By qualifying No. 1 for the final race of the season, 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Funny Car championship hopeful Matt Hagan has put himself in the best possible position to start race day at the Auto Club NHRA Finals as he battles it out for a third Funny Car title.
Hagan earned his 36th No. 1 qualifier and second of the season on the strength of his Q2 run of 3.872 seconds. Starting from the top of the field, Hagan will face Jonnie Lindberg in round one. It’ll be a rematch of the Dodge NHRA Nationals Presented by Pennzoil final round, where Hagan defeated Lindberg to claim his second consecutive Countdown triumph.
Throughout qualifying at the Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Hagan, and his Dickie Venables-tuned MOPAR Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Widebody were solid. Fresh off two consecutive race wins, the MOPAR team looked unstoppable as they carried their winning momentum into Pomona. Hagan powered his 11,000-horsepower machine to low E.T. of Q1 and Q2 to gobble up eight bonus points and ensure themselves a top-tier qualifying position. Venables opted to use Saturday’s two qualifying sessions to perfect his race day tune-up, and by tuning the MOPAR machine to a 3.957 E.T. in Q3 and a 3.904 in Q4, he and his red-hot team appear to be in championship-form.
“I asked Dickie if we were going to go for some more qualifying points today, and he said ‘no, not at all. We made sure we did what we needed to do yesterday and made sure Robert couldn’t make it a 60-point lead on us and extend it by another round,’” explained Hagan of his crew chief’s Saturday strategy. “So today, Dickie was just focused on backing it down and really trying to see where he could push, and what the track could hold. That first lap out there today was conservative but really raceable, and I’m proud to see him make those kinds of decisions.
“Dickie races smart, and that’s the reason we’ve won so many races together as a team. He races the race track, and he’s not ego-driven, trying to throw down all of the time. He’s a racer at heart, and I love that about him.”
Together, Hagan and Venables have won 28 of Hagan’s 33 career event wins, and secured the 2014 Funny Car world championship in only their second season as a driver-crew chief tandem.
Hagan enters race day ranked third in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship point standings, chasing leader Robert Hight by 44 points. Both he and his No. 2 ranked teammate Jack Beckman are within two rounds of Hight. The way the Funny Car ladders are setup, Hagan could potentially meet Hight in the semifinals, in which case he would need to defeat Hight and go on to win the race to capture the championship. Another potential scenario could see Hagan and Beckman duking it out in a ‘winner take all’ round in the finals. Beckman is seeking a second Funny Car title.
“There’s a lot of confidence in our team,” said Hagan, a four-time 2019 winner. “Starting from the No. 1 spot is huge, it sets the tone for the whole day. We’ve got a great race car, and I feel really confident about all of the decisions they’re making in the lounge and how it’s performing on the race track. I’m hungry for it; all of us out here live to be in this position where you have the opportunity to win a world championship.
“I feel no pressure right now,” added Hagan. “It’s Robert’s to lose. He’s leading, and he’s got to maintain his lead, but that’s why you race on Sunday because you just never know. I’m excited about it; I feel really confident in my team, and I know they’re going to put a great race car underneath me, and I’m just going to drive my ass off, and we’ll see what happens.
The championship battle kicks off at 11:00 a.m. PT, with Hagan starting from the No. 1 spot on the ladder, and Beckman seeded second. Hagan brought home the big trophy in 2011 and 2014, and Beckman was triumphant in 2012.