Ron Capps felt like he let one slip away two weeks ago when he was on the receiving end of John Force’s landmark 150th victory in Seattle, but he was able to quickly get back in the win column by beating DSR teammate Tommy Johnson Jr. in the final of the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals. Capps, who previously had five Brainerd wins including a three-year unbeaten streak in 2012-14, added another by wheeling his Rahn Tobler-tuned NAPA Dodge Charger to a 3.946 to 3.947 victory in a final round that was not anywhere near as close as the numbers would indicate. Capps left first and never looked back for his 63rd career win and 50th as a member of the Don Schumacher Racing organization.
“We came in to today a little under gunned because we didn’t qualify as well as we wanted,” said Capps. “I ran 3.93 and was only good for seventh which was odd. We didn’t have lane choice a handful of times but both lanes were great. In final, TJ and I have duked it out many times. Before we ran, Tobler joked that it was the ‘Five-disc Final’ because we’ve got the two five-disc clutch cars out here. Tommy doesn’t play games. He lets his car do the talking. And he must have gotten distracted. That [late light] was very unlike Tommy but I appreciate him doing that at the right time to allow me to win the final.”
Capps didn’t have the quickest car in Brainerd by any means and he didn’t have lane choice in most rounds including the final, but he did have crew chief Tobler, as well as a huge support group based at Capps’ Corner in the famed Brainerd Zoo, and that was more than enough. The 2016 Mello Yello champion was the No. 7 qualifier buy faced one of the toughest opponents imaginable in J.R. Todd, the reigning world champ. Todd took an early lead but his DHL Toyota dropped a couple of cylinders early and made a move towards the guard wall. While Todd fought to keep the car from making contact with the concrete, Capps was a long-gone with a 3.920. Capps locked horns with teammate Jack Beckman in a great 3.918 to 3.945 side-by-side battle in the quarterfinals, and a 3.938 was enough to take car of Shawn Langdon’s Global Electronic Technology Toyota in the semifinals.
“In the first round against J.R. I got lucky,” Capps said. “That was a big round and I saw the replay later and saw that he had his hands full. That was typical Rahn to try and not go low; to just get down the track and that’s what we did. Against Langdon, we also didn’t have lane choice, so I had to get up on the wheel. That car is coming on strong and it’s a threat to win the championship.”
Johnson Jr. has been dropping not-so-subtle hints all year that he believes that this is finally the year that he wins the Mello Yello Funny Car championship and even though he lost the final to Capps, it might be time to start believing him. Johnson has been to four finals this year with wins in Chicago and Denver, and he’s going to enter the Countdown as one of the top-ranked drivers in Funny Car. Johnson’s road to the final might have been the most difficult path of any of the pro finalists with tough matches against Tim Wilkerson, points leader Robert Hight, and low qualifier Matt Hagan.