(Photos courtesy NHRA)

2016 NHRA season in review: Funny Car champion Ron Capps

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Over the next three-plus weeks, MotorSportsTalk will feature season-ending reviews of the top drivers of the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.

Each day, we’ll have one in-depth review of a driver that finished in the top-five in each of the four professional classes (Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle), as well as a compendium of select other drivers that did not finish in the top-five.

We began the series Monday with Antron Brown. Today, we feature Ron Capps.

2016_Ron_Capps_Action

2016_ron_cappsDriver: Ron Capps

Age: 51

Hometown: Carlsbad, Calif.

Team: Don Schumacher Racing

Sponsor/car: NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger

Crew chief: Rahn Tobler

2016 season finish: First in Funny Car.

2016 season statistics: 24 races, 5 wins, 5 runner-up, 7 semifinals, 5 quarterfinals. No. 1 qualifier four times. Round-by-round record: 54 wins, 18 losses. Crowned 2016 NHRA Funny Car champion.

Career statistics (includes both Funny Car and previously in Top Fuel): 483 races, 50 wins (49 Funny Car, 1 Top Fuel), 50 runner-up (49 FC, 1 TF), 89 semifinals, 98 quarterfinals. No. 1 qualifier 21 times. Round-by-round record: 626 wins, 414 losses. 19 DNQ. 2016 NHRA Funny Car champion.

What went right in 2016: Capps had the best season of his career, starting off with a win in the season-opening Winternationals. … After finishing runner-up four times (including losing the 2012 Funny Car title by a mere two points), the California native finally won it all. … Consistency was the biggest key for Capps, who reached the semifinals 17 times or better (and at least the quarterfinals in 22 of 24 races). … Clinched the championship in the season-ending race at his home track, Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif.

What went wrong in 2016: Lost amid all the hoopla of Capps’ championship was the fact he won the title despite failing to qualify for the spring race at Las Vegas. After that, he lost in the semifinals at Charlotte, quarterfinals at Houston and Atlanta, and lost in the first round at Topeka (the only time he lost in the first round this season). Things were looking bleak, but Capps rallied to win three of the next four to get him back on track. … After his last win of the season at Seattle, Capps’ consistency – reaching the semifinals five times and finals two other times – allowed him to stay ahead of his closest challengers and to win the title. He also suffered one of the scariest crashes of his career in the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, when he crashed into the end-of-track sandtrap and retaining fence, ending up trapped upside down for several minutes before being rescued unharmed.

What to look for in 2017: After a storybook season in 2016, Capps will attempt to go for two championships in a row. Can he do it? Most definitely. He has one of the best crew chiefs in the business in Rahn Tobler, drives for one of the best organizations (Don Schumacher Racing) and has everything he needs to win it all again.

Season reviews already posted:

— Antron Brown (12/12)

— Ron Capps (12/13)

— Jason Line (12/14)

Jerry Savoie (12/15)

Doug Kalitta (12/16)

Tommy Johnson Jr. (12/17)

Greg Anderson (12/18)

Eddie Krawiec (12/19)

Steve Torrence (12/20)

— Matt Hagan (12/21)

— Shane Gray (12/22)

— Andrew Hines (12/23)

— J.R. Todd (12/24)

— John Force (12/25)

— Bo Butner (12/26)

— Angelle Sampey (12/27)

Follow @JerryBonkowski

IndyCar’s 2018 full-field grid nearing completion

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Following Wednesday’s confirmation of the all-Canadian tandem at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, each of the eight full-time teams in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season have announced at least one driver for 2018, leaving very few remaining question marks.

What stands confirmed is below:

CONFIRMED

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (1, Honda): Scott Dixon
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (1, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

There are four additional drivers confirmed for selected races or an month of May program:

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Calmels Sport with SPM (1, Honda): Tristan Gommendy
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser

All told that’s 17 full-season driver and team combinations confirmed and four additional part-time programs, at least, that are set. Several of those driver/team combinations will have engineering and strategist changes, as well.

In a minor note since our last update at Sonoma, Marco Andretti confirmed he won’t run No. 27 next year. Of note, Bryan Herta served as Andretti’s race strategist this year, although the car he was an entrant on was Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 car. Herta will continue his relationship with Andretti Autosport again next season.

WHAT’S LEFT TO SORT? NOT MUCH

Elsewhere, there’s only a handful of remaining question marks as the series hits mid-October, a rarity from past years and an illustration of the urgency to fill seats to get as much preparation time in testing with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit as possible.

NBC Sports expects 2016 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IndyCar rookie-of-the-year Ed Jones to be confirmed soon as second driver in Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 Honda alongside Sebastien Bourdais, with team personnel and Bourdais both having indicated a preference in keeping the Dubai-based Brit for a second year.

NBC Sports also expects Jones’ successor as Indy Lights champion, Kyle Kaiser, to have his future announced shortly in terms of which team he’ll step up to IndyCar with. It would not be a surprise if Kaiser does graduate along with Juncos Racing, although Kaiser is known to have talked to multiple teams. The Mazda Motorsports scholarship nets him $1 million for a three-race program, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500, with the driver then needing to secure additional funding for further races, as Jones and Pigot both have each of the last two years.

The status of Brendon Hartley has now been thrown up as a slight question mark dependent on how his Formula 1 debut with Scuderia Toro Rosso goes at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, and if Toro Rosso provides him a further race opportunity in one of the remaining three Grands Prix thereafter. Having been all-but-earmarked for Chip Ganassi Racing’s second seat in 2018, if an F1 offer comes, Hartley’s potential IndyCar bow could get delayed.

A McLaren-named entry competing either in the Indianapolis 500 or full-time seems further off than realistic for next year, McLaren’s Zak Brown told reporters on a teleconference this week. McLaren maintains an IndyCar technical presence though, via its McLaren Applied Technologies outfit.

What’s left then are the dominoes of whether Carlin’s IndyCar plans officially come to fruition as the team has gotten closer than it ever has to doing so, and who emerges in the second seats at A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Ed Carpenter Racing (road and street courses), respectively.

A number of young IndyCar veterans – Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly namely – are yet to land for 2018 and there’s no guarantee all four of them will be back in IndyCar next season.

There’s also a handful of young drivers, namely RC Enerson, Jack Harvey, Esteban Gutierrez, Santiago Urrutia, Zachary Claman DeMelo, Sage Karam and Matthew Brabham among others, who could well emerge in the frame for seats.

Gutierrez’s status seemed dependent on Mexico City being added to the 2018 calendar, and although the race still could be added, the fact neither is in place at this point doesn’t inspire as much confidence about his presence as a regular on the grid as it did earlier this summer.

All told, there’s not nearly that much to sort out as IndyCar’s grid for 2018 is looking very much close to set at this early stage of a long offseason.