Gainesville: Round three preview

CAPPS, BROWN LOOK TO KEEP EARLY SEASON MOMENTUM GOING AT ACDELCO NHRA GATORNATIONALS GAINESVILLE, Fla. - A couple of surprise leaders are out of the gate early in the 2009 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series. While much of the pre-season ...

Gainesville: Round three preview


GAINESVILLE, Fla. - A couple of surprise leaders are out of the gate early in the 2009 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series.

While much of the pre-season predictions about who would contend in Top Fuel revolved around a potential season-long rivalry with Tony Schumacher and Larry Dixon, Antron Brown's Matco Tools dragster has been impressive in advancing to the final round in each of the opening two races. In Funny Car, last season's eighth-place points finisher, Ron Capps, who failed to win a race in '08, has quickly erased those memories with back-to-back wins and a top qualifying position in his NAPA Dodge Charger.

Capps and Brown will try to increase their respective leads in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series points standings at the tradition-rich ACDelco NHRA Gatornationals, March 12-15 at historic Gainesville Raceway. The race, which will be televised on ESPN and ESPN2, is the third of 24 in the NHRA Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship. Defending race winners include Tony Schumacher, Tony Pedregon, Jeg Coughlin and Matt Guidera.

Capps, who won the season-opener at Pomona and then raced to the No. 1 qualifying position at Phoenix before going on to his second win of the season and 27th of his career, says his team has a new focus in '09. He says crew chief Ed "Ace" McCulloch is going with a strategy for the season that is more centered on winning races instead of trying to position for points.

"As a team, Ace and I and the NAPA guys are going to focus on winning races this year and let the points all fall into place, rather than look at the big picture of getting into the Countdown," Capps said. "We're going to attack every race like it's a must-win situation. Our focus this year is to roll into each race and rip their hearts out in each run, focus on winning each race. The points will come, the Countdown will come. Honestly, Ace had this look in his eye like, 'get out of my way, and [to me], 'you'd better hang on because you're going in the trunk of this car when it gets out there.'"

The opportunity for Capps to continue his hot streak is a good one. He has a great record at the ACDelco NHRA Gatornationals, winning there in 2006 and 2007. He also was runner-up there in 2000.

He is thrilled to be back in the points lead and the winner's circle after a 2008 season that he says wasn't characteristic of what his NAPA team is capable of.

"It's a great feeling, because we were embarrassed by not winning any races last year," Capps said. "We flat out didn't give NAPA what they deserved. And they came on board when they saw what we did in 2005-2007 (11 wins) and those three years were great. This is what we should have been doing last year."

Others to watch in Funny Car include 2004 Gainesville winner Del Worsham, who is now driving the new Alan Johnson Al-Anabi Racing Toyota Solara and is tied with Robert Hight, driver of the Auto Club Ford Mustang, for second in the point standings. Phoenix runner-up Mike Neff also will be trying to earn his first career victory. Seven-time Gainesville winner John Force also can't be counted out.

In Top Fuel, Brown is following up a great first-year behind the wheel of a Top Fuel dragster where he finished fifth overall with two wins in five final round appearances. For the first 10 years of his racing career he competed on two wheels in the Pro Stock Motorcycle category. His transition to Top Fuel has been seamless.

He says he is just a little surprised at how well his team is running early on given some of the challenges they faced during the offseason. Former team owner David Powers sold the team to Mike Ashley in mid-January. With the new team owner came two new crew chiefs - Brian Corradi and veteran nitro driver/tuner Mark Oswald. The group immediately made an impact, posting great numbers during pre-season testing. The momentum carried over to the first two races.

"This just shows how strong our team really is here at MAR (Mike Ashley Racing)," said Brown, who posted a runner-up finish at Pomona from the No. 1 qualifying spot and then went on to win in Phoenix. "With all the adversity we dealt with this offseason, this is just an awesome feeling. (Former crew chief) Lee Beard left us with a great race car and with Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald in here, there was no doubt in my mind that we'd do well."

Brown is still looking for his first win at Gainesville. He posted a runner-up finish on two wheels here in 2006 and was No. 1 qualifier here in 2001. He feels confident that his first win at the historic event could come this weekend.

"After testing last month, our team just really jelled," Brown said. "We didn't need any glue or adhesive we just stuck together. We just need to get more laps and to be more consistent. We've got an awesome race car. We were bummed to not win at Pomona because we really had the car to beat, but you can't count anyone out in this sport. To run that 3.81 in the semis at Phoenix was awesome to show we can run with (Larry) Dixon and Tony (Schumacher) and all the top dogs. It's going to be a fun year in Top Fuel, but it'll be tough to win races with so many great teams."

In addition to three-time Gators winners Schumacher and Dixon, others who will challenge Brown at Gainesville include Brandon Bernstein, who is second in the points order and won the Gatornationals in 2003, and Doug Kalitta, who won the season-opening race at Pomona and is a two-time winner at the Swamp. Rookies Spencer Massey and Shawn Langdon will be making their first Gatornationals appearance in Top Fuel.

Defending series champ Coughlin - a two time Gainesville winner - continues to be the guy to beat in the Pro Stock category in his Chevy Cobalt. He raced to the victory in Phoenix and moved to second overall in the points standings, two points behind leader Jason Line, who won at Gainesville in 2005. Others to watch in the 200 mph category include two-time Gatornationals winner Greg Anderson and ACDelco Chevy Cobalt driver Kurt Johnson, who won this race in 2003.

The ACDelco NHRA Gatornationals is the traditional season-opener for the Pro Stock Motorcycle competitors. Defending world champ Eddie Krawiec comes to Gainesville Raceway still seeking his first race victory. He won his championship last season on his Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson without earning a race win, a feat accomplished once previously in NHRA history by Rob Bruins in Top Fuel in 1979. However, last year Krawiec did something no NHRA driver had previously done by winning the championship trophy before winning a race trophy. Bruins had won a race in a season prior to his championship season in '79.

While Krawiec looks for his first win, several riders will be looking to get their seasons off to fast starts, including Krawiec teammate Andrew Hines, a three-time world champ and 2004 Gatornationals winner. Other early-season favorites to watch include Matt Smith, who is now racing on a Suzuki with Don Schumacher Racing, and three veteran riders who have all previously won the Gatornationals - Karen Stoffer (2007), Steve Johnson (2005) and Craig Treble (2002).

SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying sessions are scheduled for 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on March 13 and 14. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, March 15.

TICKETS: Tickets are available for the ACDelco NHRA Gatornationals by calling NHRA at (800) 884-NHRA or via

ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 2 a.m. (ET) on Sunday, March 15. A 90-minute qualifying show will re-air on Sunday, March 15 at 10 a.m. (ET) on ESPN2. NHRA Race Day, a 30-minute pre-race show, will air at 11:30 a.m. (ET) on Sunday, March 15, also on ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD. Three hours of eliminations coverage beginning at 3 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, March 15, will air on ESPN and ESPN HD.

LUCAS OIL SERIES: The ACDelco NHRA Gatornationals also will feature competition in six categories in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series, where the future stars of the NHRA Full Throttle Series earn their racing experience. Lucas Oil Series qualifying begins at 9 a.m. on March 12. Lucas Oil Series eliminations begin at 7:30 a.m. on March 13.

-credit: nhra

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