Carrying the Mopar 85th Anniversary livery on his Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car at the 40th Annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, Tony Stewart Racing (TSR) driver Matt Hagan captured the No. 1 Qualifier position for the fifth time this season then drove to a quarterfinal finish in the penultimate event of the regular season at Brainerd International Raceway.
The defending winner of the event earned his 48th career No. 1 Qualifier honor, the fifth most in the Funny Car category, with his final qualifying pass in the lane next to points leader and provisional pole sitter Robert Hight as the last pairing of the session. Hagan powered his Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat to a 3.843-second elapsed time run @ 331.36 mph, one of the quickest runs of the season, to steal away the pole position, and collect a total of six bonus points and a bye-run for the opening round of eliminations.
The Q4 run had some added drama when the body of Hagan’s racecar that sported the Mopar 85th Anniversary paint scheme honoring the legendary brand was damaged by a fiery explosion in the final feet of the qualifying run, necessitating a change to the Dodge Power Brokers Charger SRT Hellcat body for Sunday’s elimination rounds.
Hagan launched his race day with the new Dodge body and a solo run that didn’t go quite as planned when a cylinder went out at the hit of the throttle. The TSR team turned the car off to save any further damage and regroup for their next round against No. 8 seed Alexis DeJoria. The quarterfinal saw both competitors hit the throttle, immediately lose traction and find themselves in a pedal fest to the finish. Unfortunately, Hagan wasn’t able to regain control of his nitro machine quickly enough to battle to the finish to extend his race day.
While disappointed with the result, Hagan remains second in the Funny Car championship standings as his team now prepares for the cornerstone event of the season, the Dodge Power Brokers U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park, and the final regular season event before the NHRA’s ”Countdown to the Championship” playoff series.
A two-time Top Fuel winner (2017 and 2019) at Brainerd International Raceway, Leah Pruett took her Mopar 85th Anniversary dragster for a 3.702 sec. @ 330.47 mph run on her second qualifying lap on Friday to post the third quickest pass of the session and collect a bonus point. The TSR pilot’s lap was good enough to put her sixth on the eliminations ladder and set up a first-round pairing with No. 11 seed Shawn Langdon with whom she is jostling for position in the points standings.
Pruett had a decent lap going until just after half-track when her ride began to drop cylinders and put an end to her run and chance to advance. She and her TSR team now turn their attention to the “Big Go” where they will work to capture their first Wally from the storied event. While currently tied for sixth place with Langdon in the Top Fuel standings, Pruett is also among three competitors battling for the fifth place position in the Countdown with just one event remaining ahead of the playoffs.
For a ninth time this season, Funny Car driver Cruz Pedregon qualified his Snap-on Tools Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat in the top-five for eliminations with a 3.888 sec. @ 326.16 mph pass. The driver and team owner had a clean first-round pass against No. 12 seed Bobby Bode that unfortunately wasn’t enough to turn on the win light and prematurely ended his day dropping the Cruz Pedregon Racing machine to eighth place in the Funny Car standings.
The focus now shifts to preparing for the world’s biggest drag race and the NHRA Camping World Series’ marquis event, the prestigious 68th Annual Dodge Power Brokers U.S. Nationals, August 31st to September 5th, at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park.