Top Qualifier Hagan Advances Dodge//SRT® Hellcat to Winternationals Funny Car Final Before Rain Halts Action, Stewart Exits in Top Fuel First Round

Defending NHRA Lucas Oil Winternationals champion Matt Hagan drove his Johnson Horsepowered Garage Dodge//SRT® Hellcat Funny Car to the final round Sunday before rain and hailstorms halted the championship rounds at the In-N-Out Pomona Dragstrip.

Hagan, the defending NHRA Winternationals champion, was seeking his second consecutive title in a battle against the legendary John Force when storms forced NHRA officials to postpone all final round competition to the April 5-7 Arizona Nationals in Chandler, Ariz.

The four-time NHRA Mission Funny Car World Champion qualified first in the 16-car starting lineup with a 3.893 run at 330.15 miles per hour Saturday and entered Sunday’s eliminations as the favorite with his HEMI® engine-powered nitro-burning machine after two rain-shortened qualifying attempts.

In the three rounds of competition Sunday before the storms hit the Pomona, Calif., area, Hagan defeated Buddy Hull, Jeff Diehl and J.R. Todd to advance to the final against Force. The Dickie Venables-tuned machine recorded strong runs of 3.909, 3.899 and 3.939 in those three rounds.

“We didn’t leave here a loser today, so that’s a good thing,” said Hagan. “It will be challenging going into the Pomona final at Phoenix now. We had set up the car for the Pomona track and will have to make adjustments at Phoenix to race Force for the Winternationals title. But that’s what we’re going to do. The weather made things difficult to finish in Pomona, so I understand the NHRA’s decision. We will go to Phoenix and hopefully get a few runs under our belt and put forth our best effort to win the race there and do well in qualifying. It’ll be a lot going on for the team, and I’m looking forward to it.”

In the Top Fuel category at the NHRA Winternationals, racing legend Tony Stewart, in his second NHRA Top Fuel national event, battled the strange weather conditions and faulty timing at the Winternationals in his TSR Mobil 1/Dodge//SRT HEMI engine-powered Top Fuel dragster.

After weather conditions delayed qualifying, the multi-time auto racing champion drove his Mobil 1/Dodge//SRT Top Fueler to an impressive 3.737 run on Saturday afternoon to secure the third spot. However, NHRA officials disallowed the run due to a timing system glitch which then moved Stewart to 13th in the Top Fuel field.

In Sunday’s first round of competition, Stewart went up against four-time World Champion Steve Torrence. Stewart’s dragster lost traction off the starting line and Torrence took the win.

“This was one of those weekends where anything that could go wrong, went wrong,” said Stewart. “We had some track issues on Friday. It was really hard to get down the racetrack. A lot of cars struggled. Saturday’s qualifying session was really the elephant in the room for us. We had a solid pass. But there was some kind of a glitch in the timing and scoring system, so NHRA had to unfortunately throw our run out. The way that lined us up in the bracket, we went against Steve Torrence on race day. Steve is a strong competitor and his CAPCO team with proven performance.

“Unfortunately, we smoked the tires about 100 feet out. I think we’re experiencing growing pains right now. I’m 50 to 55 pounds heavier than my wife (Leah Pruett, former team driver) and there are a couple other variables that are different with this chassis. It’s a tough challenge for Neal (Strausbaugh – crew chief) and Mike (Domagala – co-crew chief) right now. As far as the driving side goes, I’m getting more and more comfortable and gaining more confidence. I wish I could have taken them further through the day on Sunday.”

At the NHRA Arizona Nationals, Hagan and Stewart are set for the nitro qualifying on Friday, April 5, at 4:30 p.m. PDT with two more qualifying rounds scheduled for Saturday, March 23, at 12 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. PDT with Sunday’s final eliminations set for 11 a.m. PDT.