With Funny Car title out of grasp, NAPA team focuses on race wins

The NHRA season is winding down, with only three races left. This weekend we will be at Virginia Motorsports Park, just south of Richmond, Va., for the third event here since the venue came back on the NHRA schedule following a five-year hiatus.

Last year was an incredibly emotional event for me in Virginia. My Don Schumacher Racing teammate Gary Scelzi and I basically had to go to the final round to advance into the Countdown to 1. We didn't do well in qualifying [No. 15], but as the day went on we knew we had to keep advancing to even be a part of the Countdown at the next race in Las Vegas. And we kept winning the hard rounds.

We had Robert Hight in the first round, which is a team you don't ever want to see until the final round. We won that round and we kept going. It was bittersweet because my other DSR teammate, Jack Beckman, was in front of us in points and was actually in the Countdown to 1 prior to that race. But when Scelzi and I got into the final round it knocked Jack out of the Countdown to 1. I was happy for Gary and me, but we were upset that we had to bump out our teammate.

Talk about elation. I was happy to be in the final round, but that was one of the few times that I wasn't so unhappy that we didn't win a final round. I was racing my teammate Scelzi and we both just clinched our spots in the Countdown to 1 and the racetrack gave us great lanes, which is hard to come by. You look at this year and lane choice has been so important. I think what was cool was that the track was so even all day.

I talked to the NHRA officials this week and they said they have done some more grinding on the track and that it will be better this weekend than it was last year.

It's definitely a different scenario this year. We're not completely eliminated from winning the championship, but for all intents and purposes, the championship is not going to happen for the NAPA Auto Parts team this year. So, it's going to be interesting to see what will happen this weekend and the rest of the season with our different approach.

Watching the other very good teams that didn't even make it into the Countdown come alive, I see that it can really change your approach to each race. When you are involved in the Countdown it's much like being in the playoffs in any sport. So, I think being able to go in there and not have the pressure of being on top in the championship hunt, we can try some things that we would have been afraid to try on race day or during qualifying previously. For that reason I think we're going to see a different NAPA Auto Parts team show up in Richmond. Who knows, we may be able to learn something we can use next year.

With the season nearly over, I can now reflect on how the season has gone. For almost any team, it would have been considered a successful season. We accomplished our goals of making the Countdown. We also worked very, very hard under the new rules, especially the addition of the weight, which, with me being a lighter driver, was a big change for Ace -- crew chief Ed McCulloch -- in how he set up the car.

For our standards and for our team, we feel we haven't performed to our expectations -- yet. We expected to win for sure by now and we expected to win a championship this year. Now that we know that winning the championship is probably not going to happen at this point, we need to focus on trying to win a race, at least, in the final three events.

But, more than that, we have to start to build on next year to win the championship. We have finished second three times in the championship and we have finished top-10 numerous times [10], so we know what that feels like. I've said it before, the championship is the ultimate goal, and we really feel like unless we have won the championship we haven't met our expectations.

NAPA Auto Parts is a great sponsor. I've gotten a chance to work with some of the best sponsors in the world in motorsports. I was pretty excited about NAPA coming on board and had a feeling they'd be unbelievable to work with, and it's gone beyond anything I expected. The passion the employees have throughout the country is incredible. Don Schumacher is going to have to build a bigger hospitality area to handle all the NAPA customers and store owners who have become huge drag racing and NHRA fans this year, because it has grown like wildfire.

I have a great NAPA teammate in Michael Waltrip, and it's been a lot of fun to do a lot of things with him, including the NAPA commercials that are showing up on network and during the NASCAR races. It just shows not only the passion NAPA has for its product, but how its wants to make everything grow, and I think that's a good thing for our drag-racing program.

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.