Don’t count Matt Hagan out. He proved that by making a major championship statement on Sunday at the Dodge NHRA Nationals Presented by Pennzoil when he captured his second consecutive Funny Car triumph behind the wheel of the MOPAR Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Widebody.
By clinching the back-to-back victory, Hagan moved into third in the Funny Car standings, and with the points-and-a-half format at the upcoming season-finale, he now sits within two rounds of the current point leader, cementing himself as a viable threat to win the 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Funny Car world championship.
“I’m fired up right now,” said Hagan, who, with two Funny Car world titles on his racing resume, knows what it takes to get the job done. “When you have that opportunity to go into Pomona and still be in the championship hunt, that’s what gets my adrenaline pumped, gets me motivated, makes me want to dig. I love winning races, but it’s about this hunt; this is why we do this. I’m so proud of my guys; they know how to step up and rise to the occasion. I wish Pomona was tomorrow, let’s do this, let’s get it done.”
Starting from seventh on the eliminations ladder and with Dodge, MOPAR, and Pennzoil executives cheering him on from the starting line, Hagan stormed to the Vegas winner’s circle by first taking out challenger Paul Lee with a run of 3.909 seconds. Next, he had to snap a four-race losing streak versus teammate Tommy Johnson Jr. He took out the No. 2 qualifier by posting his best pass of the weekend, 3.869 seconds, to advance to the semifinal where he faced Bob Tasca III. This was a rematch of the final in Dallas two weeks ago, and the results were the same with Hagan once again turning on the win light to reach his sixth final of the season.
The 2017 event champion flexed his muscle in the final by leaving first and putting down an impressive blast of 3.876 seconds at 331.36 mph to drive away from opponent Jonnie Lindberg and secure his 33rd career victory, and fourth of the season. The win enabled Hagan to move within 56 points of Robert Hight, who occupies the No. 1 spot.
For any of the doubters that had written Hagan off as an early 2019 title contender standout, he and his Dickie Venables-led team proved they were a force to be reckoned with when they picked up their first win of the six-race Countdown at the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals two weeks ago. The win came after the team had struggled in the first two races of the Countdown, at one point falling as low as ninth in the standings, but they methodically chipped away at it, and have successfully climbed their way back into title contention.
“The first two races of the Countdown we struggled hard, and I think a lot of people wrote us off,” said Hagan of his team’s second-round loss in Reading followed by a crushing first-round defeat in St. Louis. “You’re a product of your environment, and you kind of feel like okay, well maybe that’s it, and then we started to bounce back by going to the semis in Charlotte, and we’re like alright we can still do this. I wanted to get my pom-poms out and start cheering because we can still win this thing, and it’s hard to get two-in-a-row, but we did, and that shows you what we’re capable of. We’re going to go into Pomona, work as hard as we can, and we’re going to double-check and triple-check ourselves. My team is going to put the best race car underneath me, and I’m going to drive to the best of my abilities, and it’ll be what it’ll be.”
Hagan’s win was Funny Car triumph No. 159 for Don Schumacher Racing, and 344th overall for the winningest team in NHRA history.
Qualified: No. 7 (3.872 E.T. at 332.34 MPH)
E1: 3.909 E.T. at 332.34 MPH defeated Paul Lee 3.927 E.T. at 325.45 MPH
E2: 3.869 E.T. at 330.31 MPH defeated Tommy Johnson Jr. 3.907 E.T. at 328.54 MPH
E3: 3.881 E.T. at 331.77 MPH defeated Bob Tasca III 3.909 E.T. at 326.48 MPH
E4: 3.876 E.T. at 331.36 MPH defeated Jonnie Lindberg 3.945 E.T. at 321.12 MPH .