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When Matt Hagan brings his DieHard Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car to the starting line for Friday’s first qualifying session of the fourth-annual NHRA Nationals here, he will be embarking on his quest for the 2011 NHRA Full Throttle championship in front of family and friends.

The race marks the beginning of the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs with the Christiansburg, Va. native holding sixth place in the Funny Car standings, 70 points off the leader, Mike Neff.

Matt Hagan drove his MOPAR/DieHard Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car into the third round of the 57th-annual U.S. Nationals presented by Lucas Oil here at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis.

Coming out of the number-four starting position, Hagan opened final eliminations by defeating Tim Wilkerson with his quickest run of the weekend at 4.066 seconds with a top speed of 308.14 miles per hour.

He followed that up with a quarterfinal victory over Don Schumacher Racing teammate Jack Beckman, matching his earlier performance with a 4.066-second run (at 315.05 mph!).

The semifinals pitted the 28-year-old Christiansburg, Va. native against eventual-winner Mike Neff, who held lane choice for the encounter, which proved to be a crucial advantage.

“The car had been running well throughout the weekend, but losing lane choice to Neff hurt us,” Hagan explained. “As the day went on, it became a one-lane race track and we ended up smoking the tires in the semis.

“It was great going rounds, though, and qualifying like we did (4.071 at 309.13).”

Hagan finished the 16-race “regular” 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season sixth in the Funny Car standings. This means he will travel to Concord (N.C.) for the beginning of the Countdown to the Championship at the September 15-18 NHRA Nationals at zMax Dragway 70 points behind points leader Neff.

“We wanted to move up in the standings for a better spot at the start of the Countdown,” the DSR driver said. “But, the reality is we are now closer to Mike than we were at the beginning of the weekend.

“That is the great thing about the Countdown – with the points being reset, every one of the top-10 drivers who make the playoffs have a real chance to win the championship – keep in mind that a couple of years ago Robert Hight won from the 10th spot!

“We’re going to Charlotte on a quest to win that championship. We’re going with a great car, one that really hauls!”

 Matt Hagan today qualified the MOPAR/DieHard Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car fourth for the 57th-annual U.S. Nationals presented by Lucas Oil here at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis.

The 28-year-old Don Schumacher Racing driver jumped from the 11th to the third slot with a 4.071-second blast at 309.13 miles per hour in today’s first (and the fourth overall) qualifying round. Hagan will take on 13th-qualifier Tim Wilkerson in the first round of final eliminations which begin at 11 a.m. EDT.

“I feel great,” he said after three days and five rounds – unique for the U. S. Nationals, premier event on the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series schedule – of qualifying. “Tommy (DeLago, crew chief) stepped on it today when the weather turned cool and we had a terrific run (to second at the time).

“We took a shot at the top spot in the final round knowing we were well into the field and smoked the tires. It doesn’t matter, because we’ve got good information about the track and the conditions should be even better tomorrow.”

The outcome of this race will determine the Countdown to 1 playoff roster as the top-10 drivers in the Funny Car standings will compete in a six-race playoff beginning at the next race in Charlotte, N.C. Hagan sits fifth in the standings, trailing Mike Neff, Robert Hight, DSR teammate Jack Beckman and, in fourth place, Cruz Pedregon, who is the top qualifier for this race.

“We’d like to move up in the standings, to improve our position as the Countdown begins,” said Hagan about the playoffs for which the participating drivers’ points are reset. “And it’s not simply trying to catch Cruz; we want to keep ahead of (DSR teammate) Ron Capps, who’s breathing down our necks (less than a race-round win behind in sixth).

“The higher we are in the standings when the Countdown begins, the better; but first, we have to take care of business and do everything to get into the Indy winner’s circle.

Matt Hagan turned the quickest lap during pre-race testing here last week which he hopes is indicative of the potential success his MOPAR/DieHard Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car will have this weekend at the 57th-annual U.S. Nationals presented by Lucas Oil.

The 28-year-old Don Schumacher Racing driver flew down the Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis drag strip in 4.055 seconds at 310.41 miles per hour Thursday, quickest of the Funny Cars during open nitro testing in advance of the “Big Go.”

“We made that run in good, cool conditions and we hope we can repeat it under similar ones when the action becomes real on Friday,” said the Christiansburg, Va. native about the first nitro qualifying session scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. “We’ve been running well in recent races, but we’re still working on a new combination. We’ll run it at Indy and Tommy (DeLago, crew chief) will continue to get data from it which will be crucial as he decides on the setup for the Countdown.

“We’ve stuck with this one because it has shown promise to run in the 0s, which it hasn’t yet at a race, but it has worked well in both cool and hot conditions.”

The combination has helped Hagan reach two semifinal and one final round in the last four races (with a photo-finish first-round loss in the other race by .003 seconds). He heads into this weekend solidly in the field for the Countdown to the Championship sitting fifth in the 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car standings, but he would like to go deep on Sunday before the playoffs begin (at the next race in Charlotte, N.C.).

“Everybody gets pumped up for Indy, but for me, I want to win every race, to do well at every race,” he said. “We have to treat it as ‘just another race’ so we don’t get too pumped up; we have to stay on our game and not let the hype take over.

“Maybe some folks try too hard for this race which can get them in trouble. We just have to do our thing.”

Last year Hagan set a track elapsed-time record of 4.039 en route to his number-one qualifying position and a semifinal appearance on race day.

“We just try to do the best job we can every time we go to the starting line.”

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.”

Next NHRA Event

Lucas Winternats 18

FC Points

Camping World Funny Car Top Ten

1 Bob Tasca III 676
2 Matt Hagan 655
3 Robert Hight 636
4 John Force 624
5 Ron Capps 613
6 J.R. Todd 584
7 Alexis DeJoria 577
8 Tim Wilkerson 526
9 Cruz Pedregon 481
10 Terry Haddock 306

Hagan Cattle Co