Commentary

Prestigious U.S. Nationals -- the NHRA's Super Bowl -- on center stage at Indy

Ron Capps already has clinched a spot in the NHRA's Countdown to 1, but that doesn't make this week's U.S. Nationals at Indy any less important, he writes in his diary.

Updated: August 27, 2008, 6:56 PM ET
By Ron Capps | Special to ESPN.com

Well, here we are. The 2008 NHRA season is winding down and this weekend we'll be racing at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis. This is our Indy 500, Daytona 500, Super Bowl. There is so much prestige surrounding this event, and it always brings out the drag-racing superstars from the past, and not just the ones who are still racing or are team owners now.

It's also changed this year, at least as far as NHRA's ever-morphing Countdown to the Championship is concerned. Last year was the first time for the Countdown format, and we were quite a bit ahead in points before the playoffs (as much as 154), much like points leader Tim Wilkerson is right now, and then of course they reset the points and we had only a 10-point lead.

Last year a lot of people kind of questioned how to approach the Countdown properly, and obviously we proved that you don't have to be leading the Countdown to win the championship. We didn't win it; Tony Pedregon did.

In 2007, the Countdown to 1 playoffs began at the U.S. Nationals. This year, it is the last event for the top 10 to be established before they battle for the championship in the final six races. The top 10 in Funny Car have already clinched those spots, and we're No. 8. So now we have to look toward moving up further in the standings so that we may be closer to the front in points for the playoffs. This year, the leader earns an extra 20 points going into the playoffs. So, if we stay in eighth, we will be 90 points back.

I'm really looking forward to seeing my NAPA team tested this weekend because it looks like we're either going to be sixth or, worst case, 10th in the points. Best-case scenario is we will be in sixth place, which is still going to put us quite a few points behind first (70). I'm really excited to see how my NAPA Auto Parts Dodge guys are going to react.

With Ed McCulloch tuning the NAPA Dodge, I truly believe we've got the best leader there is in the pit area when you have to go to battle on race day. And Indy is the granddaddy of all drag races, but it's a race where you need the intensity and experience of a person like Ace, who has won here six times as a driver (five in Funny Car, one in Top Fuel).

Then, thrown in on top of that this weekend is the Showdown bonus event for $100,000. I've been lucky enough to win it three times (1998, 1999, 2002), and I think that is because I've been around good experienced racers in the past, and Ed has taught me so much. This is a place where you really have to rely on what you've learned from your mentors.

It's unique to find anybody who has won a race that prestigious that many times as a driver and yet, as I found out just a couple of years ago, Ace has never won a championship. We all thought he had won a championship or two. So, going into what we consider our biggest race of the year, I'm going to find myself leaning on him for all the possible advice throughout the weekend because there's a lot to think about.

Tapping into his experience and what drove him when he won the U.S. Nationals those six times will be a big key for me. I'd like to win my first Indy. But then the bigger goal that we both have is winning a championship. When I do win my first championship, it's going to be his first championship also, which is going to be extra special.

Our NAPA crew is made up mostly of young guys, and Ace has been able to mold and train them. A lot of racers may show up at Indy for the first time and think, "Ah, it's just another race." There are a lot of factors to be considered: the duration of the race, the sponsor commitments, the importance of the race and now, on top of all that, it's also the last race before the Countdown to 1 starts. So you're talking about a very big weekend for a professional drag racer and a team.

I'm really excited about the points being reset, to be honest with you. I'm a little excited not to be leading it. I want to see how we rise to the occasion.

Ron Capps drives the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series and is providing a diary for ESPN.com during the 2008 season.

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