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  • Writer's pictureNick Cavanaugh @Car_Sick_Nick

Matt Hagan Takes Runner-up Finish at Menards NHRA Nationals

Hagan captured three rounds in the rain-delayed Heartland Motorsports Park event before losing in the final round

Matt Hagan and his Tony Stewart Racing (TSR) Funny Car team continued their consistent performances in the 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series after scoring a runner-up finish in his TSR American Rebel Dodge//SRT Hellcat at the Menards NHRA Nationals at Heartland Motorsports Park.

Hagan, entering his sixth final round of this year’s NHRA campaign, cut an incredible starting light of 0.024 seconds in the final round in the rain-delayed Heartland Motorsports Park event and only low elapsed time of the entire race by rival Bob Tasca III kept him for his fifth NHRA national event win of the season.

Tasca’s 3.885 bested Hagan’s 3.965 for the Topeka win in the event’s final NHRA national race, as the 2024 NHRA schedule welcomes Flying H Dragstrip in Odessa, Mo., to replace the Topeka event. The victory margin was just 0.0496 seconds.

Led by crew chief Dickie Venables and his stellar TSR crew, Hagan drove through the 16-car Funny Car field with round wins over Alex Laughlin, Tim Wilkerson and J.R. Todd before facing Bob Tasca III in the Funny Car final.

With the runner-up finish, Hagan extended his NHRA Funny Car points lead to 61 points in his quest for a coveted fourth NHRA World crown.

In addition, the Dodge//SRT Hellcat racer captured his second Mission 2Fast2Tasty Challenge event Saturday with a win over Chad Green with a 3.960 to Green’s 4.039. With his Mission Challenge win, Hagan now has eight points, which will be added to his overall total when the Countdown begins.

“It was great to have American Rebel as a new sponsor this weekend,” Hagan said. “I hate that we didn’t get it done in the finals. (Bob) Tasca III really stepped up against us and did well. It was a good points weekend for us, being able to put a 61-point lead on (Ron) Capps. You have to take away the positives each weekend. I can’t wait to get to Brainerd and keep the momentum going. We’ve been very consistent all year long, and I think we’re going to continue that trend the rest of the year. My crew did an amazing job this weekend with the tricky track conditions. We had one extreme to another with hot conditions to cool air in the final. Dickie (Venables – crew chief), Mike (Knudsen – co-crew chief) and Alex (Conaway – car chief) adapt to changing conditions. Congratulations to Tasca. They did a great job and we just got outran out here. We’re hopefully going to chase down this championship and win number four.”

Leah Pruett, Hagan’s TSR teammate, drove the TSR Rayce Rudeen Foundation Dodge//SRT dragster to a tough second round loss with a close finish to eventual race winner and current NHRA Top Fuel points leader Justin Ashley with a 3.755 to Pruett’s 3.794.

Despite the second-round loss, Pruett continues to hold down a top-five position in the current NHRA Camping World Top Fuel points standings with just two events remaining before the Championship Countdown starts on Sept. 14-17 in the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals.

“Going into Topeka, we were fifth in points and we’re leaving fifth in points,” said Pruett. “It just shows how strong this entire field is. Most importantly for us coming off of the (western) swing, we wanted to regroup and get our performance package together. Qualifying number two was very strong and what we were aiming for. To turn around and run Justin Ashley in round two always brings out the best in me. Our best wasn’t quite enough to get around him, but it all comes back to qualifying and where you start and the momentum you have. Momentum is not something magical. It takes a lot of work and persistence. We have a very strong race car and an even stronger team coming out of this weekend.”

The Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway will have two nitro qualifying sessions on Friday, Aug. 18 at 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. CDT, followed by two qualifying rounds on Saturday, Aug. 19 at 1:30 p.m. and 4:15 p.m. CDT. Sunday’s final eliminations start at 11 a.m. CDT.

The Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals will be televised on Fox Sports 1 with qualifying round 1 on Friday, Aug. 18 at 8 p.m. EDT and qualifying round 2 on Sunday, Aug. 19 at 1 p.m. EDT. The final eliminations will be shown Sunday, Aug. 20 at 4 p.m. EDT on FOX Network.


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