Matt Hagan raced to the No. 1 qualifying position in Funny Car Saturday at the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway.
Antron Brown, Allen Johnson and Michael Phillips also will lead their respective categories into Sunday's 11 a.m. eliminations as No. 1 qualifiers at the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event. The race is the final stop of the three-race Western Swing and the penultimate race in the regular season. NHRA's six-race championship playoffs -- the Countdown to 1 -- begin Labor Day weekend at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.
Hagan powered his special edition Team Mopar Dodge Charger to a 4.161-second run at 301.33 mph to overtake 14-time world champ and current series points leader John Force for the top qualifying position. It is Hagan's second No. 1 of the season and fourth of his career.
“We have a really great race car,” said Hagan, a two-time winner this season who currently sits fourth in the point standings. “[Crew chief] Tommy DeLago is doing such a good job, and I can't say enough about the crew guys. They've really come a long way from where they were last year, and I'm really, really proud of them.”
Hagan, who will face Jack Wyatt in the opening round of eliminations, said the car left easy and pulled hard all the way down the high-altitude dragstrip.
“Tommy told me to hold on because he was going to get after it,” Hagan said. “It felt like just another run, but when [the clutch] went one to one it really took off. All I had to do was keep it in the groove and hold on. For us to be No. 1 in Funny Car and Allen Johnson to be No. 1 in Pro Stock, does it get any better than that?"
Brown earned his fifth No. 1 of the season in Top Fuel as his Friday performance of 3.961 at 286.19 in his Matco Tools dragster remained the quickest of the weekend.
Brown will face Terry Haddock in the first round as he tries to defend his victory here and earn his first win of the season.
“Today we were trying a few things, trying to get our car ready for the Countdown, but we thought it would run better,” Brown said. “The car wanted to run a .92 or .93, but the track didn't want any part of it. We were just too aggressive too far down the racetrack. We need to be a little more aggressive sooner, so tomorrow we'll make those adjustments and try to go A to B because that's what it's going to take. And if the sun is out it's going to be even more tricky. But never in a million years would I have thought that our .96 would stay No. 1.”
In Pro Stock, Johnson raced to a 6.966 at 198.64 in his Team Mopar Dodge Avenger to earn his fourth top qualifying position of the season. Johnson, who has won two of the last three finals at this event, will face Bob Yonke in the first round tomorrow as he seeks his first victory of the season.
"I'm hoping that this is our breakthrough weekend,” said Johnson, currently second in the point standings. “This season we've figured out every way in the world to lose every final that we've been in, so maybe this will be the one that we can win one for the Mopar banner and start to hone in on the championship."
Phillips continued to impress in Pro Stock Motorcycle, lowering the track record in the two-wheel category to 7.238 seconds at 186.41 mph on his Racers Edge Suzuki. It was Phillips' second career No. 1 qualifying effort.
“I had predicted a best of 7.28 for today, but the weather was about 800 feet better,” Phillips said. “I saw Karen (Stoffer) go out and run a 7.27 and Steve (Johnson) ran a 7.28, so I figured that my run would at least be a 7.24. I managed to hit all my shift points perfectly and got the 7.23.”
Phillips, who won at Infineon Raceway last weekend, hopes to keep the momentum going tomorrow when he faces Redell Harris in the opening round.
“With our win last weekend in Sonoma, I think we're peaking at the right time,” Phillips said. “I'm trying to stay focused and not let anything distract me. As long as I'm on my game, it's going to be pretty hard to beat me.”
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