After a runner-up finish at the most recent race in Dallas, three-time NHRA Funny Car world champ Matt Hagan remained right in the thick of the championship hunt. But the standout driver for Tony Stewart Racing knows he may need to be even better at the final two races of the 2022 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season if another world title is in his future.
Trailing points leader Robert Hight by 76 points heading into this weekend’s 22nd NHRA Nevada Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Hagan may be in must-win territory at the penultimate race of the Countdown to the Championship playoffs, with defending world champ Ron Capps also within 10 points of Hight.
But Hagan knows his team and his 11,000-horsepower Dodge Power Brokers Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat is capable of rising to the occasion. He went a blistering 3.825-seconds in Dallas en route to the runner-up and Hagan is focused on collecting his first victory since June, knowing it would also come at a perfect time this weekend.
“I think it’s one of those things where you’re up against it and you have no choice. You need to go to the final and you need to win the race,” said Hagan, who has three wins this season. “We wanted to win in Dallas, but I was impressed with my team. We came out swinging, scooped up some little (qualifying) points and did what we needed to do. We were just on the back side of a good drag race (against Capps) in the final.
“Moving to Vegas, we need to have that same mentality. It’s do-or-die for us. Capps and Robert both have good cars and are going to go rounds, so we don’t have much time to make up ground. Vegas is a great track and a great venue, so we’re tickled to death to still have a shot at it and we’re going to be aggressive.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car), Dallas Glenn (Pro Stock) and Steve Johnson (Pro Stock Motorcycle) won last year’s playoff race, which was also NHRA’s 1,000th overall event. This season’s event will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including eliminations at 5 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 30 and is the 21st race of the 2022 season and the fifth of sixth events in the Countdown to the Championship.
Racing for the first-year Tony Stewart Racing team, it’s been a banner year for Hagan, who led the points for six straight races earlier this season. The second half of the season has belonged to Hight, who has eight wins in 2022, and Capps, who slipped past Hagan in a thrilling final round in Dallas to grab his fifth victory this year.
But Hagan is by no means out of championship contention, especially if he’s able to secure his fourth career victory in Las Vegas. He qualified No. 1 in Dallas and made a series of strong runs and with ideal weather conditions headed to Vegas, Hagan and his team, led by crew chief Dickie Venables, are capable of throwing up big numbers. Of course, he’ll also have to get past the likes of Bob Tasca III, J.R. Todd, Alexis DeJoria, John Force and Tim Wilkerson, but Hagan is eager for the challenge that awaits.
“We’ve been to a lot of finals in Vegas, and it’s treated us very well,” Hagan said. “Dickie has a good handle on the track, and I feel confident we can push hard. But you look at the caliber of people you’re racing, and you have to keep swinging. You don’t want to be the weak link and you don’t want to let your team down. It’s just so tough and cutthroat in this class. It’s so close, it really is incredible, and we’re excited about the weekend.”
In Top Fuel, defending event winner Torrence slipped up in Dallas, watching a 14-point deficit to points leader Justin Ashley go to 96 points after a tough first-round defeat coupled with Ashley’s second straight Dallas win.
But Torrence isn’t out of the mix, while Brittany Force and Antron Brown are also still in contention at 82 and 84 points Ashley, respectively. Like Hagan, though, it’s must-win territory for Torrence, who has an impressive pedigree on his side. He’s the four-time defending world champ in the class and has been dominant in Las Vegas in recent seasons, sweeping both races last year and putting together five wins since 2016.
A sixth isn’t out of the question, even while also contending with the likes of Dallas runner-up Austin Prock, Josh Hart, Mike Salinas, Doug Kalitta, Tony Schumacher and Leah Pruett, and Torrence remains confident in what his team can accomplish over the next two races.
“I didn’t say it was going to be easy, but you can never count these guys out,” Torrence said. “They are the best there is. I wouldn’t want to face this challenge with any other crew out there. All we can do is go to Las Vegas and try to fight our way back into it. It will come down to how much ground we can make up (this weekend).”
In Pro Stock, points leader Erica Enders has dominated in Las Vegas in recent seasons. With a 165-point lead over teammate Aaron Stanfield, Enders is in line to possibly clinch a fifth world title at one of her favorite track. Her nine Vegas victories are the most for any pro driver in NHRA history and that includes her spring victory at the track. She’ll look to make it a sweep in 2022 against a top-tier field that includes defending world champ Greg Anderson, who has eight Vegas wins, Dallas Glenn, Troy Coughlin Jr., and Kyle Koretsky.
Pro Stock Motorcycle’s Steve Johnson won for the first time in Las Vegas last year, doing so at the NHRA’s 1,000th race, and the veteran would love another late-season victory after two wins early this year. But he hasn’t won since May and defending world champ Matt Smith is the current points leader as he aims for a sixth world title. Joey Gladstone is 51 points behind Smith, while others to watch include Angie Smith, Angelle Sampey, Jerry Savoie and Eddie Krawiec.
Before racing starts, fans can head to NHRA FanFest at the Fremont Street Experience from 5:00-7:00 p.m. PT. This free event will feature a huge amount of standout NHRA drivers, with the driver autograph session set to take place from 5:30-6:30 p.m.
The NHRA Nevada Nationals also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, which includes some of the sport’s top drivers, and the Summit Racing Series ET Finals, where national champions will be crowned, including the first EV national championship in NHRA history. The weekend will also include action in the thrilling Nostalgia Funny Car class, while fans can watch a spectacular jet dragster exhibition from Team “Muy Caliente and “The Iceman” after nitro qualifying on Friday and Saturday.
Pro Stock School with veteran Matt Hartford takes place on Friday, while fans can attend Nitro School in Antron Brown’s pits the next day to learn more about how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds. There will also be autograph sessions on Friday at the Toyota Racing Experience with Toyota-sponsored drivers, as well as at NHRA Member Hospitality, which will feature riders in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
Race fans at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway can enjoy the special pre-race ceremonies that introduce and celebrate each of the drivers racing for the prestigious Wally on Sunday and includes the fan favorite SealMaster Track Walk. The final can’t-miss experience of any NHRA event is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes, where fans are invited to congratulate the NHRA Nevada Nationals event winners.
As always, fans also get an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet in Las Vegas. This unique opportunity gives fans a unique chance to see teams in action and service their hot rods between rounds, get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers, and more. Fans can also visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create an exciting atmosphere that includes interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food, and fun for the entire family. The new Pep Boys midway display includes tire change challenges, oil change challenges, a slot car track, and much more, adding even more excitement to the midway.
NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 12:30 and 3:15 p.m. PT on Friday, Oct. 28, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Oct. 29 at 12:00 and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11:00 a.m. PT on Sunday, Oct. 30. Television coverage includes qualifying action on FS1 at 9:30 a.m. ET and 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, and then eliminations on FS1 at 5:00 p.m. ET on Sunday.
To purchase tickets to the NHRA Nevada Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, call 800-644-4444 or visit www.lvms.com. Children 12 and under are admitted free in general admissions areas with a paid adult. For more information about NHRA, visit www.nhra.com.