Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T driver Matt Hagan, seeking a bit of redemption after first-round exits in the previous two events, began Norwalk eliminations with back-to-back battles against DSR teammates.
First up was Tommy Johnson Jr., with Hagan’s quick reflexes helping to score a close holeshot win by an ultra-thin margin of less than one-thousandth of a second. Hagan was again first off of the starting line in an all-Mopar Dodge quarterfinals fight, pulling away to defeat Jack Beckman with a 4.010-second at 322.27-mph pass.
The two-time world champion led from start to finish stripe in the semifinals, reeling off a 3.981 E.T. to defeat J.R. Todd and earn all-important lane choice against No. 1 qualifier Courtney Force in his fourth final round of the season and 51st of his career.
Hagan saved his best reaction time for the money round, a 0.033-second mark that gave him a jump over Force that he would never relinquish, recording a winning 4.094-second at 288.21-mph pass to his opponent’s losing 4.220 at 227.54-mph effort.
“Super proud of my guys,” said Hagan, who picked up a win earlier in the year at the season-opening event in Pomona. “These cats have been working hard and we’ve obviously had a track prep change that we needed to adapt to and it took (crew chief) Dickie (Venables) a few runs to get there, but that’s why I love him and I’m glad he’s in my corner. He always figures it out.
“We had a good, solid car all weekend. Qualified well, went down the race track pretty much every lap. It hazed the tires out there and I was legging it out, but it’s the finals, man.
“You’re not (owed) anything out here because you have to earn it, but you almost feel like you were due for a win. It’s been a while since we turned on four win lights, but it’s a nitro Funny Car and you never know what you’re going to get.”
With the Norwalk win, Hagan was able to advance from sixth all the way up to a tie (with teammate Jack Beckman) for second in the Funny Car points standings.
Sunday’s victory was Hagan’s second of the season, 28th of his career and first-ever at Norwalk.
“I’m glad we were able to knock this (Norwalk) trophy off the checklist. For Mopar, for Pennzoil, Sandvik Coromant, and all of the folks that support us out here. I’ve been wanting one of these ice cream scoops, but I think mine is going to be a protein scoop (laughs). You know, two scoops of protein with this. We’re having fun, it’s good to see my guys be able to celebrate with the Wally.”
Qualified: No. 3 (3.981 E.T. at 325.22 MPH)
E1: 3.994 E.T. at 327.19 MPH defeated Tommy Johnson Jr. 3.990 E.T. at 323.27 MPH
E2: 4.010 E.T. at 322.27 MPH defeated Jack Beckman 4.022 E.T. at 321.73 MPH
E3: 3.981 E.T. at 320.58 MPH defeated J.R. Todd 4.031 E.T. at 321.50 MPH
E4: 4.094 E.T. at 288.21 MPH defeated Courtney Force 4.220 E.T. at 227.54 MPH
NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship Points Standings:
1. Steve Torrence – 964
2. Clay Millican – 847
3. Tony Schumacher – 817
4. Doug Kalitta – 749
5. Leah Pritchett – 736
6. Terry McMillen – 643
7. Antron Brown – 622
8. Brittany Force – 594
9. Mike Salinas – 475
10. Scott Palmer – 471
1. Courtney Force – 1038
2. Jack Beckman – 788
2. Matt Hagan – 788
4. Robert Hight – 771
5. J.R. Todd – 767
6. Ron Capps – 755
7. Tommy Johnson Jr. – 637
8. John Force – 577
9. Shawn Langdon – 537
10. Bob Tasca III – 532