When Ron Capps powered the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger Hellcat to the second-fastest speed in NHRA history, a 339.28-mph blast during qualifying at the Countdown opener at Maple Grove Raceway, it sent some shockwaves through the class.
Despite dozens of wins and a 2016 championship, the Rahn Tobler-tuned rocketship was better known for its consistency rather than flashy numbers on the scoreboards, a fact of life with which Capps was very comfortable and grateful, but he also knows that performance brings with it extra points-earning possibilities.
With an 3.837 low qualifying effort, the team gobbled up 16 of 20 points available in Reading qualifying (eight of 12 session points and eight for being the No. 1 qualifier) -– the so-called “little points” that end up meaning so much in the Countdown, where championships are sometimes won and lost by single digits.
“Every single point is important,” said Capps. “Everyone says that, but it’s crucial to capture those small points. I’ve lost championships in the past by two points [to Jack Beckman in 2012] and eight points [to Gary Scelzi in 2006] so I know how important those are. Rahn Tobler and our team has worked hard to go after those points.
“There’s a new look that Tobler has had since Maple Grove, an aggressive thought process, and we ran low e.t. and top speed, and I love that, love that he went outside of the box to try to run big speed and took a home-run swing.
“Historically, the crew chiefs I’ve had –- Roland Leong at Don Prudhomme’s, Ed McCulloch, John Medlen, and now Tobler –- were old-school racers who were more concerned with winning races than setting records; they didn’t care about running big speeds. I’ve never been on the charts when it came to speed and I didn’t care because we won a lot of races.
“We learned a lot at Reading with that 339-mph run and I think that will bode well here, especially Sunday, where we’re going to see cooler conditions. I feel better now that if conditions cool off that we can run with anybody. It’s fun. You strap your seat belts just a little tighter because you know you’re going to go for a ride. This race always plays an important part in the Countdown and I feel like we’re ready.”
Capps went to the semi’s in Reading and round two in St. Louis and entered this event just 44 points out of the lead, making it well within reach.
“It seems like no one wants to carry the ball,” he said. “To be able to go to the third race without a win and still be two rounds out of first is huge for us. We won the championship in 2016 and didn’t win one race in the Countdown but we were consistent with getting to final rounds and semifinals and put the pressure on our opponents.
"We have the car that’s capable of putting pressure on them, and to beat the Robert Hight/Jimmy Prock team, who have been dominant pretty much all of the year, you have to take them out of their comfort zone. You have to make them push harder than they’re used to pushing, and that’s what we did in 2016. We’re just going to keep doing what we’ve been doing. With points and a half [at the Auto Club NHRA Finals], it certainly looks like it will come down to Pomona again, and you certainly want to go in there with the lead.”