Capps gets on the scoreboard; Dixon, Coughlin, Phillips win again
Ron Capps scored his first win of the season in Funny Car and was joined in the winner’s circle at the Fram Autolite NHRA Nationals at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., by Larry Dixon (Top Fuel), Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock), and Michael Phillips (Pro Stock Motorcycle) at race two of the annual Western Swing.
Seattle winners Cory McClenathan in Top Fuel and Greg Anderson in Pro Stock had their bids cut short for what would have been the middle leg of an unprecedented second sweep of the Western Swing. McClenathan did reach the semifinals of his sponsor’s event but Anderson was knocked out a round earlier. Seattle Funny Car champ Tim Wilkerson, who won two of the three Swing races last year, was defeated in round one. The teams head now to Denver for the Swing’s conclusion at the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals, the second to last event before the Countdown to 1 playoffs begin Labor Day weekend in Indianapolis, but a number of drivers clinched their playoff berths in Sonoma.
The Top Fuel final featured Dixon and archrival Tony Schumacher, two guys who not only have dominated the winner’s circle this season, but in the last decade as well. Dixon remained perfect in final rounds this season, collecting his eighth win of the season and expanded his points lead to 211 over Schumacher with a 3.87 to 4.00 victory. The win is the 56th of Dixon’s career; only Schumacher, with 64 victories, owns more Top Fuel Wallys.
"The car was flawless," said Dixon. "It was just an unbelievable job by Alan Johnson and Jason McCulloch and everybody on the Al-Anabi team. You’re seeing the numbers up there, and being around the sport and the cars for a long period of time and seeing those numbers, that was, to me, a little humbling. They were on their game. They weren’t leaving anything in their back pocket, that’s for sure.
"You just know when you’re racing Tony — he’s obviously won a lot of races and the last six championships — he’s going to keep you honest. That team doesn’t stumble very often, so you’ve got go up there and fire your best shot and hope it’s enough. I’m cool with it. I enjoy racing him because when you win you know you earned it. There’s no backing into it or blower belt coming off or anything. You know he’s going to make you earn it, so when you do win, it makes it that much more gratifying."
Dixon, a Sonoma winner in 2003, reached his milestone 100th Top Fuel final by racing his Al-Anabi dragster from the No. 1 qualifying position with a pair of 3.84s sandwiching a 3.87. He defeated Steve Chrisman and Steve Torrence in the first two rounds then ended McClenathan’s bid for a Western Swing sweep in the semifinals.
Schumacher, who won this event back to back in 2007 and 2008, raced his U.S. Army dragster past Morgan Lucas, Terry McMillen, and Brandon Bernstein with passes of 3.88, 3.94, and 3.91 to reach his 101st career Top Fuel final.
Don Schumacher Racing teammates Capps and Jack Beckman squared off in the Funny Car final, each looking for his first win at this event after both had clinched their spots in the Countdown to 1 playoffs earlier in the day. Capps scored his first win of the season and the 31st of his career, 4.16 to 4.19. Capps jumped from seventh to fifth place with his day’s actions.
"I feel like I can conquer the world in the car right now," said Capps. "It’s all confidence, and confidence is built on success. We’ve been testing a lot of things all season long. Obviously, when John [Medlen] went over to Matt Hagan’s car, we saw what happened over there. Matt won two races and set the national record. I’ve always wanted to work with John, and it has been such a pleasure with the confidence that I’ve been given in the car. I now go up there without really being afraid of the Tree and really worrying about the car.
"It’s great for Don [having an all-Don Schumacher Racing final and three of the four semifinalists]. One thing I’ve learned about Don Schumacher is you never doubt him. He’s always two steps ahead of what everybody is thinking. His passion could be elsewhere, but his passion is the racing, and he loves nothing more than to win racing."
Capps, runner-up a week earlier in Seattle, earned lane choice for his 65th career final by beating yet another DSR driver, Matt Hagan, in the semifinals, 4.16 to 4.19. Prior to that, he powered his NAPA Auto Parts Dodge to runs of 4.18 and 4.23 to get past Wilkerson, avenging his final-round loss in Seattle and ending Wilkerson’s two-race winning streak at eight rounds, and Melanie Troxel.
Beckman had wheeled the Valvoline/MTS Charger past Jeff Diehl and world champ Robert Hight with a pair of 4.25s, then eked out an ultra close win over Bob Tasca III’s Mustang, scoring on a holeshot by just .0004-second, 4.221 to 4.220. The final round was Beckman’s third of the season and the 20th of his Funny Car career.
Coughlin collected his third win of the season and denied Jason Line back-to-back victories in Sonoma with a decisive 6.59 to 6.60 victory made even wider by a significant holeshot. The win is Coughlin’s 51st in Pro Stock and 65th overall.
"We had a great race car, and that’s exactly what you need in Pro Stock," said Coughlin. "When you’re separated by ten-thousandths of a second, there literally is no room for error. We’ve certainly had our races this year with errors. We approached this race a little differently and had a good game plan coming in and just executed from square one. Friday Q1, we were fourth best of that session and came back for the night session and were second best with a 6.55. On Saturday, we ran two .57s, and we were third best in that third session and then we were the quickest car in that fourth session. Confidence-wise, that was exactly what the team was looking to do, and when we came into today, we had that confidence. From behind the wheel, I had four clean runs to work with, and we were able to get through some really, really tough competition.
"The KB cars are definitely extremely tough. Greg Anderson and Jason Line do an extremely efficient job at building horsepower and running the race operation. They’re multi-time world champions in Pro Stock, so any time you get by them is awesome. To get by both of them in one day, that’s a tough feat, and we were able to do that."
Coughlin, like Dixon, was appearing in his 100th final round, 81 of which have come in Pro Stock. He raced his JEGS.com Cobalt to a steady trio of passes -- 6.58, 6.59, and 6.58 – to defeat Larry Morgan, Seattle champ Greg Anderson – ending the latter’s combined win streak at 12 rounds – and rookie Shane Gray in the semifinals.
Line, winner at the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals earlier this season, reached his third final of the season and the 49th of his career with victories over V. Gaines, Greg Stanfield, and Kurt Johnson with consistent passes of 6.59 and two 6.57s from his Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac.
Phillips, a winner earlier this year in Madison and Englishtown, added his third season title with a see-saw victory over Andrew Hines in a final round that both led twice before Phillips took the win light with a 6.886 at 196.76 mph to Hines’ 6.909, 194.16. Phillips closed up the points gap on third-place Hines to just three markers and trails second-place Matt Smith by just five points. Arana still leads Smith by 141 points.
"I’ve been working with some NASCAR guys on just playing with the carburetor, and that’s actually where my bike picked up," said Phillips. "We started working with the guys last year [starting with] Memphis. There were a couple of other things we did with the bike that they looked over and found that should have been done to the bike, and ever since then, the bike’s just been running crazy mph.
"Andrew had been whooping me pretty good. I don’t know what the winning record was, but that was the first time I had ever beat him on that bike. I bought the bike from him in ’03, and I just never could get him. I raced him maybe 10, 15 times, and he just kept beating me. I’d holeshot him, and he’d find some way to get around me. Pomona last year, I holeshotted him and the carburetor jumped off my bike. I just finally got the monkey off my back."
Phillips and his Racers Edge Suzuki displayed top-end prowess early in riding to a trio of mid-190-mph victories over Karen Stoffer, Matt Smith, and Eddie Krawiec. After an opening 7.00 at 194 mph, Phillips improved to a 6.89 and 195 mph before bashing Krawiec’s Harley in the semifinals with a 6.871 at 197.65 mph, which set a new track record and new NHRA national speed record.
Hines, the defending event champ who also won this stop in 2005 aboard his Screamin' Eagle/Vance & Hines Harley, set down a trio of Buell riders -- Shawn Gann, David Hope, and Arana with a pair of 6.89s bookending a 6.93 to reach his 34th career final.
In the Lucas Oil classes, Jimmy DeFrank Jr. nearly grabbed a rare double victory, winning in Stock but falling in the final of Super Stock to Tony Mandella. Mike DePalma Jr. scored in Comp Eliminator, Kyle Seipel in Super Comp, Top Fuel pilot Shawn Langdon in Super Gas, and Mike Ferderer in Top Sportsman.