ENNIS, Texas, Sept. 20, 2014 /True Blue Tribune/ –
Mopar was back in the winner’s circle with Don Schumacher Racing’s Matt Hagan as he drove his Dodge Charger R/T to the Funny Car title win at the rescheduled National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Carolina Nationals elimination rounds at Texas Motorplex. It was Hagan’s second victory of the season, but more importantly, the win was earned in the first of the six-event playoff series called the NHRA “Countdown to the Championship” to propel him from seventh to third place in the points standings.
“Congratulations to Matt Hagan from everyone at Mopar on his Carolina Nationals title and a first win in this year’s Countdown to the Championship for the Dodge Charger R/T,” said Pietro Gorlier, President and CEO of Mopar, Chrysler Group LLC’s service, parts and customer-care brand. “It is a great way for Matt and the Don Schumacher Racing team to kick off the playoffs and make Mopar a serious contender for this year’s championship once again. It is also a wonderful way to show everyone that the legacy of the 426 Race HEMI engine continues to live on as we celebrate its 50th anniversary this season.”
The completion of last weekend’s eliminations rounds at the NHRA Carolina Nationals near Charlotte was rescheduled to run concurrently to Saturday’s qualifying sessions at Texas Motorplex. Hagan’s two qualifying laps also gave him round wins over Tim Wilkerson and Robert Hight, setting up a final showdown against veteran John Force. It was their seventh meeting in eliminations this season with a 1-5 win-loss record for the Mopar driver, but this time Hagan benefited from a premature red-light start by Force to earn his 12th career Wally trophy.
Hagan won the NHRA Funny Car World Championship for Mopar in 2011 and then came close to winning a second last season, finishing runner-up to Force. The Mopar driver posted a win in last year’s playoffs as well, but it came in the season finale against Force. This time, starting off the Countdown with a victory has Hagan energized.
“It really does excite me that the car is coming around, we’re qualifying well, and that’s the biggest thing with the Countdown,” said Hagan who qualified third for the Carolina Nationals and is now just 52 points behind points leader Force heading into Sunday’s regularly scheduled FallNationals eliminations. “You have to set yourself up for the first round match-up and have a good opportunity to go down the racetrack and win. These first round losses will eat you up out here. You have those only six races to make something happen so our game plan is to pull down a couple of wins, a couple of semifinals and minimize first round losses, and I think things can really swing our way.”
Also advancing past the first round of the Carolina Nationals was DSR teammate Ron Capps who then lost a quarterfinal battle to Bob Tasca III when he hazed the tires. Capps sits fourth in points behind Hagan heading into Sunday’s title fight at the FallNationals for which he was seeded third with a best elapsed time run of 4.051 seconds at 311.92 mile per hour. He’ll meet up with Tim Wilkerson in the first round. The No.1 qualifier position was taken by Courtney Force with a 4.039/314.90.
Tommy Johnson Jr. qualified his Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T fourth with a 4.076/309.42 and will have Cruz Pedregon in the lane next to him in the opening round of eliminations.
Hagan will work to earn consecutive title wins from a sixth place spot on the eliminations ladder after qualifying with best time of 4.083/312.86 and will see Tasca as his first round opponent.
Jack Beckman had four strong qualifying runs at the helm of his Dodge Charger R/T with his best effort of 4.087/312.35 to give him an eighth place seeding to match up against Robert Hight in the opening round of eliminations.
In Pro Stock competition, Jeg Coughlin Jr. and V. Gaines had some unfinished business to attend to after advancing their HEMI-powered Mopars from first round of eliminations at the Carolina Nationals last weekend. Unfortunately, neither driver was able to get past their respective quarterfinal matches on Saturday at Texas Motorplex. Coughlin lost his second round match-up to Vincent Nobile, while Gaines lost traction against eventual title winner Jonathon Gray who defeated current points leader Jason Line in the final elimination showdown for the rescheduled event.
With the focus back on Pro Stock qualifying for the FallNationals, Allen Johnson was a much happier driver on Saturday after two strong runs in the “Magneti Marelli Offered by Mopar” Dodge Dart that also gave him some valuable bonus points. Johnson’s first run of the day put him in the No.2 qualifier spot with a 6.574-second elapsed time pass at 210.54 mph and gave him two valuable bonus points for posting the second quickest pass of the session. Only competitor Shane Gray could dislodge Johnson from the top spot to secure the No.1 qualifier position with a 6.566/210.08 run. Johnson added another three points to his championship tally by posting the best run of the final qualifying session with a 6.587/210.50 pass. Johnson will see Matt Hartford as his opponent in the opening round.
“We’ve been off by just a beat the last couple of races and we studied our notes this morning and went all the way back to our home base set up and then went out there and made a really good run,” Johnson said. “For the second session, we made the same changes to Jeggie’s (Coughlin Jr.) ride and he went out and made a pretty dang good run too. I think we’ve got two really good competitive cars for Sunday.
Coughlin’s best qualifying run of 6.596/209.59 from Friday kept the JEGS.com Mopar Dodge Dart in the eighth spot on the eliminations ladder to pit him against Greg Anderson in the first round. V. Gaines qualified his Dodge Avenger 14th with his best run of 6.650/209.95 to face Jonathon Gray in the first round. The top seeded position for Pro Stock eliminations was awarded to Shane Gray for his 6.566/210.08 elapsed time run.
An hour and a half of highlights from the completion of eliminations for seventh annual Pep Boys NHRA Carolina Nationals, as well as qualifying for the 29th annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals will be broadcast on ESPN2 on Sunday, Sept. 21, at 3:30 a.m. (ET) and then re-aired at 4 p.m. (ET). Three hours of elimination round coverage for the FallNationals, the second of four consecutive weekend events and the second scheduled stop in the six-event playoff series called the “Countdown to the Championship,” will air Sunday evening starting at 8:30 p.m. (ET).
Photo – http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20140921/147430