CAPPS IS OH-SO-CLOSE, BUT SETTLES FOR RUNNER-UP TO J. FORCE IN POMONA


Ron Capps came from the bottom half of the field to almost win the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season-opening 50th annual NHRA Winternationals against 14-time Funny Car champion John Force.

It was oh so close. Only seven feet (15 thousandths of a second) separated the pair at the finish line, but it was Force in front, grabbing his first victory in 40 races with a 4.124-second lap at 298.67 mph to Capps' quicker 4.123/305.08.

En route to the final round from his No. 9 qualifying position, driving the NAPA AUTO PARTS Dodge Charger Funny Car, defending event champion Capps beat Jim Head, Cruz Pedregon and Bob Tasca III to face the man he has defeated in their last three final-round match-ups.

"It's heartbreaking to not win the 50th Winternationals," said Capps, of Carlsbad, Calif., "because starting the day off and going up to driver introductions this morning and getting to chat with Grumpy Jenkins, Don Garlits and Dave McClelland was incredible. For a kid like me who grew up in the sport, it brings tears to your eyes, just seeing and talking to all the legends and heroes.

"I've said it time and time again. It doesn't matter where we qualify. Ace (crew chief Ed McCulloch) comes Sunday morning to race. And not only that, the guys that he trains on the team did an incredible job, especially after breaking a rear end (after defeating Pedregon). A lot of teams probably wouldn't have made it back up for the next round and our guys changed everything on the car, including the rear end, and had it back up there before anybody else in the staging lanes. That's NAPA know-how. You're going to hear a lot of that this year. We are so proud of those NAPA guys who did that all in under 35 minutes.

"It's tough to swallow a loss like that," he added, "but I did my best and Ace really stepped up. Considering where we qualified, I'm sure some teams may have thought we were off this weekend, but he showed up this morning ready to race in the heat and when it cooled off he put a 4.12 up on the board (in the final).

"There's a reason Force has all those championship trophies. He knows how to get up to race. We've had some great battles in the past and I thought this was going to be another one and I was going to be holding the trophy.

"Great race for the fans, but I guess the bright side for us is we're going to Phoenix second in the points. I'm so proud of the NAPA guys right now, it's incredible."

Next up is the 26th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals in Chandler, Ariz., Feb. 19-21.

Post Race Fast Facts

FUNNY CAR POINT STANDINGS, after one event:
1. John Force, 121 (winner today)
2. Ron Capps, 94 (runner-up today)
3. Bob Tasca III, 78
4. Jack Beckman, 74
5. Del Worsham, 59
6. Matt Hagan, 57
7. Ashley Force Hood, 56
8. Cruz Pedregon, 51
9. Robert Hight, 43
10. Tony Pedregon, 33
10. Jim Head, 33