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BROWNSBURG, Ind. (Sept. 20, 2017) - Only five races remain in the NHRA Countdown to the Championship this season, and Matt Hagan knows he has to make them count.

After suffering an uncharacteristic opening round loss at last weekend's NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway near Charlotte, Hagan and the Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T team led by crew chief Dickie Venables and assistant Michael Knudsen know they have work to do at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa., this weekend.

 The first-round loss dropped Hagan from third to fifth in Mello Yello points standings.

 "We had our bad race right out of the gate," Hagan said. "So from here on out we have to turn on win lights. It's as simple and complicated as that. We need some of those guys in front of us to have a bad race too. It's just tough out here, man.

 "We got a little behind in qualifying and that set us up for a tough first round on Sunday. So this weekend we just have to make sure we have a better qualifying effort and that should transition into a better Sunday."

 Hagan faced eventual Carolina event winner and new points leader Robert Hight to start the Countdown.

 This weekend's Dodge NHRA Nationals is the second of three consecutive events on the Mello Yello tour to kick off the Countdown. Last year at Maple Grove, Hagan qualified No. 1 and reached the semifinals before losing to Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps.

 

But teams on the Mello Yello tour will see conditions at Maple Grove Raceway that they haven't seen in years. Forecast temperatures call for highs in the upper 80s.

 

"Reading is one of those places that you go and you know it'll be fast," Hagan said. "But it's usually a lot cooler there. So I think it'll be challenging this weekend. It's hard to back these cars down to run in the heat. But I'm confident with Dickie on our side, he'll get it figured out."

 

Before racing starts at Maple Grove, Hagan and his Mopar teammates will participate in the Mopar Block Party at FirstEnergy Stadium in Reading. The annual free party that begins at 5 p.m. features a home run derby, charity auction and autograph session.

 

"We have a lot of fun with these events that Mopar puts on," Hagan said. "Pretty sure I haven't swung a bat since last year when we did this so I can guarantee it'll be entertaining for everyone."

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Next NHRA Event 2017

FC Mello Yello Points

Funny Car (Unofficial)

1. Ron Capps (2273)
2. Robert Hight (2265)
3. Courtney Force (2234)
4. Matt Hagan (2183)
5. Jack Beckman (2173)
6. Tommy Johnson Jr. (2159)
7. J.R. Todd (2135)
8. John Force (2116)
9. Tim Wilkerson (2098)
10. Cruz Pedregon (2065)