on Capps called Chevrolet's new Monte Carlo Funny Car body "very driver friendly." But on its maiden NHRA voyage, the Monte Carlo that had looked ultra-cool when it was unveiled before Thursday's opening round of qualifying literally was hot by the end of the track.

A head-gasket glitch caused a fire, tainting a run that surely would have vaulted Capps among the top five qualifiers. The pleasant news for the Skoal-sponsored Don Prudhomme camp is that the GM engineers' newest handiwork wasn't damaged and a safe Capps qualified in the middle of the field. "The body actually didn't get hurt at all. The body's fine," crew chief John Stewart said afterward. "What happened was we torched a head gasket on the thing. There's a receiving sleeve that the head goes into, and the groove in that wasn't deep enough, so it didn't seal good. Once it got under power out there, it just pushed the head gasket out, burned the gasket out. And when it did that, there's an oil line behind that runs behind that, and it burned through the oil line. It was actually running good until that happened."

He said the team didn't get charged for an oil-down in the incident. "We had all the belly pans on there, and that caught it all," he said. "So nothing went on the race track. That's the first thing we checked. So we lucked out there." Stewart said the plan was to go out and run a high 4.80 or a low 4.90, and that's what it was running until that happened. "It was doing what we wanted. It was just something we missed while building the thing -- it won't happen again," said Stewart.

Capps settled for a 5.136-second pass at 228.04 mph, good enough for 10th on the chart. Capps said he is especially elated with the car's improved aerodynamics and visibility. "The car was flying on that pass," he said. "It had one of the fastest speeds to half-track. I'm so excited about driving the new Monte Carlo. That was the first time I raced it down the track, and as soon as they lowered the body, it was amazing how much I could see. I was telling Del Worsham how neat it was to see out of the car. Chevy did such a great job designing the new body."

Mike Green, crew chief for Capps teammate Tommy Johnson Jr., pronounced the Monte Carlo "the best Funny Car GM ever has produced." The new design is a blend of form and function -- aerodynamic form and fast function -- as engineers tried to preserve the looks of the current mid-size coupe production car as much as possible while enhancing performance. It includes safety upgrades, including a larger burst panel for greater dissipation of energy in case of an engine explosion such as the one Capps had in Dallas in 2002. The roof hatch was enlarged, too, and it, like the burst panel, exceeds NHRA's minimum measurement requirements. Prudhomme Racing's drivers are the first to receive the Monte Carlo bodies, but eventually they also will go to Tim Wilkerson, Del Worsham's team, and Pedregon Racing for brothers Cruz and Tony.

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