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NHRA Countdown to the Championship Preview: Is Robert Hight still the favorite in Funny Car?

Robert Hight holds the No. 1 seed in the NHRA Countdown to the Championship, but he will face a stacked field of competitors in the Funny Car category entering the Mopar NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil.
09 Sep 2019
Jacob Sundstrom, NHRA National Dragster Associate Editor
Feature
Robert Hight

Robert Hight looked like the heir apparent for the Funny Car championship throughout the first half of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing season. He may still be by virtue of locking up the No. 1 seed, holding the most 2019 Wallys, and driving the Auto Club Chevy Camaro tuned by Jimmy Prock; but, it doesn’t feel like it, right? Well, feelings lie, which is why you ate that extra piece of pizza and got sick last week. 

Still, the field tightened up around the John Force Racing driver — some of the rising tide brought his boss, John Force, alongside him. What does that mean for the NHRA Countdown to the Championship? A fun ride to the finish. 

IS ROBERT HIGHT STILL THE FAVORITE? 

Yes, but not by much. Remember that time Hight won from the No. 10 seed? Of course you do, because nobody will ever shut up about it. That was a simpler time. There were only six Star Wars movies, we didn’t even know what Avatar was, and Drake hadn’t released his debut album. Times change. Winning from the No. 10 spot is much less likely now than it was then if for no other reason than circumstances. 

This isn’t an oral history of Hight’s 2009 championship (which, good idea) as much as it is a reminder that starting from the No. 1 seed is both helpful (more points: better than fewer points) and a statement on past performance. It’s Hight’s performance over the last six races that is slightly concerning. He’s still ranked second in NHRA Power Ranking, but it’s a major step down from his full-season dominance. The car has not been quite as dominant (nor nearly as quick) as it had been in the past. 

Has Prock been testing? Maybe! Does this team struggle during the summer months? Not really! That’s a great narrative thrust upon them that I have yet to see actualized by math or science. We know they kill it during the last six races of the season, largely because all teams are incentivized to excel at that time of year. That’s the game! 

IS RON CAPPS GONNA MESS AROUND AND WIN A CHAMPIONSHIP?

Probably. The NAPA Auto Parts team is like the T-Rex from Jurassic Park. You don’t see it for half the damn movie, and then all of a sudden, it’s not just on screen, it’s the star of the show. Crew chief Rahn Tobler legitimately struggled with his Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat at the beginning of the season, but there wasn’t much reason to believe those struggles would last. Capps has the third-best NHRA Power Ranking over the last six races, and he’s not far from the top. 

He’s driving the second-quickest car and the most consistent car — if this sounds like a recording, it’s because this is the way this team beats the snot out of everyone every blessed year. They don’t put big speed numbers on the board, but the car gets down the track and is currently killing it to the 60-foot clock (.875 is better than anyone else by .004-second and better than any full-time car by .006). That’s a recipe for success. 

ARE WE GOING TO HAVE TO MAKE 17X T-SHIRTS?

That’s a heady play on your part. I don’t get a cut on merchandise sales, much to the shock and surprise of our readers, I’m sure. John Force has been legitimately great this year. He has a phenomenal car, and his reaction times have been very competitive. Yes, he’s staging the car in North Hollywood when we race in Pomona, but that hasn’t always led to great reaction times in the past — this year, it is. Don’t be a hater. 

If there was any doubt about how good Brian Corradi is, look at the seasons of Courtney Force and John Force over the last two years compared to Antron Brown; that should tell you everything you need to know. The dude knows what he’s doing, whether it’s in a Top Fuel dragster or a Funny Car, and he has made a huge difference since coming over to John Force Racing. The Western Swing was great for Force, and he’s going to be a contender for his 17th championship.

WE’RE GOING TO TALK ABOUT TOMMY JOHNSON JR. RIGHT?

I’m getting to it! This is a good news, bad news situation. Johnson is in second place, that’s the good news. The bad news is that the Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat has not performed particularly well over the past six races. That may sound wild given his two final appearances, but consider this if you’re only concerned with round-wins: He has gone 10-6 over the last six races for a round-win percentage of 62.5. That’s actually below his season round-win percentage of 65.9. 

So, let’s look at some of those underlying numbers that have me concerned about the Make-A-Wish car and its chances of holding up the big trophy at the end of the year. Here’s the big one: consistency. Johnson has only made it down the strip 66.7% of the time over the past six races at an average elapsed time of 3.99 seconds. That’s both inconsistent and slow. That’s the worst of the Don Schumacher Racing cars and behind improving cars like the Global Electronic Technology Toyota Camry driven by Shawn Langdon. 

That’s not to say the Make-A-Wish car can’t improve — it absolutely can. But, the recent performance is a sign of concern. 

WHO’S WINNING THE CHAMPIONSHIP?

I’m going with Ron Capps. He won his first championship the season before I arrived, but I’ve done enough research to know how eerily similar his backend numbers look this season compared to his 2016 campaign. He’s one of the most consistent drivers in NHRA Drag Racing. Tobler is in a groove and … frankly, if that doesn’t strike fear into your heart, God bless you.