(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

Alex Palou fastest as several go off course during IndyCar practice at IMS

IndyCar Harvest GP practice
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
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Alex Palou paced the opening practice Thursday for the IndyCar Harvest GP at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

The Dale Coyne Racing rookie turned a 1-minute, 10.177-second lap around the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course in his No. 55 Dallara-Honda.

Jack Harvey was second, followed by Colton Herta, points leader Scott Dixon and Max Chilton.

PRACTICE CHART: Click here to see the speed rundown from Thursday’s session

FRIDAY AT IMS: Details for watching Race 1 of the Harvest GP

Qualifying for Friday’s race will be at 6:20 p.m. ET Thursday on NBC Sports Gold.

Will Power, who won the pole position for the July 4 race at the track, spun off course with just more than a minute left in the session after the left rear of his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet made slight contact with the right front of Alexander Rossi’s No. 28 Dallara-Honda.

Power was among several drivers who went off track, but there were no damaged cars during the session. Marcus Ericsson missed the final 5 minutes of the practice after being penalized for causing a red flag with a Turn 8 spin.

Arrow McLaren SP drivers Pato O’Ward and Helio Castroneves, who is driving for Oliver Askew (who is recovering from concussion-like symptoms), also veered off course as did rookie Rinus VeeKay and Santino Ferrucci.

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson was in attendance at the session before racing Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. Johnson will be driving a partial schedule of road and street courses in IndyCar next season for Chip Ganassi Racing.

“Literally, the smallest of details, I can pick up on,” Johnson told NBC Sports pit reporter Kevin Lee. “It’s been really nice today just to see how a session starts and obviously to jump on the radio and listen to how the systems work and then obviously you get into the car and the setup and such. I’m at ground zero right now, a 45-year-old rookie trying to learn my way into a new sport essentially.”

Johnson told Lee his sponsorship hunt to run a Ganassi car “has gone really well. The fact that I’m here today and ingrained so deeply in the team is a great sign of where things are going. Looking forward to getting behind the wheel of a car soon and hopefully having some announcements for the world to see soon, too.”

Fans were in attendance Thursday for the first time this season at IMS, which is allowed a limited crowd of 10,000 for its races this weekend.