By Briar Starr, NHRA Staff Writer
Heading into race day Sunday as the No. 10 qualifier, Tony Stewart Racing‘s Matt Hagan knew he had a tough battle in front of him if he wanted to win his second race of the 2023 season.
Hagan qualified in an uncharacteristic 10th-place starting position with the help of his qualifying run of 3.962 at 302.96 mph, which would see him in a first-round match against the No. 7 qualifier Blake Alexander.
Believe it or not, Alexander’s first round in a professional Funny Car competition came in 2011 at Reading against Hagan. Even though Alexander only had two wins over Hagan coming into the match, Hagan got off the starting line first with a 0.069 reaction time and never looked behind as his Funny Car powered to a round win with a 3.929 at 330.07 mph.
In the second round, Hagan would square off with Funny Car veteran Alexis DeJoria who once again had the starting line advantage over DeJoria. Hagan cut a great light of 0.067 and would win with a 3.950 at 324.67 mph. The second-round victory helped Hagan move on to the semi-finals where he was facing off a cinderella story of Terry Haddock.
Haddock was having a successful day of competition where he won over John Force Racing’s Robert Hight in E1 and Tim Wilkerson in E2. He looked to continue that momentum in E3 where he fought against Hagan.
In E3, fans were tuned in to see if Haddock could once again pull off the upset. Unfortunately, Haddock’s day was cut short after falling to Hagan’s 3.955 at 326.40 mph. With the victory, Hagan improved to 7-0 over Haddock from previous rounds.
Finally, in the finals, Hagan would compete with Funny Car champion and Team Owner Ron Capps. Capps made it to the finals with round wins over Paul Lee, No. 1 qualifier Cruz Pedregon, and Bob Tasca III in the semis.
Heading into the finals, Capps had a slight advantage over Hagan with a win-loss record of 6-5 in the final round and was 38-33 in recent events. When the two cars rocketed off the starting line, Hagan was perfect as he was all day long and would go on to win clocking in a time of 3.967 at 328.06 mph over Capps’s 4.303 at 211.13 mph.
“It was nice to be able to come out here and debut Haas Automation and Gene Haas. I’m very proud to represent such a prominent name in motorsports. It’s great to have Tony (Stewart) come over to drag racing and bring these new sponsors. I feel like it’s going to help our sport grow. Not just with our team, but with other teams also. It’s been a wonderful weekend.”
“The right lane was giving us a tough time all weekend and it was a handful. For Dickie Venable (crew chief), Mike Knudsen (co-crew chief), Alex Conaway (car chief), and all of the guys wrenching on my car, I’m so thankful for them. They always find a way to put a great race car underneath me. I try to rise to the occasion when I can and turn on the win lights.”
“It’s a great day when you can move up from being the No. 10 qualifier and win the race. I woke up this morning feeling like we had a bit of a hill to climb. As the car continues to go down the racetrack, you get more confident. I’m always glad to have Dickie in our corner. I’ve already told him that I hope I can retire my career with him as my crew chief one day. At the end of the day, I’m really proud of our guys. Thank you to Gene Haas for putting his business on our car and allowing us to pull it into the winner’s circle.”
The victory was Hagan’s 45th of his NHRA career.
Funny Car Results
Bob Tasca III
Up Next: The 2023 NHRA Camping World Series season will resume at the Charlotte Four-Wide Nationals on April 14-16 following a weekend off.