Countdown picture in Funny Car a jigsaw puzzle after playoff opener

This weekend we're in Ennis, Texas, just south of Dallas, at the Texas Motorplex, the first "supertrack" built for the NHRA circuit. And we all wish the residents of the Galveston and Houston areas who were devastated by Hurricane Ike a quick and thorough recovery from the destruction there.

From what we hear, Dallas survived Ike's wrath well, and the race and other sporting events in that city remain on schedule.

This "Dallas" event has been a crucial race in the points since well before the Countdown was instituted. I remember going there a few years back and battling John Force for the event championship. We had him in the first round and we ended up beating him.

The crew guys did a great job back then in a pressure cooker, going up there and beating one of the best there is. And here we are in Dallas again, vying for our first Countdown championship. We're a few rounds back of the points leader, Cruz Pedregon, and you can't look to try to make it all up at once. It would be great if it happened, but we just need to go there and do the same as we did last weekend in Concord, N.C.: Set our goals to qualify well to get lane choice in the first round, and then try to win the race.

We look forward to going to Dallas. In the period of the season that we're in right now it's so important to go rounds. You have one bad race and you might be counting yourself out of the Countdown. My success there in the past (two poles in 1997 and 2005, and one win in 1998) has been great, and I think we're going to have a good weekend.

Our approach this year is obviously different than last year. In 2007 we went into the Countdown leading the points. I really think in the first race of the playoffs last weekend in Concord some of the guys who were high in the Countdown points were expecting to keep up the momentum, and it was a quick reminder of how fickle this sport is.

If you watch a lot of sports you might get the feeling that certain teams completely outperform the other teams. But when you look at drag racing, you see what an unpredictable sport it is. There are so many variables, and I think what we saw in Concord is exactly what the fans wanted to see. They saw the points leader fall to fifth place. They saw Jack Beckman, who came into it in sixth, rally up to second place. And you saw Cruz Pedregon take over the lead. And this was just the first race of the six in the playoffs. Awesome!

The fans wanted to see parity again, they wanted to see tight racing, and that's exactly what they're getting with this year's Countdown format.

Our NAPA Auto Parts team went into the Countdown in ninth and now we're seventh. We did move up a little bit and we gained some more points on Tim Wilkerson -- who came in as the leader -- but now we have to chase Pedregon.

Right now you have to show up in Dallas (and, for that matter, the next race in Memphis), try to set a standard for your team and get off on the right foot.

We didn't exactly have a great weekend in Concord, but we didn't have a bad weekend. John Force didn't qualify. That was not a good start for him. We did qualify and we went a couple of rounds.

When you look at the points right now, first through fifth are really bunched up (13 points separate the top five), so I think one good weekend and we're right back into the thick of things. But the key is to have five more good weekends, and I think if there's ever a time for the NAPA Auto Parts team to get red-hot and start reeling off wins like we know we're capable of doing, right now is the time to do it.

And that will prove the point that we've made all year long: You have to peak at the right time. And now is the time. And I tell you, we really need to work on qualifying better, and there's nobody who knows that better than Ed McCulloch, our crew chief. He knows those little points cost us a championship a couple of years ago and we know that's what we have to improve on. And if we start qualifying better, we're going to be right back in it.

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.