Remember Matt Hagan? He won at the second race of the season, in Phoenix, something of a tradition for the driver of the Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat. He won again in Epping, reminding the Funny Car category he and crew chief Dickie Venables were a force to be reckoned with when the conditions were right -- at least, that's the traditional narrative.
Hagan and Venables' reputations are staked as big-game hunters. They no longer hold national records, something the duo chased aplenty when the PJ1 was plentiful and the Earth at least felt colder more often. That hasn't hurt their performance as much as the narrative suggests, even as Hagan slipped down the standings (as deep as eighth entering Sonoma).
No statistic works in a vacuum, but Hagan, by reputation, should be the kind of racer that suffers in Success Rate while leading the charts in average elapsed time. And yet, Venables' Funny Car has been the second-best in Success Rate, which measures how often a flopper gets down the track quicker than 4.1 seconds. No one writes their parents about a 4.05-second Funny Car run, but the correlation between Success Rate and Round-Win Percentage (which is allegedly what we all care about, winning) is .845 (that's good).
The only racer with a better Success Rate than Hagan is John Force -- the guy in second place entering the Auto Club NHRA Finals. There's more than one way to win a championship, ask Robert Hight, whose crew chief Jimmy Prock's relentless aggression has resulted in a lower Success Rate but spectacular elapsed times. That's the point of NHRA Power Rankings and is why we take multiple statistics into account when putting rankings together. The point is -- Hagan's getting down the track a lot more than his perception suggestions.
He needs to go two rounds further than Hight in order to win his third Funny Car world championship after winning back-to-back races in Dallas and Las Vegas. What seemed highly improbably entering the Countdown to the Championship at least appears possible as we gear up for the final race of the 2019 season. The best race of the season, hands down, has us ready for one of the best finals of the Countdown era. Hagan was in ninth place in St. Louis -- and if he manages to win the championship, this will rival Hight's 2010 surge for most impressive championships.
You're not going to want to miss this.