Capps back on track with Funny Car win

Trends seem to have set the tone for Ron Capps’ racing exploits for the past year or so.

Like last year when the veteran seemed snakebitten even when no snakes were around. He went the entire 24-event season without winning an NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series title.

That was only the third time since he began racing professionally full time 12 years ago that he went a year without winning.

He ended that streak quickly this year by winning the first two events.

His confidence in veteran crew chief Ed "Ace" McCulloch and his crew members never has wavered, not even after losing in the first round of the next two races.

But the driver for Don Schumacher Racing reversed stream again Sunday when he won the 28th Funny Car title of his career in the NHRA Nationals at Las Vegas Motor Speedway before an estimated crowd of about 16,000.

"I just never worried," Capps said of the two-race slump. "Ace needed to get in his comfort zone. It’s tough to gauge (what) people are actually doing in their pit area. For Ace, he was trying things."

The experiments paid off.

Nearly every professional team that earned the option of lane choice by being the quicker of the two cars in their previous round wins selected the left lane.

Capps didn’t earn lane choice in the last three rounds and was stuck with the "lesser" right lane. But he and McCulloch won them all, including in the championship round when they defeated rookie teammate Matt Hagan of Christiansburg, Va.

"A lot of guys were struggling in that right lane, but Ace wanted to be over there," Capps said. "Matt and them wanted the left side, so it worked out fine for us."

The race was close until Hagan began losing traction a couple of hundred feet from the finish line. Capps won with a run of 4.182 seconds (297.81 mph) to Hagan’s 4.335 (248.89).

"It’s been an absolutely solid weekend for us," Hagan said. "I would love to have won, but on the flip side, it will come. You have to pay your dues sometimes, and I think that’s what we’re doing right now."

In other pro categories, five-time reigning Top Fuel series champion Tony Schumacher won his second straight title, and two-time reigning champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. finished first in Pro Stock.

Pro winners Capps, Schu-macher and Coughlin each left Las Vegas with points leads in their respective categories.

The race marked the 21st time Don Schumacher Racing won two professional titles in the same NHRA national event.

Brandon Bernstein was trying to win for the first time in 35 events but fell short when he completed the 1,000-foot circuit in 4.003 seconds (295.66 mph) to Schumacher’s 3.874 (311.77).

It’s only the fifth NHRA event since longtime crew chief Alan Johnson left Schumacher’s team to start his own operation that includes several former Schumacher crew members.

"We had an amazing team before, but when those guys said they were gonna leave, we didn’t panic," said Schumacher, who won for the 58th time. "We went out and found some of the best people in the business, and they’ve answered the call.

"To be honest, (crew chief) Mike Green and the guys won this race. I didn’t have my best day driving, but the car was perfect and went right down the middle."

Contact reporter Jeff Wolf at jwolf@ or 702-383-0247.

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