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New crew, new life for Jack Beckman

Jack Beckman may win the 2012 NHRA Funny Car championship by beating his own team.

Yes, that sounds crazy, but Beckman is in an unusual position of trying to beat the crew and the car he had to start the season.

After winning last weekend at St. Louis, Beckman now trails Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps by only 30 points entering this weekend's Auto Plus Nationals at Reading, Pa.

Everyone working on Capps' team now, including crew chief Rahn Tobler, was on Beckman's crew six months ago.

"It's awesome knowing there are three races to go and we're only a round and a half [behind Capps]," Beckman said. "All we want is a fighting chance when we get to [the season finale] Pomona."

Few people could have imagined Beckman would be in this position back in the spring when Schumacher decided Capps should swap teams with Beckman.

Capps failed to qualify in Las Vegas. Crew chief Tim Richards was out at that point, and Schumacher decided to give Beckman's team to Capps.

"It wasn't an easy decision," Schumacher said. "We really needed to kick Capps' team in gear, which we accomplished."

Capps made it to six consecutive final rounds after the swap, including victories at Atlanta and Bristol.

Beckman failed to qualify in Houston, the second race after the switch. He was down. The team was down.

At the time of the swap, most fans saw it as Beckman being the sacrificial lamb so Capps, and his sponsor, NAPA, could turn things around.

NAPA is one of the top sponsors in the NHRA, enjoying a long relationship with Capps and full sponsorship on his car. Valvoline was sponsoring Beckman's car for only about half the season. So giving Capps the best opportunity to succeed was a smart business decision, but a questionable one for Beckman.

"When we made the change, I knew at that point that you never second-guess Don," Beckman said. "He gets this stuff. He's been a driver. He's tuned these cars and he can look at the computer and tell you what's going on."

Schumacher also understands people. He wasn't leaving Beckman high and dry, despite how it first appeared.

Schumacher hired veteran crew chief Todd Smith to take over as Beckman's tuner. Smith was the crew chief for Brandon Bernstein in 2011, but was out of work when Kenny Bernstein shut down the team at the end of the year.

"I tried to hire Todd three years ago, but he had a philosophy that didn't fit in with our organization," Schumacher said. "Now Todd is a total team member and doing a great job accepting what we're doing inside DSR. And [assistant crew chief] Terry Snyder has done an awesome job working with Todd."

After the disappointment at Houston, things started to click. Beckman was a surprising winner at Topeka in May, beating Capps in the final. Beckman won again at Denver in July.

"Since I've been [at DSR] starting in 2006, I think I've had has seven crew chiefs," Beckman said. "But every one of them gave me a car that could win. I told Todd three races ago, 'I had expectations when you came in, but I had no idea you were going to be this good.' ''

With half of the six-race Countdown playoff schedule complete, Capps and Beckman are in a probable two-man fight for the championship. Mike Neff is third, 99 points back.

"When you run at DSR, you have the parts and the people to win championships," Beckman said. "We all work side by side and share information, but from burnout to turnout, there are no friends."

Capps won the first race of the Countdown at Charlotte. Beckman lost to Capps in the second round at Dallas by four-thousandths of a second (about 19 inches), but Capps lost in the next round to DSR teammate Matt Hagan.

There's a lot of racing left. There are so many tough cars, from the Forces to the Pedregons and on and on. Anybody can take anyone out at anytime. It's war out there right now.

-- Don Schumacher

"Dallas hurt bad," Beckman said. "I didn't want to look back and say, 'That was the one that got away from us.' "

Winning last weekend, when Capps lost in the second round, closed the gap.

"There's a lot of racing left," Schumacher said. "There are so many tough cars, from the Forces to the Pedregons and on and on. Anybody can take anyone out and anytime. It's war out there right now."

Both Capps and Beckman are veteran drivers, two of the best in the sport, who are trying to win the title for the first time. Beckman, 46, was the runner-up last year to Hagan. Capps, 47, is a three-time runner-up for the championship.

"We'll see what happens," Capps said. "I'm up for it when these guys throw the pressure at us. We can put out a good hand and raise them."

Considering all the changes this year, Beckman is just happy to have a shot at his teammate and his former team.

"It's nice to know that we have a car that can challenge for the championship," Beckman said. "Sometimes change is difficult, but I think everybody was open and honest about what we needed to improve upon."