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Capps wins Dodge Nationals for first Maple Grove title, retakes points lead

Don Schumacher Racing helped partners Mopar and Dodge celebrate the 33rd annual NHRA Dodge Nationals by placing three of its Dodge Charger R/T Funny Cars in the semifinals Sunday at Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pa.

And the NAPA AUTO PARTS Dodge Charger R/T Powered by Pennzoil with driver Ron Capps and crew chief Rahn Tobler provided the fireworks when Capps won his first title at Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pa., and retook the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series championship points lead that he relinquished a week ago in the opening race of the Countdown to the Championship playoff.

When one-week points leader and Maple Grove pole winner Robert Hight of John Force Racing was upset in the second round Sunday, it opened the door for Capps to reclaim the lead provided he won four rounds culminating with the Dodge Nationals trophy.

“When he lost in the second round I didn’t want to know but someone told me,” said Capps, who was the top seed to start the six-race Countdown. “My left clutch foot started shaking and I’m thinking ‘there’s a chance we can go around him.’ You wouldn’t think after 22 years that it would affect you.

“Every time I’ve driven through the gate here, I say ‘I love you, I love you, I love you Maple Grove. Give me some love back.’ I’ve always left here a little short.

 “Getting the points lead back was secondary to winning here. It was an ecstatic feeling in the shutdown area.”

 After none of DSR’s seven team could advance past the second round last Sunday to open the Countdown near Charlotte, three of its four Funny Cars advanced to the semifinals along with Antron Brown in Top Fuel.

 Capps raced in the final round for second straight year at Maple Grove and fourth time in his career en route to 57th NHRA title of his career.

 It was one of those “going my way” kind of days for Capps, who has raced at the NHRA national event at Maple Grove since 1995.

 In the opening round, he lost traction late in the run against Jim Campbell but recovered just enough to win with a time of 4.166 to Campbell’s 4.213. In the next round, Capps made a good run and eliminated DSR teammate Tommy Johnson Jr.

 In the semifinals, Capps, who qualified third, faced No. 2 Matt Hagan, another teammate, and held a slight lead when Hagan’s parachutes prematurely deployed that sealed the win for Capps.

 And it continued in the final. Capps took the held a lead over Courtney Force but near the finish line her parachutes deployed early. Capps’ 3.968 (326.48) topped her 3.993 (311.70).

 “We fell behind a little bit and got lucky in the first round,” said Capps, who leads Hight by eight points heading to next week’s race near St. Louis. “We feel like we make our own luck; the harder you work the luckier you get.

 “Tobler got after it and started chipping away. You don’t want to give him too many runs on Sunday. He’ll ‘Tobler’ you do death.”

 In Top Fuel, DSR’s defending Maple Grove event winner Antron Brown and the Matco Tools team  advanced to the semifinals but fell one spot to fourth in the championship standings. After beating pole winner Clay Millican in the second round, his Matco Tools dragster lost traction early in the semifinals against Brittney Force, who went on to win the Maple Grove title.

 After Doug Kalitta was upset in the second round, Steve Torrence regained the Top Fuel points in the round when he defeated DSR’s Leah Pritchett in the 80th Anniversary Mopar/Pennzoil dragster that was leading when her engine exploded a couple hundred feet from the finish line. Torrence went on to win his eighth title of the season.

 Pritchett gained a big advantage at the starting line when her 0.057-second reaction time left Torrence sitting at the line with a 0.091.

 Eight-time world champion Tony Schumacher and the U.S. Army team, who has won at Maple Grove five times, also lost in the second round.