Ron Capps is the defending Funny Car champion of the NHRA Big O Tires Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. 

Capps likely would have been happy in April if he was told he would be within 23 points of the Funny Car points lead upon his return six months later to The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with his NAPA AUTO PARTS Dodge Charger R/T.

But he'll be disappointed with that scenario when he gets to the track Friday for the start of the Big O Tires NHRA Nationals.

Capps mounted one of the hottest streaks ever in NHRA once Rahn Tobler became his crew chief after Capps' team did not qualify for championship eliminations on April 1 at the Las Vegas race, which was the fourth event of the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season.

After Tobler teamed with Capps, the NAPA AUTO PARTS team advanced to six consecutive championship rounds and won two titles then added another before taking the points lead after the 17th of 23 events that also marked the end to the regular season.

At the start of NHRA's Countdown to the Championship, the NAPA team won its fourth title of the year in the opening event of the playoff and advanced to the semifinals at the next race to take a commanding 96-point lead.

"We had a lot of people saying the championship was going to be wrapped up by us when we had that (big) point lead going into St. Louis," Capps said. "It almost irritated me every time somebody would say something, whether it was media or just fans, because I think they forget how quickly things can turn around, which they have. I could almost tell you what was going to happen when we went out in St. Louis. Jack (Beckman) went on to win, and I just had a hunch that was the way it was going to go. It wasn't going to be an easy championship run for anybody."

His words proved to be prophetic.

Beckman, one of Capps' teammates at Don Schumacher Racing, moved within 30 points of Capps at St. Louis. At the next race, Beckman's team eliminated Capps in the second round near Reading, Pa., where the series last raced, and set a national elapsed time record to earn 20 bonus points and move 23 ahead of Capps.

But it was clear something was wrong with Capps' Funny Car, after losing in the second round at two straight races.

The team tested near Indianapolis two days after returning from Reading.

"We just had one of those hiccups in Reading," Capps said. "We hadn't tested all year long so we put our old stuff back in it and the car went right down the track. Tobler figured out what the problem was, which is a great sign. He also found a steering box that was going bad, which could have been disastrous the first qualifying run in Vegas.

"So that test was huge for us. We can put that behind us and go forward."

After six events this season, John Force Racing had won each of the first six Full Throttle events with Robert Hight winning four straight. Most assumed Hight would coast to his second championship.

But that, however, is why the championship trophy won't be engraved until the season ends on Nov. 11 at Pomona, Calif.

It's a three-man race with Beckman first, Capps 23 points back in second and JFR's Mike Neff in third, 54 points behind Beckman.

"I remember last year when I was Jack's crew chief and we left Phoenix with two races left as the points leader, and we didn't win it," Tobler recalled. "Anything can happen. We're still in the game. It was great for Jack and that team to get 20 points for a national record, but it was more important to us to get our car straightened out. And I think we have."

Schedule for the Oct. 25-28 NHRA Big O Tires Nationals
at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Thursday, Oct. 25

7:30 a.m. – Spectator gates open.
8 a.m. – Sportsman qualifying.
4 p.m. – Comp Eliminator qualifying.
5:30 p.m. – Track closed.
5-7 p.m. – Free NHRA driver autograph session at Fremont Street Experience.
7:30 p.m. – Speedway Children’s Charities Cards for Kids poker tournament with NHRA drivers.
7-9 p.m. – Free Don Schumacher Racing driver autograph session at New York New York Hotel & Casino.

Friday, Oct. 26
7:30 a.m. – Spectator gates open.
8 a.m. – Sportsman eliminations.
10:15 a.m. – Comp Eliminator qualifying.
10:45 a.m. – Top Alcohol Funny Car and Dragster qualifying.
Noon – Pro Mod qualifying, followed by Pro Stock Car and Pro Stock Motorcycle.
1 p.m. – Top Fuel Funny Car and Top Fuel Dragster qualifying.
2 p.m. – Pro Mod qualifying.
2:30 p.m. – Comp Eliminator qualifying.
3 p.m. – Pro Stock Car and Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying.
4 p.m. – Top Fuel Funny Car and Top Fuel Dragster qualifying.
5 p.m. – Top Alcohol Funny Car and Dragster qualifying.
6 p.m. – Track closed.

Saturday, Oct. 27
7:30 a.m. – Spectator gates open.
8 a.m. – Sportsman eliminations.
9:45 a.m. – First round of Comp Eliminator.
10:30 a.m. – Pro Mod qualifying.
11 a.m. – Pro Stock Car and Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying.
Noon – Top Fuel Funny Car and Top Fuel Dragster qualifying.
1 p.m. – Top Alcohol Funny Car and Dragster qualifying.
2 p.m. – Pro Stock Car and Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying.
3 p.m. – Top Fuel Funny Car and Top Fuel Dragster qualifying.
4 p.m. – First round of Pro Mod eliminations.
4:30 p.m. – First round of Top Alcohol Funny Car and Dragster eliminations.
6 p.m. – Track closed.

Sunday, Oct. 28
7:30 a.m. – Spectator gates open.
9 a.m. – Sportsman eliminations.
10 a.m. – Pre-race ceremonies.
11 a.m. – Final eliminations.
4:30 p.m. – Track closed.