeka. I'm really enjoying this and so is the Blue crew. This is the most competitive I've been in my three years here.

"I've been told you have to learn how to win before you do it," continued Johnson. "It's coming . . . and soon, we hope."

Johnson's only run Sunday that wasn't in the low 4.80s came in the semis when the car spun the tires against Capps, who advanced to the title round against Whit Bazemore with a 4.901-second, 310.52-mph effort to Johnson's 7.915 at 115.98 mph.

Johnson qualified third - his best of the year - at 4.817 at 319.52 and registered his fastest speed, 323.74 mph, in a first-round win over Bob Gilbertson.

While he's still seventh (425 points) in NHRA POWERade Series standings, Johnson is now 21 points behind Johnny Gray and 74 behind fifth-place Capps' 499.

For Capps, it was his second trip to the finals this season and he picked up a win over nemesis John Force at Englishtown when Force fouled out in the quarterfinals. Capps won at Phoenix in February.

"We needed to get to the finals to get some momentum back," commented Capps, who had a string of three first-round losses ended. "We've never run well at Englishtown before so it was nice to get some good results."

The Green Skoal Racing entry qualified seventh, 4.844 at 314.17 mph, and he ran 4.885 to beat Gray in the first round and 4.838 at 319.90 - Capps' career-best speed - in the win over Force. The car spun the tires against Bazemore, who won with a 4.869 at 306.84 to 8.300 at 100.12.

"We've always seemed to run good at Topeka, though, and I'm confident Ace (crew chief Ed 'Ace' McCulloch) and the guys can keep up the performances," said Capps. "We have three pretty fast tracks in a row with races at Englishtown, Topeka and Chicago, and they all could have good weather, too. "I remember that win in '98 because it rained and we didn't run the finals until after 1 a.m.," Capps added. "By the time the crew left the track that night, or morning, we ate at the truck stop because that was the only restaurant open."

A victory dinner is a victory dinner, even at a truck stop.

The third of three straight races will be at Route 66 Raceway at Joliet, Ill., May 30-June 1.


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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , John Force , Johnny Gray , Tommy Johnson Jr.