BROWNSBURG, Ind. (Sept. 9, 2012) - The rest of a season usually is meaningless once a team knows it can’t qualify for a championship playoff in professional baseball, basketball or football.
Fortunately for Matt Hagan, that’s not how in works in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series.
When Hagan and Don Schumacher Racing’s Mopar/Aaron’s Dream Machine team lost in the semifinals of the U.S. Nationals on Sunday, and Tim Wilkerson advanced to the final round, it eliminated Hagan from earning a spot in the top-10 and a spot in the NHRA Countdown to the Championship that begins next weekend in Concord, N.C.
Hagan and crew chief Tommy DeLago cannot repeat as NHRA Funny Car world champions, but the race at zMAX Dragway at Charlotte Motor Speedway is the first of six NHRA events remaining.
“We’ve put it behind us,” a somber Hagan said a few minutes after losing to Mike Neff in the semifinals after Hagan’s Dodge quickly lost traction and slowed to a time of 9.428 seconds at 73.95 mph while John Force Racing’s Mike Neff went 4.131 seconds and 310.63 mph.
“There can be only one champion out there and we wanted to have a chance to defend our championship, but that’s not going to happen,” Hagan said. “Now our goal is to go out and win a couple races and make something out of the season.
“We think that’s very doable and a very obtainable goal. It will bring all these guys’ spirits back. It’s something we can do during these last six races.”
Hagan’s day started by eliminating DSR teammate and points leader Ron Capps in the first round. Hagan then beat former world champion Robert Hight of JFR in a close race, 4.127 (304.25) to 4.137 (301.87).
Wilkerson clinched the last Countdown spot when he eliminated DSR’s Johnny Gray in the semifinals.
“Tim Wilkerson had a great day,” Hagan said. “It’s hard to put a whole year into one race and make something happen like we tried to do. It’s just tough sometime. We got really close and gave it a fighting shot at the end.”
Hagan’s team advanced to the finals twice and semifinals twice over the last four events after making it to the second round only four times in the first 13 races.
“Obviously we’re headed in the right direction but we were just a couple races behind where we needed to be,” Hagan said. “That’s just how it goes.
“I stand behind Tommy DeLago, I stand behind my team and hopefully they feel the same way about me as their driver.
“It is what it is; good, bad or indifferent.
“Obviously, for Mopar, Aaron’s, DieHard and everyone who has supported us this whole year … we hate that it didn’t work out the way we wanted it to by winning races and another championship.”
The following are Hagan’s results from the U.S. Nationals and other notes:
Event winner: Mike Neff
No. 1 qualifier: Courtney Force (John Force Racing), 4.049, 317.27
Matt Hagan, Mopar/Aaron’s Dream Machine Dodge Charger R/T
Qualified: No. 14
1st round: HAGAN (4.101, 307.04) def. Ron Capps (5.699, 156.34)
2nd round: HAGAN (4.127, 304.25) def. Robert Hight (4.137, 301.87)
Semifinals: Mike Neff (4.131, 310. 63) def. HAGAN (9.428, 73.95)
SIX IN A ROW
Postponing the U.S. Nationals by one week means the Full Throttle series will now race on five consecutive weekends beginning next weekend with the first race in the Countdown at zMAX Dragway at Charlotte Motor Speedway at Concord, N.C.
Factoring in last week’s rainout it actually means teams will have competed six straight weekends.
NHRA FULL THROTTLE DRAG RACING SERIES STANDINGS
(Unofficial through Sept. 9, 2012, U.S. Nationals; DSR in CAPS)
1. RON CAPPS, 1,268
2. Robert Hight, 1,230
3. JACK BECKMAN, 1,113
4. Mike Neff, 1,100
5. JOHNNY GRAY, 1,073
6. Courtney Force, 948
7. Cruz Pedregon, 893
8. John Force, 875
9. Jeff Arend, 838
10. Tim Wilkerson, 829
11. Matt Hagan 822
COUNTDOWN TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP
(Points reset for 6-event Countdown; DSR IN CAPS)
1. RON CAPPS, 2,110 (includes 20-point bonus for leading regular season standings)
2. Robert Hight, 2,080
3. JACK BECKMAN, 2,070
4. Mike Neff, 2,060
5. JOHNNY GRAY, 2,050
6. Courtney Force, 2,040
7. Cruz Pedregon, 2,030
8. John Force, 2,020
9. Jeff Arend, 2,010
10. Tim Wilkerson, 2,000
Sept. 14-16, zMAX Dragway at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Concord, N.C