An all-Mopar Dodge//SRT Funny Car final elimination showdown at the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals was good proof that even a four-month pause in National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Mello Yello Drag Racing Series competition couldn’t stymie the drive to battle for wins as Matt Hagan’s victory over Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) teammate Tommy Johnson Jr. gave the team its third consecutive national title of the 2020 season.
From a sixth-seeded position, Hagan drove his Mopar Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat to the winner’s circle for the first time this year, giving him his third Wally in six nationals events dating back to October 2019 when he won both the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals in Dallas and the Dodge NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil in Las Vegas. DSR teammate Jack Beckman’s wins in the 2019 season finale and 2020 season-opening races at Pomona, California, along with Johnson’s win at the Arizona Nationals, means that a DSR Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat has earned a national title at each of the last six events.
Hagan was consistent with both his reaction times and runs to quickly dispose of Daniel Wilkerson, Beckman, and Tim Wilkerson. That set up an all-Mopar final showdown against No. 1 qualifier Johnson, who was also making his second consecutive final round appearance. Johnson made it to his 54th final round by knocking off teammate Ron Capps, Blake Alexander, and J.R. Todd. The two DSR teammates had previously met twice in final elimination round match-ups, with Hagan emerging as the winner in both.
Hagan’s powerhouse had the early advantage and enough of a lead over Johnson to earn a decisive win, the 34th of his career, even when his engine let go right at the finish to set off a few of its own fireworks. On the strength of his victory and two top qualifier awards to start the season, Hagan and his Mopar Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat move up into third place in the Funny Car championship points standings.
Meanwhile, following a No. 3 qualifying effort, Beckman was able to keep his lead in the Funny Car points standings by driving his Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat away from Mike McIntire in the first round, straight into a quarterfinal showdown with DSR teammate Hagan. While the loss to the eventual winner was disappointing, Beckman is two markers ahead of runner-up Johnson and 40 points from Hagan, with each driver boasting a win this season.
For his part, Capps had a tough restart to the season, qualifying 16th to face teammate Johnson, who was still riding the momentum from his win at the last-contested NHRA event in February and a No.1 qualifying position earned on Saturday. Capps laid down a solid 3.956 E.T., the second-quickest run of the entire first session except that it was against the only car to run better, as Johnson posted a 3.896 to move on. While they didn’t walk away with the round win, Capps and the NAPA team are bolstered by the fact that they have their car back and know they’re capable of running big numbers.
In Top Fuel competition, a 10th place qualifying position on the eliminations ladder saw Leah Pruett’s opening round pairing pitting her against seventh-seeded DSR teammate Tony Schumacher, the winningest Top Fuel driver in NHRA history, making a cameo appearance for the back-to-back Indianapolis race events. Pruett had the starting line advantage and never looked back to move on to a quarterfinal match-up and lane choice over current points leader Doug Kalitta.
Once again, the Mopar Top Fuel Dragster was quick on the tree and held the lead on Kalitta through to half-track, but a close side-by-side race to the finish with just a 0.0044-second difference saw Pruett edged by her opponent at the stripe to end her day a little sooner than she had hoped.
Qualified 12th for the first of his two-event “comeback tour” with DSR, Cory McClenathan didn’t even get a chance to challenge for a win light when an issue kept his car in neutral and from staging the car for the start, but he’ll look another shot to battle for a 35th career Top Fuel win next weekend.
Mopar Dodge//SRT and DSR will return to Lucas Oil Raceway in just a few days for the Lucas Oil NHRA Summernationals, the second of two consecutive Indianapolis-based meets on July 18th to 19th, as part of the updated 2020 NHRA schedule.