Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), and Jeg Coughlin (Pro Stock) were the big winners at the SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals in Las Vegas. The win is Schumacher’s second straight, Capps’ third this year, and Coughlin’s second of 2009.
The three now lead the points in their respective categories. Schumacher took over the Top Fuel points lead with his final-round victory over Brandon Bernstein, and now front former packleader Antron Brown, 412 to 394. Capps has led the points all year long, and he just added to his lead when he defeated teammate and new second-place driver Matt Hagan; Capps has a 106-point advantage, the biggest lead of any class. Like Schumacher, Coughlin took over the points lead when he won the final round. Coughlin trailed then-leader Jason Line by two points entering his final-round bout with Greg Stanfield and now leads Line by 18.
The Top Fuel final was a high-stakes, winner-takes-all match befitting of Las Vegas. Schumacher and Bernstein both entered the final five points or fewer behind Brown in the standings, meaning the winner not only took the event title but the points lead as well. In addition, they both had been running strong and steady all day, recording the two quickest times of eliminations between them, a 3.871 best by Bernstein in round one and the 3.874 Schumacher put on the boards to win the final round. The win is the 58th of Schumacher’s career and his fifth at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (his second at the spring event).
“Most of the guys on this team have not won two races in a row, so that was great for them, and they did it today because I didn’t drive flawlessly,” said Schumacher, who was appearing in his 90th career final. “I did a good job of keeping it straight and all that stuff, but I didn’t drive as well as I did last week, period. Last week, I had a pretty special week, and this week, it was the team. They did a heck of a job. The car ran right down the track every time.
“It was a perfect, perfect run in the final. The final was a big round. He’s gone a whole year without winning a race, and he’s looking for a sponsor, so you know he’s going to dig deep. We weren’t out there just running an average guy. He’s an outstanding driver, and they’re a great race team, so you’ve got to go up there and do your job.”
Schumacher lived in the three-second zone, the only driver to record threes in all rounds of competition. He started things with a 3.887 that ended Terry Haddock’s day, then followed that up with a pair of 3.93s in wins over teammate Cory McClenathan and top qualifier Shawn Langdon.
After recording the 3.871 that stood as low e.t. of the weekend to best Spencer Massey, Bernstein ran low of the second round, 3.927, to defeat Larry Dixon. Bernstein had a hiccup in the semi’s when his engine blew at the top end, but he was still able to beat Brown to set up the monster final with Schumacher, his 28th career Top Fuel final.
Capps made a nice rebound after back-to-back first-round losses in Gainesville and Houston. Appearing in his third final this year, Capps kept his season final-round record perfect when he ran a 4.182 to defeat teammate Hagan. Capps now has 28 career Pro wins, 27 in Funny Car. This is his first win at the spring Las Vegas event, though he has won the fall event twice.
“I was asked several times by the media what was wrong the last two races, and I just never worried,” said Capps. “Ace [crew chief Ed McCulloch] needed to get in his comfort zone. You’ll find a lot of teams seem like they may be struggling here the last couple of races, but with four test days for the whole year, there are a lot of teams, including us, testing stuff that you have to try in qualifying once you get in the show and even race day, believe it or not. So it’s tough to gaige how people are really doing. ‘Ace’ was trying things.
“We have found that just trying to approach the season like a NASCAR team and saying, ‘Okay as long as we’re in the Countdown and in the top 10,’ and try to focus and peak at the right time doesn’t work. So we stepped it up, and 'Ace' is trying to rip their throats out every single run. You can’t run these cars anymore and be halfway safe and just look to go down the track. You can’t do it. You have to step all over these things with the tune-up, and the driver has to be on their game. It’s days like this where it’s fun. It sounds cliché, but we’re just focusing on one round at a time, one race at a time.”
Capps’ march to the final began with a win over Brian Thiel. He then defeated a pair of John Force Racing drivers, Mike Neff and Robert Hight, to advance to the 57th final of his career.
In his ninth career NHRA start, rookie of the year candidate Matt Hagan advanced to his first career final. Hagan was solid in the first three rounds. He ran a 4.144 to defeat Bob Bode in round one, then ran a 4.215 to oust teammate Jack Beckman. In the semi’s, Hagan powered to a 4.200 to trailer defending world champ Cruz Pedregon. The run gave him lane choice for the final by .001-second over Capps.
The Pro Stock final was a repeat of the final at the fall event here last year with Coughlin taking on Stanfield, and the end result was the same with Coughlin coming out on top when Stanfield fouled out. Stanfield turned on the red by .021-second, handing the win to Coughlin. Coughlin likely would have been tough to beat, though, running a 6.715. Coughlin now has 43 Pro Stock wins, five of which have come in Las Vegas (three at this event).
“We’d love nothing more than to come out of Indy in first place in the Countdown with the extra bonus points that come with being No. 1, but there’s a lot of races between here and there,” said Coughlin. “We had a tough day. This is the most consistent our car has been, and that was our goal coming into here. We changed a lot of stuff in the suspension and with the car to try and get a more consistent race car. That’s what’s been plaguing us since the end of last year. The name of the game is continue to better yourself and not make mistakes, and that’s what we were doing — shooting ourselves in the foot — and that’s what was hurting us.”
Coughlin’s day got off to an odd start when rubber lodged in the timing system on opponent Kurt Johnson’s side inadvertently timed out Johnson, forcing a rerun. When the duo returned about 25 minutes later, Johnson went red, and Coughlin sailed through for the win.
“I’m used to going multiple rounds each day with bracket racing, but the team isn’t,” said Coughlin of the added run today. "We just kind of had a hurry-up offense all day. Really, we weren’t able to catch our breath until right before the final. NHRA did a great job of working with the situation and getting us delayed in the program enough to let us get prepared properly.”
Though a little rushed from that point on, the rest of the day went pretty much went normally for Coughlin. The reigning world champion got the nod in round two when top qualifier Mike Edwards red-lighted, and he advanced to his 71st Pro Stock final when he defeated Line in the semi’s.
Stanfield has now appeared in three straight finals at The Strip; he lost to Line at this event last year and Coughlin in the fall. He defeated Dave Beckley in the opening frame, then drove around Warren Johnson and Greg Anderson to advance to his 18th career Pro final round.