With just two first-round losses in the first 16 races of the 2023 NHRA Camping World Series season, three-time and defending Funny Car world champion Ron Capps wasn’t expecting an early exit at the Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals. But when Capps’ NAPA Auto Parts Toyota GR Supra drove into tire smoke in the first round of eliminations on Sunday morning, Capps and his Ron Capps Motorsports team were left packing up early at the second of six races in the Countdown to the Championship.
Capps kicked off qualifying with a solid 3.885-second pass, the second-quickest run of the first session, to earn two bonus points. He went up in smoke in the second session on Saturday, then fired off a 3.864 E.T. to move up to the No. 5 spot going into eliminations.
Rolling into race day as the three-time and defending event champion, Capps paired up with Dave Richards in the opening round. The two drivers left the starting line together, then Capps started to lose traction around 400 feet down the track. He tried to recover by pedaling his 11,000-horsepower machine, but he eventually had to lift off the throttle and watch as Richards turned on the win light. It was one of four pairings where the quicker qualified driver was upset.
“It was just a tricky, strange weekend,” Capps said. “I brag on ‘Guido’ (Dean Antonelli, crew chief) and our NAPA Auto Care guys because you have to adapt so many times. We’ve seen so many different conditions this weekend. We ran Saturday night at almost 10 o’clock, then first round was the first time the guys saw the track over 100 degrees. We just felt good. The left lane looked good. We saw (John) Force go out in front of us, and obviously a lot of hitters did go out in the left lane, but there were good runs made, so you certainly can’t blame the lane. It’s just a part of drag racing.”
Capps started the Countdown as the points leader after winning back-to-back races in Brainerd, Minn., and Indianapolis. He fell to Robert Hight in the semifinals at the NHRA Reading Nationals to start the Countdown, also losing the points lead to Hight by just three points. The defending world champion slipped to third (tied with Matt Hagan) with his first-round exit at Charlotte, but he won’t have to wait long to chase the points lead as the Countdown continues next weekend.
“That’s what’s great about back-to-back-to-back weekends – we can go right to St. Louis,” Capps said. “I think everybody’s going to have a throwaway race or two, and this is obviously our throwaway. We’ll just keep paddling away. We led the points for a reason. We worked hard to get the regular-season championship. We really worked hard for the Mission Foods #2Fast2Tasty championship bonus points, and this is why.”
The Ron Capps Motorsports team will return to its home base in Brownsburg, Ind., to restock and refresh parts and equipment before heading to World Wide Technology Raceway for the NHRA Midwest Nationals on Sept. 29 – Oct. 1.
Start / Finish: Qualified No. 5 / Defeated by Dave Richards in the first round
Points Earned: 36
2023 NHRA Camping World Series Points Standing / Total: No. 3 / 2,230 pts.
Next Race: Sept. 29 – Oct. 1, Madison, Ill., NHRA Midwest Nationals
How to Watch or Listen: FS1; NHRA.TV
Established in 2021, Ron Capps Motorsports is a single-car NHRA Funny Car team owned and operated by reigning and three-time world champion Ron Capps. Headquartered in Brownsburg, Ind., the team made its on-track debut in 2022 and competes on the 21-race NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series circuit thanks to the support of NAPA Auto Parts, Toyota, and GearWrench.