After 17 events, NHRA racers enter the Countdown to the Championship; this battle to crown the world champions in the four Full Throttle Racing Series categories will take place during the next six events, beginning this weekend at the O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte. The four No. 1 seeds took part in a national teleconference prior to the Charlotte event.
Antron Brown has four wins this season in Top Fuel, four runner-up finishes, and two No. 1 qualifiers. He has been no lower than third in points during the season. This is the second time he has gone into the Countdown as the No. 1 seed.
Q: Antron, you've had a strong car the past five events. What is your confidence level going into the Countdown?
Brown: Our confidence is very high. I have a lot of confidence in our team, what they're capable of. We're just going to go in there and take it one round at a time and keep on doing what we've been doing. It seems to be working. We've been pressing as hard as we can each and every round. We've been trying to execute, and that's been working out to our benefit.
Q: How important is it to come out high in the Countdown? Right out of the gate in Charlotte, how important is it to be strong?
Brown: It's very important. What makes it so crucial is that our sport is filled up with a whole bunch of sprints. We drag race. We don't have a marathon. Now we can condense like from a 100-meter dash to a 50-meter dash. We have to come out like gangbusters. If you mess up one race, you don't have another race to make it up. If you go out in the first round one race, pretty much your championship hopes are done.
Q: Don Schumacher Racing has some top names. Could you talk a little bit about what that's like? You have team members coming right behind you in competition. Take us into a team meeting, and take a fan in there and talk a little bit about that.
Brown: Well, when you're coming inside DSR, what makes it unique, we have a lot of strong powerhouse teams. On one hand, it helps you; on one hand, it hurts you. Eventually, you have to race your teammates sometimes, and they can do a lot of damage to you.
Where it helps you out is when you go in there, the crew chiefs have meetings every Tuesday in our shop. They all go up there, and they talk about how to move forward, how to take all of our programs to the next level, what they all think. They throw all their ideas on the board, and they go through them and say, "This needs to go first, this needs to go second, this needs to go third." From a performance standpoint to a safety standpoint, they're trying to keep us drivers safe, and they're also trying to win races.
When you see that, what happens is that we know what each team is capable of, so we push each other. That's why definitely in the fuel ranks, you see our teams 1, 2, and 3, and there's a reason. We press each other, and we don't want to lose each other.
At the race, we say, "The track can hold this," so we shoot for that, and then we shoot for a little bit more. I think that's the reason you see our cars in Top Fuel right now are 1, 2, 3 in points. That's how it works out of our race shop.
Q: At DSR, can you say you actually celebrate when you lose to a team member?
Brown: I hate to tell people that. When you lose to a team member, it doesn't make it any easier. We're all in there for one purpose: We want to win for our sponsors, our brand, and our team. Doesn't make a difference who you lose to, doesn't make it feel any easier. Losing just sucks, period.
Q: I know you've said before you observed Tony Schumacher over the years about how he wins his championships, how he operates. What qualities do you think make a champion?
Brown: I think what makes a champion is just making all the people that you surround yourself by, like your teammates, like our crew chiefs. They're kind of our spearhead of the team. Then a driver is kind of like the quarterback. You look at all the other guys that work on the team trying to bring the best out of your team.
Never accept defeat. Always when your team is down, you have to find out how to pick them up and motivate them. You have to be able to bring them forward, literally make them perform their best even when they're not willing to do it, like when they're down.
I've seen that in Tony a lot. No matter where the chips are, how down they are, if they lost the race first round, he gets his guys together and motivates them to stay up.
Also for him to go out there, he goes out there flawlessly round after round and performs. Doesn't make any difference who he races, who is coming up, he goes up there, and he just does the same thing over and over again and performs flawlessly. The one who makes the least mistakes is the one who wins those championships. He's proved it time and time again.
Q: Do you worry about head games or tricks that the competition might play on you, or do you use any to play on them?
Brown: You definitely got some guys out there that are doing some different things, try to do some different things at the start line with you. Me personally, I just go out there, and I just do me. I go up there, I bump it in the same time like I do on qualifying, race day. I try to do the same thing where if I'm qualifying, I do the same thing when I race. When I race, I do the same thing when I'm qualifying. I can go in first or last, doesn't make a difference. I don't try to show any vulnerability. Some people have to go in first, some people have to go in last. I just don't get caught up in that. I try to stay poised and just roll in there and stay at the level ground and attack the same way every time.
So far, it's been working for me. I don't see any need to change or play any mind games. I just have all the confidence in my team that they give me a great race car, so there's no need to play a trick like I need to get something over on somebody.
Q: With all the communication that the three fuel-car crew chiefs have among each other, does Brian [Corradi, crew chief] have anything in the bank to try to get a leg up on the rest of the competition?
Brown: Trust me when I tell you that, not just our team, but all the teams out there, what you saw at the U.S. Nationals is pretty much what everybody has been having. Everybody brought out their A-games at the U.S. Nationals. That's one you want to win. That's the momentum they start the U.S. Nationals with.
Those big numbers that you saw from all the cars, running the mid-.70s, we've been saving that in the bank. We have a little bit more of that that we need to apply.
Our main deal is being smart, doing the right things at the right time. That's what the Countdown is all about. It's a strategy. The team that makes the least mistakes is going to win that championship. You have to see what the track holds.
Mark [Oswald], Brian, they've been studying it, have their clutch guy Tony with them, and our assistant crew chief Brad. We've been campaigning waiting for this Countdown to start to see what we can do and unfold all of our cars that we've been holding back.
Q: As a driver, does your focus change at all going into the Countdown, especially being the No. 1 seed with a points pad?
Brown: No, actually what we do is we have goals that we try to achieve. Our goal was to come in top three, then once we were in the top three, we say we need to get that No. 1 spot. Those 20 points are crucial. We achieved that. Now we're going to attack each race individually.
We're going to go in there at Charlotte, take it one qualifying run at the time, hit the best we can, get all the qualifying points we can get. Then we're going to attack it on race day and take it a round at a time. That's been our strategy all year long. It's been working pretty good. If you think about winning a whole race, you're not thinking about the little things that you need to do for each round to make that happen. We're going to focus on the small things, and hopefully, everything else will take care of itself.
Q: In 2007, the NHRA adopted the Countdown format based on NASCAR's Chase. Were you initially a fan of this idea of surrendering a points lead?
Brown: It's got two pros on it from a race-team standpoint. It's kind of hard because our sport is so much different than NASCAR. It's way different because NASCAR, you have laps where you can make up. We go one race, you lose one round, you're done for the day. No more points, no more anything. It's hard to go through the whole season when you have the hot racetrack, cold racetrack, average racetrack, you wipe them all out and have a championship decided by six races.
On the other hand, you have to play that strategy. We adapted to it, gotten used to it. You use some of the regular race season as test sessions. That's what a lot of teams do. When the six races come, you race them hard.
We kind of adapted that into it. We've gotten used to it. One thing, it definitely makes it interesting for our fans. Our fans get more excited. They come out to the races, are on the edge of their seats. For Funny Car and Top Fuel this year, for our classes, it made our races really tight, winning races by two- and three-thousandths of a second. You probably don't even need the Countdown. You probably will see a race between five cars still to the end of the season for a championship.
So I think back in the day, it will work very well where you have one or two teams winning the championship. Now you have six or seven teams that can compete for a championship all year long. It's hard to say. But from a racer's standpoint, I think we like the old points system regular, but to keep our sport interesting, you have to go with the Countdown.
Q: When you were told about this, 2007 you were racing bikes then, were you a fan of this idea, or did you say that this was a terrible idea when you first heard about it?
Brown: I was never, ever a big fan of it. I was kind of on the fence. If you have to go percentage-wise, I was 60 percent old system, 40 percent the new system. I understand that you want to make our sport more exciting, more interesting for the fans at the end. My whole deal was maybe the Countdown could have been longer. We have 24 races coming up now next year. Maybe 14 races for the regular season. Use the Western Swing, do 10 races for the Countdown where you have a little bit more of a marathon for our championship. The six races, I think that's kind of tight.
Q: Understandably, you fought very hard for those 35 points that you gained on Spencer Massey. How enthusiastic are you about giving up 15 of those points?
Brown: I'm not enthusiastic giving up any points to anybody, trust me. I like the points we had. Nobody likes giving up points at all. We know the hand we're dealt. No reason to cry over spilled milk. Everybody has the same set of rules. It is what it is. It's what we got to do. I know that. My main focus right now is to go into Charlotte and get as many points as we can at that race and for every other race beyond that.
Pro Stock’s top seed, Allen Johnson, has four wins this season, including two consecutive victories in Denver and Sonoma. He has two runner-up finishes and has been the No. 1 qualifier a category-leading nine times.
Q: Allen, Antron talked a little bit about this, and you especially with your qualifying record, as we get into the Countdown, how important are those bonus points for No. 1 qualifier and the points for each session?
Johnson: We'll start off at Charlotte thinking primarily about that. That tells you how important they are. Those "little" points, I think NHRA added them up as we went along because we got every single No. 1 qualifying bonus point every session except one maybe from Bristol or Chicago all the way through Seattle. So we really want to do that again. We think they're very, very important. I mean, we go in 30 points ahead of No. 2. If I was able to get four No. 3 bonus points, that's 12, that could be an entire round if the No. 2 guy doesn't get any. So huge, huge, huge.
Q: You led the points since Denver, haven't been any lower than eighth earlier in the season. Are you comfortable with where you are right now with your program?
Johnson: We are very comfortable. We're focusing as a team round by round, run by run. We make decisions in a businesslike manner. We've set out to do that this year. That's I think the difference in our team this year versus previous years. It's really worked.
Q: The psychology of winning a championship. I know you haven't won one yet, but what qualities do you think go into building a championship or making a champion?
Johnson: Well, it goes all the way back to football and things like that. It's a team sport. One little factor, the engine breaks, the car shakes, all that stuff comes into play. You have to treat everything as a team and a business concept, just like we went at it this year. There's no snap decisions based on gut. We make decisions based on data and what we've done in the past.
The psychological part for me is huge. You try to stay focused and take it run by run. I heard Antron say you go up there, and you don't let anything get in your head, you don't have to have a certain thing go a certain way. You just do your thing like there's not even another car in the other lane is the way I try to do it.
Q: You guys in Pro Stock are notorious for chirping at each other. You've been in on that. Are there tricks that you expect anybody to use on you, maybe from other people who haven't done that yet?
Johnson: Again, it's like any sport. You run around the right end enough, somebody is going to know you like to run around the right end. In drag racing, it's the same. Us guys, most of us in contention, have raced together for lots of years. You sort of know what the other driver likes and dislikes. Every now and then, you got to do something a little different to throw them off their game. Even though I say you act like there's nobody in the other lane, before I go up there, I think it through, decide what I'm going to do, what they may do to try to throw me off. You're ready for two or three different variables there.
Q: You're having a great year, obviously. Could you talk a little bit about taking that No. 1 spot going into these playoffs, trying to get to the championship. Talk about how different that has been for you this year and what it means to you.
Johnson: We've certainly played a different role than we've ever played this year. Again, that's because of some changes we made in our structure over the winter. We're doing things a little differently. When you have a bull’s-eye on your back, you're out front, it is sort of a strange feeling. I even went up to Greg [Anderson] and Jason [Line] one day and said that. I said, "This is a lot of pressure; how did y'all take this so long [laughter]?"
It's something you got to get in your mind and enjoy. I'm trying to have fun with it. My dad is trying to have fun with it. The whole team is. We definitely have something for them during this Countdown.
Q: You mentioned “team.” How has the team reaction been this year with such good results?
Johnson: They've had fun, too. But we're trying to look at this thing in a business manner. We don't let our guard down. We don't quit working hard. Even though we were having all the success, enjoy the highs because the lows come back very quickly, and you have to protect against that. But the team is really working hard, focused, trying to just be so mentally prepared for this.
Q: Earlier, you were talking about the importance of the "little" points. Those points added up to a 72-point lead headed into the playoffs. When the points reset, you actually lost 14 of those No. 1 qualifiers you worked so hard to build up. How tough is that to swallow?
Johnson: Well, I've been a very, very big proponent of the Countdown every year until this year [laughter]. I've always been back in sixth or seventh place and gained, but this year I lost, gosh, 150 points. This year, I'm not a proponent of it.
It makes it exciting. We will all start out really grinding, and I think it will be great for the fans.
Q: What is the pressure like? This is uncharted waters for you headed into the playoffs. Do you look at this as intensity and pressure multiplied by 10?
Johnson: Sure. I'm sure everybody does. Our biggest thing is to approach it as a business and team and have fun with it.
Q: Does this kind of make the Countdown, all six races, more or less like the Super Bowl multiplied by six?
Johnson: Sure, yeah, it's going to be intense. Everybody's going to feel that intensity, including the fans. That's what makes Pro Stock exciting.
Q: The first two races are at pretty much supertracks. Do you feel you can separate yourselves from Summit Racing and whoever else on those two tracks? Feel you run your strongest race maybe at the Plex?
Johnson: We hope so. Both of those tracks have been good to us. We tested at Charlotte, have some good data from there. We also know it's going to be hard to separate ourselves, and we're going to have to be perfect to do it. I think we're up for the challenge.
Q: Do you believe there's anything like a mulligan in this Countdown? Can you throw a race away and still win it?
Johnson: Sure. We can mess up. But you can't do it much. One race, a major mess-up. You mess up in the semi's, you might get another second round at the next one. Our thoughts are just round by round, run by run, getting "little" qualifying points to maybe make up for it.
Eddie Krawiec, the top seed in Pro Stock Motorcycle, has yet to lose a final-round appearance in 2012. He has also been a No. 1 qualifier three times. Krawiec was the world champion in 2008 and 2011.
Q: Eddie, going into this format, does having those two championships under your belt give you a little bit more of a leg up on the rest of the competition?
Krawiec: I'd love to say it does, but honestly, I really don't think it does. I think the key is performing under pressure and maintaining composure. It's worked for me in past years. I've had the opportunity obviously to win the championship in '08 without ever winning a race. To me, that was the toughest thing to do. You never think that would ever happen.
I followed it up in 2009 with a very dominant season. I want to I believe it was nine finals in a row, then a total of 10 finals that year, and I lost the championship by two points. I won five races. It goes to show you, whether you have a championship or not, it doesn't really matter. It's the excitement and the drama that the Countdown brings. And more important, it gives the chance to everybody. It sort of opens up the door. The key thing for that is not to make mistakes and continue what we're doing.
Obviously, I've had a successful preseason, as I would like to call it, first half of the season going into the Countdown. For me, it's just not to change anything but continue moving forward and just stay focused.
Q: In the six races, where do you think we'll see some of the better conditions?
Krawiec: Well, to be honest, Charlotte, Dallas, Reading, St. Louis. Vegas is probably the only one you're not going to see stellar conditions, but it's dry. Then you go to Pomona. All six of these tracks can result in some good times. Obviously, looking at the schedule, the one that sticks out to me is Reading. Reading is going to be the one, and you can't count St. Louis out because you can have some pretty good air there possibly in October.
The key thing here is going to be making good runs and taking advantage of every single qualifying point you can. That means you need to come off the truck strong with the best tune-up and the right calls in order to make it down the track. It's going to be those little ones, twos and threes at the end of the Countdown, that are going to impact sometimes where you lie.
I mentioned I lost my championship in 2009 by two points. I went out in Pomona, we literally smoked the tire off the starting line, went with like a .118 60-foot for two of our qualifying runs. Had we not done that, I probably would be saying we won the championship in 2009. The way I look at it is you need to make it count for every single run down the track. You need to do the best results. I think national record conditions could be possible in Reading if the right weather falls, and Pomona could be fast, too.
Q: The 200-mph mark has been lurking out there this season. Do you think we'll see that by the end of this year?
Krawiec: Reading would be that place. It's tough to say. I'll be honest with you, I would have loved to have seen it happen in Gainesville. Unfortunately didn't have that opportunity. When we went testing in Valdosta [Ga.] at the beginning of the season, I went 200.08 unofficially. Everything was legal, the bike was legal, it unofficially happened. Without happening at a national event, it's not a national record, or recognized as a national record I should say. Obviously, everybody knows we did it.
After Gainesville, we got a weight penalty of 20 pounds. NHRA felt we needed to be brought back a little bit. I'm not going to argue with them. We just continue to move forward. There's nothing you can say or do. You just take it as it is.
We've been trying to get over that hump. We have the bikes working well chassis-wise. At the end of the day, it's a little bit heavier and difficult to overcome. It's the second half of the track where you need to pick it up. As you carry weight, some of it may help in the front half of the track initially, but for us, it definitely hurts you in the back half.
Q: You talked about staying focused. That's a great general phrase. What specifically can you do, especially when I think your class is like the Pro Stock class, people like to talk and play head games, say things. How do you specifically stay focused?
Krawiec: Well, you need to mentally keep your head in your game, not in the others. People love to talk trash, say everything. I've been fortunate enough, I have a lot of experience in the motorcycle world, not just there, but my background and history as a racetrack manager. I've heard it all, seen it all, seen a lot of people do it, and I've seen it get to people.
The key thing is, you can't pay attention to them. If you sort of block out what people have going on, worry more about your lane, that's the best way to get it done.
I personally feel my biggest competitor is myself. It's nothing against anybody else in the field, but if you let your mental guard down and you let people get into your head or say stuff to you that is going to make you start thinking, then you failed personally.
I need to keep it at the point that I don't fail personally. So your biggest competitor is yourself. You need to understand the key thing is just keep cool, calm, keep your composure, go up there, do the same thing you do every single run, regardless of how much pressure is on you.
I feel I'm a better pressure racer than I am a regular racer. If there's something on the line, I feel I can rise to the occasion a little easier, and I bring myself to that point to sort of overexcel myself rather than if there is no pressure. It sounds crazy, but I think it's the way certain people are driven in certain areas. For me, I feel very comfortable when I have a lot of pressure on my shoulders.
Q: So you've always been that way; that's just your personality?
Krawiec: Yeah, yeah. I enjoy the pressure. It makes you have to compete and strive towards something. When you can look back after the whole thing is done, you can give that big "aah," but it's one of those things I feel I perform better.
Q: Eddie, you mentioned your success this year. Coming into this year, competition level has fallen off from you guys, you're so successful. They made a little change. Do you hear a lot from your fellow competitors about how well your team is performing race after race after race? Do you expect more changes coming with the next year?
Krawiec: I can't speak for NHRA. You never know what's going to come down the pike, to be 100 percent honest with you. I'm really unsure. I know they've been looking at the class as a whole and in general.
But I think if you analyze the whole Pro Stock Motorcycle class and not just us, if you look, we haven't gained performance, I don't believe. I don't think we're light-years ahead of where we were last year when you look at the two Hectors [Arana] and you look at Andrew [Hines] and my bike.
I think we're a little better than we were last year, not much. The Suzuki package is obviously struggling a little bit. To be 100 percent honest with you, towards the end of last year, there was a lot of mechanical problems. At Vance & Hines here, we build a lot of the engines for them. We got hung out for a while with parts through suppliers. We had to make the business decision of moving forward and trying to build the platform.
To be honest with you, we've struggled a little bit in that department. We've manufactured some new parts, crankshafts, some other items. We're just trying to get those guys up to speed. They're starting to get out there now. We're starting to get some of our customers new parts, get them in their engines. It's been a long process.
But when you look at the overall performance of the class, yes, it's been down a little bit. I think some of it is obviously due to some budgets and stuff like that. You look at Matt Smith, how he started to perform in Indy. He started to run really well in qualifying. He went, tested, came back from testing after the first part of Indy, and said, "Hey, I found something." It obviously showed the second half of Indy until he broke a transmission first round and had some unfortunate luck.
It's due to a lot of testing. I don't know how much the other teams are testing. We struggled to find a tune-up, although you wouldn't think so; our bikes always ran I would say mediocre in the heat. We did a lot of testing towards the middle, end of last year, beginning of this year. Andrew's bike we went to Indy in April and May, made a bunch of runs, really trying to sort the tune-up out.
The testing side of it is also a big factor. Yes, we are one of the larger-budget teams, so we can afford to do that. When some of these other engine platforms are having a hard time staying together, they're getting bad parts, the end result is you're scared to go test or scared to go figure things out unless you have a budget. If you have a budget, you chalk it up as R&D, research side of things. I think it's one of those things, if you have the budget to do it, you can go out there and perform a little better and find a tune-up better.
Ron Capps is the No. 1 seed in Funny Car on the strength of three wins and three runner-up finishes. He has also been the No. 1 qualifier twice. This is his second time as a No. 1 qualifier going into the Countdown.
Q: Ron, the Funny Car class has been extremely tough, tougher than we've seen in quite a while. How much of a battle will it be for you guys these final six events?
Capps: It's going to be very tough. We've seen obviously a lot of cars here lately. Just a battle to get into the Countdown at Indy was pretty fun to watch. If you go back and look at the history of the Countdown, we've seen a lot of strange things happen. Guys like Robert Hight getting in, going on a tear, won the championship. Anything can happen. Obviously, it's a cliché thing. Right now, the class is as stacked as it's ever been. That's why we were so bent on trying to get that No. 1 spot, those extra 30 points because it could come down to it in Pomona.
Q: You've been so close so many times. I'm sure this has to weigh on your mind. How does it feel this year going into it? Competitive class. You find yourself right at the top of it right at this moment.
Capps: Yeah, but you look back at what we did earlier in the year with the six final rounds in a row. Everything [tuner] Rahn [Tobler] has done with the car, really it's made it one of the best cars in every type of condition that we go to. That's I think going to be the key. I've learned long ago, believe me, I don't take anything for granted. When we're running good, I'm the last guy talking smack. Those wins, you take them, put them in your pocket, you thank God you got to go to the winner's circle because it's so tough to do that nowadays. You don't get cocky.
The guys that are going to get cocky, jump up and down, celebrate the week after if they happen to do well at a race in this Countdown, the guys are going to fade quick because you can't hesitate for a second. You can't say, "Man, look at me." You've just got to stay focused.
I'm telling you, these four races coming up in a row, three-quarters of the Countdown is going to be done when we leave Reading, Pa. You're a guy that's going to be real happy looking forward to Vegas, you have a cushion, fighting for the championship, or you're going to be a guy or girl that you're going to look at Vegas like, "Man, we need to get back into this." I've been on both sides of that. Even if we are at the top, you're not going to see me [indiscernible] my back, believe me.
Q: As far as the benefit of the DSR having your guys over there, can you talk a little bit about that, the team spirit going into it.
Capps: Yeah, things are good. You can't combine any of the stuff that we do between the two, other than the personalities of the crew chiefs. I have to tell you Don Schumacher has put together such a group of great people in the crew chief area, there's really no egos.
What's neat on Saturday night, I'll sit down with Tobler and debrief with him and John Collins, our assistant crew chief, and a lot of times, we'll have a glass of wine or something, go over what went on in the weekend, what to look forward to on Sunday, and in come all these other crew chiefs, and they sit down. You could literally walk into our lounge on a Saturday night and have almost all the crew chiefs in there talking about what they did.
So that really raises the bar. I don't mean dragster guys, but other Funny Car crew chiefs. It's that kind of knowledge that's being spread around that's elevated everything at DSR. I'm so proud to be able to walk around and see the crew chiefs talking to each other.
Q: Ron, you've had a long career here. What qualities do you think make a champion?
Capps: Man, I don't know. That's an easy question but a hard question. I feel like I should have been champion, it's just it didn't fall our way in the past. I've done everything right. You have to have the breaks fall your way. I love that pressure. When there's 10 seconds left, I want the ball. That's the kind of team we have.
I don't know. Obviously, you go through all the list of things that you need to do. You say consistency, horsepower, all this stuff. But to be honest with you, all 10 teams have that quality. It's just a matter of putting it at the right time.
Like I just said a minute ago, we've seen in the past where guys just got hot. Not even the guys in the Countdown. You're going to see guys that are not in the Countdown that have nothing to lose. I think they have dictated the championship more in the past than the opponents you raced in the Countdown. They're the spoilers, fly in there, nothing to lose, trying new tune-ups, new things, not really caring.
A lot of times when you go to the tracks we're going to go to, the conditions we're going to see, cool conditions, record-setting tracks, you have a team that's mad because they didn't make it in the Countdown, they want to make it on TV a lot, they're going to throw some stuff down, it's going to stick. You're going to see some pretty fast cars that aren't even in the Countdown, as was Johnny Gray last year. He should have won it, but he wasn't in it. Just a great example.
Q: You have a lot of friends in other racing series. I know you've observed what they do, what makes them champions. What have you observed from guys in NASCAR, IndyCar, Outlaws, USAC?
Capps: I've had those conversations. I've called my buddy Jimmie Johnson up and talked to him. You get the same answer that I just gave you. You kind of go, "Ah." There's no definite answer. You just show up and do the best you can do.
I think what we've done in the past here with Tobler and my team, I think we keep doing that. If we keep doing that, we're going to be fine. I don't think there's any recipe or formula that I can say, Jimmie Johnson, any of those guys could say that was the reason they won the championship. I was, what, eight points winning it from [Gary] Scelzi that one year? Things just didn't fall our way. We should have won it. We could have won it. So, yeah, I don't know. I'll let you know in November, though [laughter].
Q: Ron, as you noted the first four races go up in four consecutive weeks. Is there such a thing as having a mulligan during that stretch? Can you screw up in a race and still expect to win this thing?
Capps: Yeah, I think you can. Well, we've seen that in the past. The one year a couple cars, almost like guys were trying to give it away. You were shaking your head. Hot potato, who doesn't want to win this championship. So we've seen that.
Now, this year, I don't see that. Of course, I said that last year, too. I just don't see a team having a hiccup or a mulligan, be able to use a mulligan and win the championship, I think it's going to be that tough.
"Zippy" [Mike Neff] is a good example of that, too. Whether he's been trying stuff or not, you kind of wonder what happened to the car he had earlier in the year. Came to Indy, had the car of the class. I think it's going to be tough. To answer your question, I don't think you're going to be able to hiccup and win a championship this year.
Q: How motivated do you think Matt Hagan is going to be during this thing now that he's out of it for the championship?
Capps: It's hard. It's hard to judge what a guy is going to be like. I know right now he and Tommy DeLago are really mad. I spent Sunday evening with Tommy. The frustration, disappointment is going through their head. There's a perfect example. You have a guy that won the championship last year, didn't make it this year. That right there tells you how tough this class is.
I don't know. One good thing is, Tommy, he's an innovator type of crew chief. They ran a three-second run last year. The cool part is he may just try something, find it, and I think that might benefit his teammates, Johnny Gray and [Jack] Beckman's car. I think that's the good side of somebody in our camp going out there, letting it all hang out, just trying things.