A Look at How Matt Hagan and Leah Pruett Can Win Their 2023 NHRA Championships

The NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series is nearing the halfway point of the playoff portion of the schedule, known as the Countdown to the Championship, and both of the Dodge Direct Connection drivers find themselves sitting in the fourth spot of their respective class. That includes Matt Hagan in his Dodge Direct Connection Charger SRT® Hellcat funny car and Leah Pruett in her Dodge Direct Connection top fuel dragster, both of whom are still well within striking distance of winning the title with four races left on the 2023 schedule. Today, we take a look at how Hagan and Pruett can each win an NHRA class championship with continued strong showings – and a win or two.

Prior to entering the six-race Countdown to the Championship portion of the 2023 NHRA Camping World schedule, the NHRA resets the point totals for the top 10 drivers and any racers in the Top Fuel Dragster and Top Fuel Funny Car classes who competed in every event throughout the season. As a result, for the 2023 Championship shootout, there are 12 drivers in the running in the Top Fuel Dragster class while 11 drivers are battling for the Top Fuel Funny Car title. These two groups of drivers are assigned a point total that is substantially higher than the rest of the field, but all within about a hundred points of each other in an effort to keep drivers from running away with the championship title early in the season.

For the start of the 2023 Countdown to the Championship, Pruett started in the fourth spot, 58 points out of first, while Hagan started in second, 24 points behind the leader in that class. After the first two events of the championship playoff system, Pruett trails Top Fuel leader Doug Kalitta by 76 points while Hagan is tied for third with Ron Capps, trailing Funny Car class leader Robert Hight by 69 points. The bad news is obviously that they have both lost some ground on their class leaders, but the good news is that the gap can be closed very quickly in the right circumstances.

The winner of either of these two classes at the next event – the Midwest Nationals at World Wide Technology Raceway – will receive 100 points toward the championship. Drivers who lose in the first round of eliminations get 20 points, drivers who lose in the second round get 40 points, drivers who lose in the third round get 60 points and the runner-up gets 80 points. Based just on those numbers, if Pruett and Hagan both won their class at the next event and the class leaders ahead of them lost in the first round, the Dodge Direct Connection drivers would have enough points to take over the championship lead. However, there are other points to be earned in addition to those awarded for finishing position, which will allow Matt Hagan and Leah Pruett to chip away at the current deficit.

First, during qualifying, the lowest elapsed time of each round gets 3 points, the second-lowest gets 2 and the third-lowest gets 1 point. Also, every driver who makes a complete qualifying run gets 10 points and there are point bonuses for qualifying position heading into eliminations. The top qualifier gets 8 points, second place gets 7, third gets 6, fourth gets 5, fifth and sixth get 4, seventh and eighth get 3, ninth through twelfth get two and the last four seeds get 1. Realistically, all of the top contenders are typically also the top qualifiers, so there isn’t as much ground gained or lost in qualifying, but late in the season, every point matters.

Finally, the NHRA Finals at Pomona Dragstrip in California has unique point totals, with the winner getting 150 points while the first round losers only get 30 points. There are also elevated point amounts for qualifying, so at the last event of the year, larger differences can be erased in a hurry. You can always get a full breakdown of how points are awarded in the Countdown to the Championship on the NHRA website.

Ultimately, if Matt Hagan and Leah Pruett can win one of the next three events, they will be in great shape heading into the Finals in Pomona, but they don’t necessarily need to win races to win the title. For Hagan, he needs to consistently finish better than Robert Hight, Bob Tasca III and Ron Capps, while Pruett needs to string together stronger finishes than Kalitta, Steve Torrence and Justin Ashley. For every round that the Dodge Direct Connection drivers win while those other six drivers (across the two classes) lose, they close the gap by 20 points. That would allow them to whittle away at the current lead, but with Hagan and Pruett both sitting less than 80 points out of first, beating those other title contenders by a round or two at the next few events would set up a very tight battle for the title in Pomona – and that is exactly what the NHRA Countdown to the Championship is intended to do.

Dodge Direct Connection drivers Matt Hagan and Leah Pruett, and their Tony Stewart Racing teams, have their work cut out as they head into the final four races of the 2023 season, but they both have a real shot of taking home the championship title if they can continue to battle to the late rounds.