Jane's In the Fast Lane racing column.
Funny Car driver Ron Capps started the first segment of the NHRA's Countdown to the Championship in first place. He starts the second, two-race segment in fourth, but that's OK. At least he's in the second segment and, with the points reset, he's only 30 points out of first. Capps is a veteran of championship pressure. He's been through it the past two years and admits to gigantic cases of nerves before each race. This year, though, Capps seems to have a better handle on it. "I am so much better," Capps said this week in a press release from Don Schumacher Racing. "I'm sure we'll get nervous, but really, Richmond was kind of a turning point for me. I still had the butterflies there. Personally, I kind of felt myself go to the next level." With two races left in the Countdown - at Las Vegas this weekend and Pomona, Calif., next weekend - every round counts. "It's going to be an exciting weekend," said Capps, who is fighting for his first championship. "Come Sunday, no matter what happens, those are the rounds that are important and there's a chance for a national record to be set here if the conditions are good. That's an extra 20 points, and that would be huge right now." Results of this weekend also will play heavily into what happens in the final race, Capps explained. "What happens on Sunday is really going to dictate on what everybody's approach is going to be for Pomona," he said. "You just need to have a decent, if not great, weekend in Vegas to take some pressure off going to Pomona. And obviously, to win Vegas would be just unbelievable." Looking Ahead East Peoria alum Benjamin Board's season is over, but the Top Sportsman racer had a highlight moment last month when he won the NHRA Division 5 Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series race at Tri State Raceway in Earlville, Iowa. Board, 33, who now lives in Spirit Lake, Iowa, has been racing since age 14 but has been running Top Sportsman since last year. "We've been running a fuel system setup no one else in the world is running so it's been a steep learning curve," Board said. "We blew up four motors last year and one at the beginning of this year, but we started to get a handle on it." Like 99.9 percent of racers, Board, a former Caterpillar employee, is in the hunt for sponsors. He's also hoping to move up in class in the near future. "By 2009, I'd like to try to get in Top Fuel," said Board, who already is putting together resumes to send to two of the sport's top teams this year. Chasing It's hard to find a racetrack Jimmie Johnson doesn't run well on. Atlanta is certainly not on the list - Johnson has two wins, seven top fives, eight top 10s and an average finish of 10.1 at the Georgia track. Johnson said one of the secrets to winning at Atlanta is to be in the top five after the last pit stop. Then, on the last lap, "if you're chasing someone, you're going to go where they're not," Johnson said. "And that really dictates your move and what you do on the last lap." Breaking the plane of the driver in front and using the side-draft is the key, he said. "The way the tracks are laid out, if you can break the plane of his bumper off of Turn 4, you will win the race," he said. "I've had a couple work out for me that way, and I also lost one to Carl (Edwards) that way." Force Home Funny Car driver John Force, seriously injured in a crash in Dallas last month, flew home to California on Saturday and will continue his rehabilitation there. Jane Miller is the Peoria Journal Star motorsports columnist. Write her at 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, call (309) 686-3207or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.