Following Brainerd, you’ll lock yourself into the NHRA Countdown to the Championship. What mindset does that allow you to have with two races remaining in the regular season?
“Locking ourselves into the Countdown to the Championship during the Brainerd weekend is huge. We always want to be in the hunt for a championship and I feel like we always have been for the majority of my career, which says a lot about the team we have and the people I’m surrounded by because they all do a great job. Our guys have one common goal, and they work together to try and accomplish a championship. When you get it, you know you’ve really earned it with lots of blood, sweat and tears. There is a lot of pressure coming into these next couple races to stay number one. We deal with pressure and try to turn it into a positive. We feed off of it. Everyone is showing up and showing out. We have a target on our backs by being number one right now, but it just means we have to push more and be more aggressive. We have to find that razor-sharp edge and run on it if we’re going to try and win a championship.”=
You’ve led the Funny Car point standings leaving 11 out of 13 races this season. Coming off your Final-round appearance at Topeka, what momentum does that give you with back-to-back race weekends?
“People think we can just keep doing what we’re doing, but once you’re in the Countdown, it takes more. Points start over and the gap gets more narrow. Everyone is swinging for the fence. I feel like you have to win at least three out of the six races to be able to win the championship and you can’t have any first-round losses. I know what our team is capable of, and we just have to keep pushing and push harder. I know our guys can do it. I believe in them and everything they’re doing. I know at the end of the day, we’ll be where we need to be.”
- The Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd (Minn.) International Raceway serves as the 14th event on the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series’ 21-race calendar. Tony Stewart Racing (TSR) brings its two fulltime entries – one in Top Fuel for 11-time event winner Leah Pruett and one in Funny Car for 47-time Funny Car winner and three-time champion Matt Hagan – to the second-to-last race of the regular season before the Countdown to the Championship begins Sept. 14-17 with the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway in Mohnton, Pennsylvania.
- After the 15th and final regular-season event on Sept. 4 with the Dodge Power Brokers U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park, the top-10 drivers in the standings in each of the four professional categories of the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – qualify for the Countdown to the Championship. The top-10 drivers in each class then compete in the final, six-race playoffs to vie for the title. Coming into Brainerd, Pruett is fifth in the Top Fuel championship standings, 275 points behind leader Justin Ashley. Hagan, meanwhile, is leading the Funny Car championship standings, 61 points ahead of Ron Capps.
- Direct Connection is the primary partner of Pruett and Hagan this weekend in Brainerd. With muscle car enthusiasts looking for “ready to run” parts, Direct Connection serves as the source for high-performance parts and technical expertise straight from the factory. The Top Fuel Dragster and Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car are featured in Sublime green. Sublime was first introduced during the 1970 model year. The Dodge Charger and Challenger, in current form, are coming to an end after this year. Dodge is bringing back the iconic color for consumers to bring nostalgia to the highways and purchase their own commemorative last call vehicle.
- The NHRA Nationals will serve as Pruett’s 200th career Top Fuel start and her eighth at Brainerd. For Hagan, this will be his 325th career Funny Car start and his 14th at Brainerd.
- Hagan has one win at Brainerd, which came in 2021. His run of 3.923 ET at 327.98 mph defeated Cruz Pedregon (3.935 ET at 324.83 mph). Hagan also has four No. 1 qualifiers at Brainerd, which came in 2011 (4.101 ET at 303.57 mph), 2016 (3.822 ET at 333.82 mph), 2019 (3.890 ET at 328.46 mph) and 2022 (3.843 ET at 331.36 mph).
- Hagan, Pruett and Stewart will participate in Tony Stewart Store merchandise trailer signings. Hagan and Pruett will be signing Friday from 2:15-2:45 p.m. CDT. Stewart will be signing Friday from 5:45-6:15 p.m. CDT. Hagan and Pruett will have a second signing Saturday from 11:45 a.m.-12:00 p.m. CDT. Stewart will have a second signing on Saturday from 12:30-1:00 p.m. CDT.
- Hagan will participate in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty autograph session on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. CDT. The session will take place at the Mission Foods Display.
- Team owner Tony Stewart will be making an appearance at the GEARWRENCH Pit Stop Hauler on Friday from 2:45-3:00 p.m. CDT.
- Tony Stewart enters the NHRA Nationals as the national points leader in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series. He drove his Mobil 1 McPhillips Racing Top Alcohol Dragster to a win at the Northeast Division Race in Reading, Pennsylvania August 4-5 to take over the championship standings.