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BROWNSBURG, Ind. (Sept. 13, 2017) – The six-race NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship kicks off this weekend at zMAX Dragway near Charlotte. Two-time Funny Car champion Matt Hagan knows to expect fierce competition.

Hagan enters the Countdown third in Funny Car points standings, trailing leader and Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps by 30 points. But with the points reset and the top-10 competitors separated by 100 points from top to bottom it will be a fight to the finish.

“All these cars out here right now, it’s a throw down every run every race,” Hagan said. “The competition is the toughest it’s been probably in the history of the sport. The years of domination are over. Anybody can win any round. It has to be your day, it has to be right. There’s a million ways to lose out here but there’s only one way to win.”

The regular season ended two weeks ago near Indianapolis where Hagan was the No. 1 qualifier but was upset in the opening round of competition by the No. 16 qualifier.

“Hopefully we got all of our bad luck out of the way. Back to back problems in the first round on race day is unacceptable and we’re looking forward to a fresh start here in the Countdown.”

The team led by crew chief Dickie Venables and assistant Michael Knudsen has three event titles in four final round appearances this season and will debut a new look this weekend at zMAX Dragway near Charlotte.

Hagan will be piloting the Freightliner Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car this weekend that carries the names of more than 150 CDL-licensed drivers to celebrate Truck Driver Appreciation month.

“We’ve been doing this special scheme with Freightliner the past few years and it’s just a really cool deal to honor these guys and gals that are going up and down the road. It’s hard work and to show them some love is pretty awesome. I’m just happy to be a small part of it.”

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Heading into Monday's eliminations scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. (EDT), DSR seems to be regaining some Funny Car momentum. Matt Hagan and the 80th Anniversary Mopar/Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T Powered by Pennzoil and led by crew chief Dickie Venables with assistant Michael Knudsen earned their fourth top qualifying spot in the U.S. Nationals and fourth of the year after they reset the Lucas Oil Raceway records Friday night with a run in 3.799 seconds at 338.77 mph.
 
He won the pole and event title a year ago and can become the first to ever accomplish that back-to-back feat in the 63-year history of NHRA's oldest event.
 
"No one has ever doubled up like that," said the two-time world champion. "It's a pretty tough stat to hear, but maybe we can make some history tomorrow and do that.
 
"Obviously it was a pretty warm day for both sessions, and the car's going down the racetrack. We've had real success when it's cool and also in the heat with this new car so I'm pretty excited about it. I feel pretty good about the car and about the racetrack from what we're doing."
 
Hagan outran John Force in the opening round of the Shootout with a time of  3.918 (331.45), but Force's staged his car extremely deep at the starting line that created a starting line edge that enabled his slower 3.949 (309.98) to get past Hagan.

Matt and the 80th Anniversary Mopar/Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T Powered by Pennzoil led by crew chief Dickie Venables with assistant Michael Knudsen became the second Funny Car to run in the 3.7-second range with a time of 3.799 seconds at 338.77 mph - both track records at Lucas Oil Raceway - to capture the provisional No. 1 qualifying position with a pair of track records.
 
"The boss (Don Schumacher) said, 'You guys are going to get another run on Saturday night,' and told the crew chiefs to get after it," said Hagan, who won the pole and event title a year ago in the U.S. Nationals. "That's one thing Dickie Venables knows how to do - get after it.
 
"That's actually only the third hit on that chassis. We came out here with brand new pipe and tested it last week. Our guys at the fab shop at DSR, the guys putting everything together, it just speaks volumes for what our company is capable of doing.
 
"What a fun ride to hang on to. It's out there digging, it's floating, it's hunting around. I made a couple of corrections but tried to not make too many because when it's on a run like that, you start jogging on the wheel and it could pull the tires loose."

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On Wednesday, NHRA pros combined to make nearly 100 runs down Lucas Oil Raceway as part of a two-day test ahead of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. After a marathon 11-hour day, the quickest time slips went to Tony Schumacher (3.702) and Matt Hagan (3.861) in Top Fuel and Funny Car, respectively. Full Story

Hagan and the Pennzoil/Mopar Dodge with crew chief Dickie Venables with assistant Michael Knudsen were very quick and consistent over four qualifying attempts and among the quickest Saturday after earning the No. 2 position Friday night with a time of 3.807 seconds, which is the fourth quickest ever in a Funny Car.
 
"We've had four good runs so far and almost set a national record, but didn't, so it doesn't really matter," said Hagan, who is second in the standings but only eight ahead of Robert Hight of John Force Racing who took his world record Friday. "At the end of the day, the national records, after we've set so many, it's just an 'atta boy,' people remember championships and race wins and that's what we need to focus on and get this car dialed in for the next couple of races."

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Next NHRA Event 2017

FC Mello Yello Points

Funny Car (Unofficial)

1. Robert Hight (2197)
2. Ron Capps (2153)
3. Courtney Force (2141)
4. Tommy Johnson Jr. (2107)
5. J.R. Todd (2102)
5. Matt Hagan (2102)
7. Jack Beckman (2095)
8. John Force (2085)
9. Tim Wilkerson (2046)
10. Cruz Pedregon (2033)