Autoweek insider Ron Capps' Autoweek blog: Nothing quite like the Western Swing

Ron Capps is just 33 points out of second place in the NHRA Mello Yello Series Funny Car standings after making it to the quarterfinals at Epping.

Editor’s note: This is the 13th in a series of exclusive Autoweek blogs by 2016 NHRA Funny Car champion Ron Capps. Capps continued his 2019 season this past weekend at New England Dragway in Epping, N.H., where he qualified third before falling to eventual event winner Matt Hagan in the quarterfinals. Capps retained his hold on fourth place in the Funny Car season standings, where he sits just 21 points back of third-place Tommy Johnson Jr. and 33 points shy of second-place John Force. The NHRA is off this week before kicking off the West Coast swing July 19-21 at Bandimere Speedway, near Denver).

People start talking about the fact that there’s just six races left until the NHRA Countdown to the Championship – our playoffs. Well, that’s an eye-opener.

You start working on getting your setup to where you want to be for the championship run, and if you’re not in the top-five in points, then you start worrying about being in the top-10. People start to really buckle down. This time of the year brings out the best in everybody because this push through the West Coast swing is always huge.

Denver is such a one-off race, such a crazy one-race playbook sort of thing for a crew chief. You throw everything else out the window and you bring special parts to run on the mountain. It’s during the summer, it’s a mile high, and you’re trying to get these Funny Cars to breathe. To make power up there is very difficult. Just getting through that race is on everybody’s mind.

Capps was fastest qualifier on Friday at Epping, New Hampshire.

I brag about my crew chief Rahn Tobler being experienced and savvy and all that stuff. Well, going into this next race at Denver, you want to have the most savvy crew chief because things can get hurt in a hurry — including the driver. Parts can get hurt very quickly up there. It is not a place you want to go if your crew chief is not comfortable or confident.

We went to the final round there last year, where we lost in a hole shot to John Force. We actually ran quicker and had a great race car. We’ve always run good, and we’ve won up there.

When it comes to the Western swing, the problem is you talk about three completely different races — the most adverse conditions that you will ever see in drag racing. You go from a track a mile high in elevation to the very next weekend we are at sea level or below right on the bay at Sonoma, and then we’re at Seattle.

That Friday night session at Sonoma is one of the legendary sessions in our sport with the way the air comes off the ocean, and we produce crazy horsepower. Then, the following Friday, you’re up at Seattle surrounded by a forest of trees that are putting off oxygen and it’s close to sea level. These next three races test every part of your team.

And if you have a bad weekend in Denver, your UPS bill is going to be high with all the parts you’ll go through. That’s not a good way to start the West Coast swing.

I’m not sure anybody can catch Robert Hight at this point (Editor note: Hight leads runner-up Force by 176 points in the Funny Car standings). Who knows. They could go into a slump. We led the points going into the Countdown several years in a row, but the NHRA has taken a lot of that incentive away to lead in points. Yeah, you’d love to have that extra 10 points on the person behind you going into the Countdown after the reset, but they’ve basically leveled the playing field. Anybody who makes the Countdown has a chance if you get hot at the right time.

We just want to try to get up to second place and finish as high as we can and be ready for the Countdown.

One thing, and that’s Tobler has really gotten comfortable with the car. We unloaded this last weekend in New England and were the No. 1 qualifier after the first run. And we gained bonus points every single run and ended up with five bonus points for the weekend. Those bonus points are huge. That’s half a round on Sunday, and the weekend before at Norwalk we had just as many as well. Those are important.

I love all three of these races coming up. I love this part of the year. We’re going to be live on FOX network all three races in the West Coast swing, which is big for our sport. I look forward to these races, and Brainerd (Minnesota) after that is another. This whole stretch of races are ones I really, really love and they’re races that have been really good to me.

But first, this week we start a family RV trip up the coast of California where I grew up at San Luis Obisbo, Pismo Beach and all that. This time of the year is my favorite time of the year because we start off with that trip. We’ll park the motorhome up near the Sonoma track, wake up in the morning and overlook the whole Sonoma Valley.

There’s not a whole lot better than waking up and looking down and seeing that Sonoma track and then getting ready to jump into a Funny Car.

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