Well, it's getting down to the nitty-gritty, as they say. This weekend we're in Memphis and there are only four races left in the Countdown to 1. It's anybody's race, as the point standings have been shuffling every weekend during eliminations. It's really close right now.
We're in ninth and have a tough road ahead of us, but with this new Countdown format, anything is possible.
Last year we ran really well in Memphis, up to a point. I remember when we started the Countdown, we weren't good at Indy, then we went to Memphis and ran good. It was sunny out, we had low elapsed-time first round, beating Tony Pedregon. And we thought, "Man, this is going to be it," and then the storm came in and it actually sprinkled a little bit and then super-cool conditions, with cloudy, overcast skies came in and we got our butts handed to us the next round. We just got outrun by Tommy Johnson Jr.
I mean, we had low e.t. by like a tenth of a second over everybody else in the first round when it was hot and sunny out. It was such a disappointing day.
But, we won there in 2000 and our plan is to repeat this weekend.
This Countdown is tight right now. Last year the biggest complaint about the Countdown was the fact that if you had one bad race in the end with only two events, Vegas and Pomona, in the Countdown to 1, that was it, your season was over.
Now, this year, with six races for the top 10 in the Countdown you could have one or two bad races and still fight your way back in.
Granted, last weekend in Texas we expected to really climb ourselves back into the top of the points, and it was such a disappointing day on Sunday. We still have our backs against the wall, sort of. With four races left, we have to have two or three great races, not good races. We can't expect to go a few rounds, we need to go to the winner's circle, or at least the final round.
And that's the mindset we have to have. I talked all year about the stuff that we tried to accomplish, certain goals that we set, but we plain qualified terribly for our standards. If we're not in the top half of the field we're not happy and we haven't been, and we have to turn that around.
Ace (crew chief Ed McCulloch) is the first guy who will tell you he's disappointed in our qualifying efforts and we're all working on that. And I think you're going to see a huge difference in Memphis because we are going to go in there with the mindset that we need to qualify in the top five and then we need to go from there.
Even though the track may be a great track, lane choice is always something that is so important on Sunday morning and we just haven't had it these last few races.
On top of that, when you count those small qualifying points you get at each race, they add up to a couple of rounds. That's been our downfall and we need to fix it. We're going to fix it and that's why I love to have back-to-back-back races (Concord, N.C., Dallas and Memphis), especially coming off a race that was so disappointing, like we had in Dallas with our first-round loss.
You're able to get right back in the car and not have to run around the house sulking all week.
Ever since I came on board at Don Schumacher Racing in 2005 and Ace and I were reunited, we've had a car that has battled for the championship, and I've been used to that. And our crew has been used to that, and, quite frankly, Ace has been used to it.
A lot of stuff has happened this year, really, for every team. There's no excuses; every team has had to go through the changes. But this season by far has been probably the toughest in the last four or five years. We've had to work so hard just to be middle of the pack, like we are right now, and we're just not used to that. We're a better team than that.
We're not giving up, I'll tell you that much right now. I still feel like we can win the championship, but we need to get on the ball right now.
I think the allure of the Funny Car class, more than anything else, is why you're seeing so many good cars competing in that class.
It's the challenge.
It baffles me why somebody would build a car to go Funny Car racing because the Funny Car class is so competitive. It's unbelievable how many good teams have a shot at winning every Sunday and you just didn't see that in the last decade until the last few years.
I think it raises the bar for everybody. I'm a competitive person, everybody on our team is, and I know our team owner Don Schumacher is as well, so right now the fact that you have to dig down deep to get through tough times reminds me of NAPA Auto Parts' -- my sponsor -- business.
I've learned a lot from these businessmen who run NAPA stores. You have to go all out. You can't roll into a race track on Friday and expect to run OK and qualify. You have to run well and, not only well, you've got to run great during the weekend and go rounds. It just brings out the best in everybody.
I love that part of it, but for sure it makes for a lot of gray hairs.
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.