By Briar Starr, NHRA Staff Writer
Knowing the championship was a bit of a stretch, the 2021 and defending Funny Car champion, Ron Capps had an outside shot of successfully winning another title but he would have to be consistent all weekend long including being well in qualifying.
With four rounds of qualifying this weekend, Capps needed to take advantage of gaining those small bonus points in any little way he could if he wanted to have a shot and would have to hope for some difficulties on the championship points leader Robert Hight.
However, the first two rounds of qualifying were a bit of a rocky road for Capps, the California native who grew up near the Pomona racetrack. Following the first two rounds of qualifying, Capps was outside the bump spot as 18 Funny Cars were on the property, which meant two cars were going home and one of them could’ve been Capps had he not picked up the speed he needed.
Finally in the final round of qualifying Saturday night, Capps did what he needed to do by powering to a 3.837 pass at 337.33 mph that put him No. 1 for the sixth time this season. In doing so, he picked up four bonus points and was now under 60 points behind Hight for the championship, or in simpler terms, he was two rounds wins away from overtaking Hight.
Despite being the No. 1 qualifier, Capps had one other driver to worry about and that was Tony Stewart Racing’s Matt Hagan who also had a slim chance. Capps needed to advance two rounds further than Hight in order to win the championship, while Hagan needed Hight to lose in the first or second round, and needed to advance one round further than Capps. Additionally, Hight needed to reach the final regardless of what both Capps and Hagan did.
With the No. 1 qualifier, Capps was slated to nearby Pomona native Jeff Arend in the first round. It was an easy victory for Capps as Arena smoked the tires.
As for then championship leader, Robert Hight, Hight won his respective match-up over No. 13 qualifier Chad Green. Hight won with a 3.872 at 330.47 mph over Green’s 3.914 at 327.82 mph. Both Capps and Hight did their jobs, which meant they were going into the quarterfinals.
Now, Hagan needed to do his job against Steven Densham. With much anticipation, the two cars staged, and Hagan’s chances were done before even he had a chance as Hagan went sideways and smoked the tires.
Even though Hagan’s day was over, the day did not get easier for Capps and Hight. Hight would face Bob Tasca III in the quarterfinals, while Capps would face a familiar foe Tim Wilkerson who has had his shared victories over the NAPA driver.
In the first race of the quarterfinal, Tasca eliminated Hight with a pass of 4.262 at 224.96 mph after Hight was up in smoke. At that point, Hight became a spectator and needed some help if he still wanted to take home the championship.
For Capps, he cut a .083 light to Wilkerson’s .087 and won with a 3.865 pass at 330.80 mph to help advance him to the semi-finals. However, Capps’s opponent was none other than Tasca who eliminated Hight in his previous matchup.
It was a tense race between Capps and Tasca, as both drivers cut the same reaction time of .059. They were side-by-side down the track until the 660-foot where Capps pulled ahead of Tasca. Eventually, Capps won with a pass of 3.865 at 334.65 mph over Tasca’s 3.905 at 327.11 mph.
After securing the victory, the championship would go to Capps and the NAPA Auto Parts team if the California native did not get a point deduction. That meant, he would not have to hit the wall, oil down penalty, hit cylinder blocks, or go into the opponent’s lane.
In the finals, Capps met two-time Funny Car champion, Cruz Pedregon. Pedregon had wins over Jason Rupert, John Force, and Alexis DeJoria. Just like the semi-finals, it was another tight race. Both reaction times were similar, but the race victory went to Pedregon who won with a 3.839 at 335.65 mph.
While Pedregon was the winner of the race, Capps became a three-time Funny Car champion, the first time as a Team Owner, and became the first driver to repeat as a champion for the first time in 20 years. The last driver to repeat as a Funny Car champion was John Force back in the early ’00s.
“Anything you put your mind to you can do with great people around you,” said Capps, who’s just the seventh Funny Car driver to win as many as three titles. “I can’t even begin to say what it feels like right now. This is for the NAPA AutoCare people, all the NAPA AutoCare owners – 6,000 strong – and for everybody at home that puts on a Ron Capps and NAPA jersey watching on the couch on Fox Sports; Gearwrench; and of course, Toyota coming on board. But my family more than anything, we have taken on a role this year that’s been unbelievable. I’m sure you’ve seen me age quite a bit in the last year or so.”
Since it was the last race of the year, crew chief John Medlen will also be retiring as well. He also goes out with a victory.
“To send Medlen off and to send one of these (Wallys) to his cabin in Georgia, it’s going to be phenomenal,” Capps said. “He means so much to us.”
“We both grew up crew guys – I met him as a crew guy at John Force’s,” Capps said. “We feel like two kids playing marbles in the field. It’s phenomenal that we can go have fun and do this.”
Final Funny Car Championship Points Standings
- Ron Capps, 2,682 points
- Robert Hight, -3
- Matt Hagan, -95
- Bob Tasca III, -178
- John Force, -192
- Cruz Pedregon, -272
- Alexis DeJoria, -310
- J.R. Todd, -338
- Tim Wilkerson, -339
- Blake Alexander, -483
Funny Car Pomona Results
- Cruz Pedregon
- Ron Capps
- Alexis DeJoria
- Bob Tasca III
- Tim Wilkerson
- Steven Densham
- Robert Hight
- John Force
- Chad Green
- Jim Campbell
- J.R. Todd
- Jason Rupert
- Blake Alexander
- Matt Hagan
- Paul Lee
- Jeff Arend