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Aboard his menacing black Freightliner/DieHard Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car, Matt Hagan looks to continue his mid-season performance surge this weekend in the 30th-annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals here at Brainerd International Raceway.

On the just-completed three-race Western Swing, the 28-year-old Don Schumacher Racing driver reached the finals and semifinals in two of the contests, while his first-round loss in Denver was by a scant .003 seconds.

“We’ve been qualifying well (second twice, third twice, fourth and seventh in the last six races) and going rounds, so my confidence just keeps increasing,” said the Christiansburg, Va. native. “Tommy DeLago (crew chief) has been making improvements in leaps and bounds with his new setup – all I have to do is not mess up in driving the car.
“We’ll use this week’s race here to continue evaluating and refining this setup as we prepare for the playoffs. It’s all good.”

For the first time this season Hagan will wheel a Freightliner liveried Funny Car down the 1,000-foot drag strip.

“It’s always exciting having the Freightliner folks come out to one of our races,” he said about the supplier of the 11 Class 8 tractors which transport DSR’s seven nitro teams from race to race. “They’re super nice and very supportive. And it’s cool running that body – I’m excited to be flying their colors and would love to put together the first win for a Freightliner body.”

Hagan comes to the Gopher State holding fifth place in the 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car standings, one race-round win from clinching a spot in the Countdown to 1 (with this and the U.S. Nationals Labor Day weekend remaining to set the field of 10 for the playoffs).

“No worries about getting into the Countdown,” he said. “And we know how important it is to be ready for that six-race stretch when the champion will be crowned (he was runner up for the 2010 championship). But we won’t look to be lucky; we’ll have to earn our success and just keep doing our thing.”

Matt Hagan trucks into Minnesota next weekend behind the wheel of a uniquely designed Freightliner/DieHard Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car for the 30th-annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals here at Brainerd International Raceway.

The menacing-black bodywork of the 8,000-horsepower race car pays tribute to the 11 Class 8 Freightliner tractors which transport Don Schumacher Racing’s seven nitro teams around the country for the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series.

“This car is so cool,” said the 28-year-old Christiansburg, Va. native. “This is a ‘bad race car,’ thanks to my ‘animal’ crew chief Tommy DeLago and this color suits us just fine. We’ve been running really well lately and I think the fans are in for a treat when they see the black Freightliner/DieHard car hit the track.”

Matt Hagan today wheeled his DieHard Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car into the number-three starting position for Sunday’s NHRA Northwest Nationals here at Pacific Raceways.

Improving his times in each of the four-qualifying rounds, the 28-year-old Don Schumacher Racing driver blasted to the third spot with a 4.117-second pass at 301.47 miles per hour on his final attempt on Saturday afternoon.

“I feel really good,” said the Christiansburg, Va. native. “Tommy (DeLago, crew chief) brought out some new things for today and they really paid off. We just keep running well, consistently building our confidence.”

Hagan takes on 14th-qualifier Melanie Troxel in the first round, scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. PT Sunday. This will be the third meeting of the 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season between the two, with Hagan holding a 2-0 advantage.

“It doesn’t matter who we are racing; we have to race our race,” Hagan said. “We have lane choice, which is good, but we went down both lanes today really well and got good, solid data from each.”

In today’s opening round the DieHard machine motored down the left lane in 4.155 seconds at 301.74 mph, which put him fifth at the time. Hagan had opened qualifying Friday with a 7.258-second lap, good enough for eighth, following that in the evening session with a 5.115-second pass resulting in a jump to seventh.

“The key is doing the things you know how to do, round by round, race by race,” said Hagan. “There’s a long way to go in the season and we’re going in the right direction.

“This DieHard car has been running really well for several races and Tommy has been able to figure out whatever the tracks throw at him.”

Going into this race, the 14th stop of the 16-race regular season before the start of Countdown to 1 championship playoffs amongst the top 10 drivers, Hagan ranks fifth in the Funny Car standings. He trails Mike Neff, Robert Hight, DSR teammate Jack Beckman and Cruz Pedregon (respectively).

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.

Next NHRA Event

FC Mello Yello Points

Unofficial NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship Standings:

Funny Car

1 Jack Beckman 278
2 Tommy Johnson Jr 276
3 Matt Hagan 238
4 Tim Wilkerson 179
5 John Force 173
6 Ron Capps 159
7 Alexis DeJoria 154
8 Bob Tasca III 149
9 J.R. Todd 141
10 Robert Hight 100