While their first season competing in the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Camping World Drag Racing Series draws to a close at the upcoming 57th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals, Tony Stewart Racing (TSR) and driver Matt Hagan aren’t easing up on the throttle as the Dodge Power Brokers Funny Car remains in contention for the world championship heading into the final event of the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
Hagan began the year by driving his Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat to the winner’s circle in three of the first eight national events of TSR’s inaugural season, including his first career Gatornationals victory, and led the Funny Car points standings until the halfway point of the season. His playoff performance through five of six NHRA Countdown to the Championship events included three semifinals followed by back-to-back final rounds appearances to stay in the hunt.
His win at the penultimate race of the season, the Nevada Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, kept the team’s Funny Car title hopes alive by putting Hagan within 63 points of the category leader Robert Hight and just two points behind reigning world champ Ron Capps heading into this weekend’s points-and-a-half NHRA Finals at the legendary Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California.
It’s familiar territory for Hagan who comes into the final race as a title contender for the fourth consecutive season after finishing runner-up in the championship last season, earning the Funny Car crown in 2020, and ending up third overall in 2019. The three-time NHRA world champion has driven a Dodge Funny Car to a top-three finish eight times in 14 years.
For a chance to vie for the crown again on race day, Hagan will have to amass all the extra bonus points he can in four qualifying sessions to get within two rounds (or less than 60 points) of Hight. However, no matter what the result, Hagan is proud of what his TSR team has accomplished and looks forward to building on this season’s performance.
“It has been a real honor to drive for Tony Stewart Racing this year and I’m looking forward to next year also,” says Hagan who earned four Wally trophies and four runner-up finishes for TSR this year to date. “Obviously, we’re in the hunt to win TSR their first championship this weekend, so that would be huge. It is an uphill battle and we have to come out swinging. We have to gather up those small points to keep it under 60 (points) over two rounds to win. In 2010, when I was the runner-up, all I had to do was show up and go two rounds to win. I was eliminated in the first round, so (John) Force won the championship. I’ve been on Robert’s (Hight) side of it and lost it, so that’s why we’re going to go out there and dig deep to still give ourselves a shot. It’s still very possible.
“I’m happy to be a part of it and excited for what the future brings,” adds Hagan. “I think we’ll be in the mix of things for a long time to come. We just have to keep pushing hard and turning win lights on and things will fall into place.”
TSR Top Fuel pilot Leah Pruett and her Dodge Power Brokers dragster head into the last of 22 national events looking to finish their first year together on a high note. While she sits just outside the Top Fuel top 10 going into Pomona, the team made significant gains throughout the challenging season that had Pruett as high as sixth in points by August.
Pruett made her sixth career appearance in the NHRA postseason after she scored a memorable win at the Dodge Power Brokers Mile-High Nationals in Denver and earned the No. 1 Qualifier position at the Sonoma Nationals. The Denver victory wasn’t just the highlight of her season, but also the perfect representation of the kind of year TSR has had.
“My most memorable moment of this season has got to be a collage of moments from the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA Mile-High Nationals in Bandimere,” says Pruett of her 10th career win. “Specifically the first qualifier, where we were testing new components at our first mile-high race and ultimately blew the tires off harder than we ever had and were able to immediately make wholesale adjustments that provisionally put us in the No. 1 spot. From there, we worked on consistency. On race day, we had a very potent potluck of a good-running racecar, I was solid on the tree, winning a couple pedal fests, with a sprinkle of luck to cap the day off in the winner’s circle. Our whole season of highs and lows could be illustrated in that one race which is why it is so memorable, besides it being our first TSR Top Fuel Wally.”
Looking to close out his 30th season of competition in Funny Car on a good note is driver and team owner Cruz Pedregon. This year the two-time world champ qualified his Snap-on Tools Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat in the top-half of the eliminations ladder at 14 of 21 events to date and became just the third racer in the pro categories to record 600 race day starts.
After contending for last year’s championship until the final race and finishing fourth overall, the Cruz Pedregon Racing team battled among the top-five in the standings for the first half of the 2022 season and began the Countdown from eighth place. While the team hasn’t been involved in this year’s title fight, Pedregon would still like to go four rounds on Sunday and continue to help lay the groundwork for his 2023 season.
“It’s my home track and we want to end the year on a high note for Snap-on, Dodge and all the partners that support us,” says Pedregon who sits ninth in points heading into the weekend. “I think we have a good shot at six or seven (in the championship) still with points-and-a-half at Pomona. It gives us an opportunity to right some of the wrongs we’ve had this year. We’re all about trying to finish as high as we can in the points and work on getting a gauge on our clutch program. We plan for that to all come together to get stronger, more consistent runs. We’re ready to finish the season with solid runs and going rounds on the final race day of the ’22 season.”
The NHRA Finals, the last of six “Countdown to the Championship” playoff events, will take place Nov. 10-13 at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California, with a pair of Nitro qualifying sessions scheduled on Friday, Nov. 11, and the final two set for Saturday, Nov. 12. Final eliminations will begin at 11 a.m. PT on Sunday, Nov. 13. FS1 will broadcast a qualifying highlights show on Sunday, Nov. 13, at 2 p.m. ET and then begin race day coverage at 4 p.m. ET to conclude with the crowning of 2022 NHRA World Champions.
NHRA CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS STANDINGS:
Following the Nevada Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway
FUNNY CAR (season wins in parentheses)
1. Robert Hight 2592 (8)
2. Ron Capps: 2531 (5)
3. Matt Hagan (Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat): 2529 (4)
4. John Force: 2406 (1)
5. Bob Tasca III: 2391(3)
6. J.R. Todd: 2295
7. Tim Wilkerson: 2261
8. Alexis DeJoria: 2259 (1)
9. Cruz Pedregon (Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat): 2222
10. Blake Alexander: 2150
11. Jim Campbell: 2149
TOP FUEL (season wins in parentheses)
1. Brittany Force: 2468 (5)
2. Justin Ashley: 2461 (3)
3. Mike Salinas: 2402 (4)
4. Antron Brown 2390 (3)
5. Steve Torrence: 2381 (2)
6. Austin Prock: 2342 (1)
7. Josh Hart: 2307 (1)
8. Shawn Langdon: 2290
9. Doug Kalitta: 2284
10. Clay Millican: 2269
11. Tony Schumacher: 2224(1)
12. Leah Pruett (Dodge Power Brokers): 2211 (1)
Mopar Dodge//SRT Motorsports PR