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Thanks to consistently solid runs in recent races by his DieHard Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car, driver Matt Hagan finds himself eager to compete in this weekend’s 24th-annual NHRA Northwest Nationals here at Pacific Raceways.

“I’m really excited about racing in Seattle,” said the 28-year-old Don Schumacher Racing driver.  “We were strong in qualifying and on race day two weeks ago in Denver and again last weekend in Sonoma.

“Tommy DeLago (crew chief) has been making adjustments, trying out things and giving me a great race car these past two races and it feels terrific to be a real challenger each time out. 

“Our performance has Tommy feeling even more confident in the car and I’m feeling more confident with every round about everything in this DieHard team.”

When qualifying begins on Friday (nitro scheduled for 2:30 p.m. PT), the Christiansburg, Va. native will be in fifth place of the 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car standings. The top-10 drivers at the conclusion of the 16-race “regular season” will qualify for the six-race Countdown to 1.

“We’ve got to make sure we snag our spot, a good one, in the playoffs,” he explained. “With only three races left before they start, we’ve got to be consistent and go rounds to get this done. We want to be as close to the top as possible when the Countdown begins.”

The points are reset for the Countdown, with a 10-point gap between each of the second through 10th spots, while the leader will have a 20-point advantage over the second-place holder when the action begins following the Labor Day weekend U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.

“We’re getting stronger as we get closer,” said Hagan. “Of course we want to win a race as soon as possible, but being prepared for the championship run is more important.

“Like I said, the DieHard car is running great. We had the car to beat in Denver and last week in Sonoma Cruz Pedregon just got by us in a very close race (Pedregon’s margin of victory - .003 seconds).

“But it’s all good and we’re really going great right now.”

Matt Hagan, aboard the DieHard Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car, dropped a close first round match today in the first round of the 24th-annual FRAM/Autolite NHRA Nationals here at Infineon Raceway.

Coming out of the seventh-qualifying position, the 28-year-old Don Schumacher Racing driver was narrowly clipped in the opening session by 10th-qualifier Cruz Pedregon, with the margin of victory an almost immeasurable .003 of a second. The race was won by DSR teammate Ron Capps.

“This car ran great all weekend; we just got beat in an old-fashioned drag race,” said Hagan. “One thing, he knows we’ve got a really good car and we gave him a run for his money – he can’t take us for granted, which puts some pressure on him for next time.”

Hagan, in fifth, sits right behind Pedregon in the 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car standings, which is becoming increasingly significant with the start of the Countdown to 1 playoffs drawing closer.

With three races left in the regular season before the top 10 in the standings have their points reset for the championship battle every potential title contender is doing everything possible to score points and improve their position.

“I’m very happy with the way the DieHard Funny Car is running right now,” said the Christiansburg, Va. native. “It keeps improving from race to race and has now performed really well in both Denver and here in Sonoma.

“I feel good as we get closer to the Countdown.  Tommy’s (DeLago, crew chief) confidence is going up, which is getting mine up as well. This car is really responding to the adjustments he’s making and it is all good.”

The next stop on the schedule is the third – and final leg – of the infamous “Western Swing”, which is scheduled for next weekend at Pacific Raceways outside Seattle for the 24th-annual NHRA Northwest Nationals.

“As well as we’re running, I’m excited about heading to Seattle and getting back to racing,” he added.

When Matt Hagan fires up the DieHard Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car for the first round of the 24th-annual FRAM/Autolite NHRA Nationals here Sunday at Infineon Raceway he will not be thinking about the driver in the other lane.

A 4.121-second, 302.96-mile-per-hour run in Friday’s second session earned the 28-year-old Don Schumacher Racing driver a first-round match, which is set for an 11 a.m. PT start, with 10th-qualifier Cruz Pedregon, who sits immediately ahead of Hagan in the 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car standings.

“I won’t be thinking about anything other than getting down the track,” said Hagan. “I can’t worry or be concerned about Cruz or whoever is in the other lane, regardless of the circumstances. I have to race the track and do my job.

“We made four solid runs in qualifying (4.151, 4.161 and 4.261 in the other three rounds) and Tommy (DeLago, crew chief) continues to give me a race car which can get down the track; we just have to keep this up tomorrow and throughout the rest of the season.

“The way we’ve been running just helps build confidence, not just for me, but for everyone on the DieHard team.”

The upswing in the team’s mood began with the Joliet, Ill. race and continued through last week’s final-round appearance in Denver.

“We brought out some different stuff for Chicago and began to turn things around,” said last year’s runner up in the Funny Car championship chase. “We’re feeling good, feeling positive. We’re going to go out tomorrow and have some fun racing!”

Matt Hagan, driver of the DieHard Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car, heads to Infineon Raceway here this weekend for the 24th-annual FRAM/Autolite NHRA Nationals looking to break into the winner’s circle for the first time in the 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season.

Holding a solid fifth place in the Funny Car standings, the 28-year-old Don Schumacher Racing driver has been the runner up twice this year, but understandably wants to take home a trophy.

“We’ve been close, just missing first in Pomona and then last week in Denver,” said the Christiansburg, Va. native. “Tommy (DeLago, crew chief) and the Diehard guys gave me a great race car last week, but we just didn’t get it done against Force in the finals.

“The way the car performed all weekend in Denver, maybe the most difficult and challenging track on the circuit just makes me feel even more confident as we wrap up the regular season and get ready for the playoffs.”

Hagan trails Cruz Pedregon by less than three race-round wins for the fourth spot in the Funny Car standings with four races left to set the field for the playoffs (the top 10 drivers compete for the championship with their points reset for the final six races of the season). Last season, his second, Hagan took the fight to the final contest in Pomona (Calif.), finishing as the runner up to John Force, who won his 15th championship.

“Our goals remain winning races for DieHard, for Don Schumacher Racing and for everyone else associated with this team and to win the championship,” he said. “You race to win and even though I know you can’t win every race and lots of things can and do happen in drag racing, I won’t lie and say I’m not disappointed with having come so close, but not getting a win.

“We’ll turn it around and get that Wally; I’m sure.”

Last year here he lost a tight – .011 seconds – semifinal-round race with DSR teammate and eventual winner Ron Capps after having defeated Force and Del Worsham (now points leader in a Top Fuel dragster) in the first two rounds.

“We’d like another crack at John and hope to have the same results as last year,” he said. “But it doesn’t matter who we race – we have to beat whoever is in the next lane to move on.”

Matt Hagan, driver of the MOPAR Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car, dropped a final-round match with reigning NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car Champion John Force during today’s 24th-annual MOPAR Mile-High NHRA Nationals here at Bandimere Speedway.

Starting from the third position, the Don Schumacher Racing driver made four clean passes on the day, but fouled at the starting line (beating the green light by .012 seconds) against Force, negating a 4.328-second pass at 274.83 miles per hour (Force posted a 4.361-second lap at 285.23 mph).

“I don’t know what to say except it was my fault,” explained the chagrined Hagan. “We had him – Tommy (DeLago, crew chief) and the MOPAR/DieHard guys did a great job all weekend giving me a competitive car despite the difficult conditions – and I just didn’t get the job done.

“I can’t remember ever red lighting before and this was not the time to do it.”

The runner-up finish solidified Hagan’s hold on fifth place in the Funny Car standings – he increased his lead on Jeff Arend by 29 points which equates to just over one race-round win.

“Okay, that’s done and we’ll put it behind us,” he said about the disappointing finish. “We have to pick it up and get ready to race again in five days. No excuses; we just have to bear down and get that first victory.”

Today’s win by Force, his first of the season, means last year’s two nitro-champions have now recorded 2011 victories, while the two runners up – Hagan in Funny Car and Tony Schumacher in Top Fuel – are still looking for their first 2011 trip to the winner’s circle.

“I know Tony, who also lost in the finals today, wants that win and is doing everything to get it, just like we are,” he said. “We’ve both have cars capable of winning and have advanced to final rounds; we just have to close the deal.”

This was Hagan’s second runner- up finish in 2011, having opened the season with a final-round appearance in Pomona, Calif.

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FC Mello Yello Points

Funny Car (Unofficial)

1. Ron Capps (1383)
2. Robert Hight (1247)
3. Matt Hagan (1214)
4. Tommy Johnson Jr. (1180 or 1200)
5. Jack Beckman (1160)
6. Courtney Force (1012)
7. John Force (954)
8. Tim Wilkerson (792)
9. J.R. Todd (788)
10. Alexis DeJoria (664)