Funny Car Semifinal Appearance by Ron Capps Leads Team Mopar in NHRA U.S. Nationals Eliminations
· Capps follows up Brainerd title win with semifinals showing at U.S. Nationals in his Mopar-powered Dodge Charger R/T
· Dodge Dart Pro Stock driver Allen Johnson’s bid for a first career U.S. Nationals victory ends in quarterfinals
· No. 1 qualifier and Mopar Express Lane Dodge Funny Car pilot Matt Hagan exits in round two at Indy
· Jack Beckman just misses qualifying his Mopar Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car for the NHRA “Countdown to the Championship” playoffs
· Three Pro Stock and three Funny Car Team Mopar drivers will battle the field in their respective classes when the six-race playoffs begin at the NHRA Carolina Nationals on Sept. 12
Brownsburg, Indiana (Sept. 1, 2014) – A semifinals showing by Ron Capps in Funny Car and a quarterfinals appearance by Allen Johnson in Pro Stock paced the Team Mopar contingent during elimination rounds on Monday at the 60th Annual National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. The race marks just the fourth time in 18 regular-season events in which a Mopar-powered Pro Stock or Funny Car driver failed to reach at least the final round.
Capps, attempting to record a rare “double” after claiming victory in the rain-delayed Brainerd event final held during U.S. Nationals qualifying on Saturday, drove his Mopar HEMI-powered Dodge Charger R/T to a 4.069-second elapsed time (e.t) and 316.97 mph to defeat Chad Head to start his day.
The Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) veteran uncorked a 4.071/317.42 effort in a second-round showdown with Del Worsham, setting up a faceoff with 16-time Funny Car champ John Force, who Capps defeated earlier in the week for his Brainerd event win. Capps smoked the tires near the 300-ft. mark, recording a 5.006/163.79 pass as Force drove away for the triumph.
“I told (crew chief Rahn) Tobler and (assistant crew chief) Eric (Lane) that we had the most consistent car all weekend and for me personally, it was one of the best Funny Cars I’ve ever had here at the U.S. Nationals, and I’ve had some pretty good cars to drive,” said Capps, who has never advanced to a final round at Indy. “This place really makes you earn it. I mean, look at the people who have won it in the past. That’s why it’s Indy. It’s tough. It only hurts worse because we had a better shot, we got closer. You go that many rounds and you feel like you can taste it. That makes it hurt a little bit more.”
A total of four Mopar-powered Dodge Charger R/T drivers advanced to the Funny Car quarterfinals on Monday. DSR driver Matt Hagan, the No. 1 qualifier with a 3.998-second elapsed time (e.t.) on Sunday (the first three-second run in the history of Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis), weathered a first-round scare from Bob Bode.
Hagan appeared en route to an easy win, but his Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T shook the tires down track, with Bode edging ahead. Hagan calmly recovered and got his Dodge back under power, beating Bode to the line with a 4.404/260.16 to his foe’s 4.464/210.64. Hagan’s luck didn’t hold in a second-round pedal fest against John Force. Both drivers got on and off the throttle, but this time Hagan was unable to win the race to the stripe.
“It’s hard to do anything except let (the car) calm down and try to get back on it, but when you smoke the tires that early there’s not a lot you can do,” said Hagan, who came into race day at the U.S. Nationals as No.1 qualifier for the second consecutive year. “It just rubs salt in the wound when you watch him (Force) smoke the tires way down there. I wanted to win Indy, everybody does, but there’s only one trophy handed out at the end of the day, so we’ll have to come back and get ours next year.”
“It’s now a whole new season,” added Hagan, referring to the start of the NHRA “Countdown to the Championship” playoffs at the next event in Charlotte. “We’ve got a great race car and great opportunity to go out and try to win a championship. That’s the mentality we are going into the Countdown with.
“When I won the championship in 2011, we came in from the sixth spot. We’re coming in from the seventh spot this time, and all we need is a couple of good races. They reset the points and give everyone a chance in the top-10. Robert Hight won it from the tenth spot. You never know. You just have to be there.”
No. 2 qualifier Jack Beckman entered eliminations set on cracking the Top 10 in points and securing the final berth in the NHRA “Countdown to the Championship” playoffs. Unfortunately, the 2012 Funny Car champion was unable to join DSR Mopar Dodge teammates Capps, Hagan and Tommy Johnson Jr. in the post season. Beckman smoked the tires early and watched Dodge Charger driver Blake Alexander clock a 4.133/304.39 for the win; Alexander would fall to eventual U.S. Nationals title winner Alexis DeJoria in the quarterfinals.
“Not a silver lining on this,” said Beckman, who usually can find a positive in every situation. “The best we can be is 11th and that’s underachieving for us. We’ll just move on to Charlotte. Everybody is beat up right now. They (the crew) earn less money when we don’t go deep in eliminations. We can’t run for a championship, the wind is out of everybody’s sails right now. We have two weeks to get a fresh perspective on this. Right now everybody is just a little bit depressed.”
Tommy Johnson Jr. used a 4.059/316.01 to trailer Tim Wilkerson in round one before falling to Courtney Force in the quarterfinals, his 4.094/314.09 slower than her 4.062/317.34. Dodge Charger driver Jeff Arend exited in a round-one loss to Worsham.
In the NHRA Pro Stock ranks Allen Johnson, racing out of the No. 6 position in his “Magneti Marelli Offered by Mopar” Dodge Dart, reeled off a 6.640/208.52 to begin eliminations and dispatch Chris McGaha. Johnson’s bid for his first U.S. Nationals victory ended in the quarterfinals, where his car shook and bounced shortly after launch, resulting in a losing 7.064/169.25 run to winner Shane Gray’s 6.634/208.36. Gray went on to win his first U.S. Nationals Pro Stock title and first victory of the season.
“We have never quite learned how to overcome being first out after a fresh drag (of track prep), and the virus we’ve been battling in the car got us again,” Johnson said. “No way to simulate that behind the fuel cars, because it’s just not consistent. It’s something we’ve got to get better at. Normally we’re the faster car so we’re not first out and that’s important to us for that very reason.”
As disappointed as Johnson was, the Mopar driver was happy with what the two-car Mopar team accomplished thus far this year, and is looking forward to the start of the Countdown in two weeks at zMAX Dragway near Charlotte, North Carolina.
“We’ve had a good regular season with as many wins as anybody else, and our teammate has some wins too,” said Johnson, who goes into the playoffs with four wins and sitting third in the standings. “We’re going to approach the Countdown with a vengeance. We’ll go there and test this week and see if we can’t get a tune up that’s a little better than we had here. It’s a whole new season and we’re basically starting from scratch, but it’s very important to get a good start. Hopefully we can go to Charlotte and win our first race there.”
Like most of Team Mopar, JEGS.com/Mopar Dodge Dart driver Jeg Coughlin Jr. will be happy to put the U.S. Nationals in his rearview mirror. The defending NHRA Pro Stock Series World Champ qualified No. 9 and squared off against rookie Aaron Stanfield in the opening round. Coughlin was a tad early on the tree (-.003), earning a red light foul and giving Stanfield the win.
“It’s a little more disappointing when it’s the U.S. Nationals, the 60th anniversary of this event and 50th for the (426) HEMI,” Coughlin said. “It’s such a grind out here this year too. We were finishing two rounds from Brainerd so there was a lot of preparation that went into this race and the team fought hard all weekend, so we can’t be that disappointed.
“The Countdown is where we’ll turn our focus with the JEGS.com Mopar,” added Coughlin. “I’m really happy with all of our efforts and coming into the first race of the Countdown at Charlotte as a returning champion and World Champion makes it exciting, so that’s the kind of start we’re going to need. The discipline and focus of this Mopar team makes us capable of pulling that off.”
The starting tree also played a feature role for two other Mopar-powered Pro Stockers in the opening round. V. Gaines was perfect on the starting tree (.000) in his Dodge Dart, but his quick reflexes weren’t enough to best opponent Dave Connolly. Gaines’ 6.653/208.26 was edged at the finish by Connolly’s 6.614/208.39: the margin of victory was a miniscule eight inches over the Mopar Pro Stock veteran. Dodge Avenger driver Matt Hartford suffered a red light loss in his battle against Vincent Nobile.
Next up for Team Mopar drivers and teams is the first event of the six-race NHRA “Countdown to the Championship” playoffs, the 7th Annual NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord, North Carolina, scheduled for Sept. 12–14. Three Team Mopar Pro Stock drivers — Allen Johnson, Coughlin and Gaines — will attempt to bring home Mopar the brand’s third consecutive Pro Stock crown. Nitro drivers Capps, Hagan and Tommy Johnson Jr. will fight to capture the third Funny Car championship for Mopar in the last four years.