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A championship contender? Matt Hartford certainly believes he is

Following his runner-up finish at the Denso Spark Plugs NHRA U.S. Nationals, Matt Hartford feels he’s very much in the running for the 2020 Mello Yello Pro Stock world championship.
26 Sep 2020
Kevin McKenna, NHRA National Dragster Senior Editor

The math is daunting; 162 points in five races, but Matt Hartford still firmly believes he can win the 2020 Mello Yello Pro Stock championship. Hartford’s endless optimism is fueled in large part by his recent run to the final round of the Denso NHRA U.S. Nationals earlier this month. Prior to Indy, Hartford hadn’t been past the second round at any event, but he never saw that as an indicator of his Total Seal team’s performance.

“Yeah, we’re still in this but we have to get a move on,” said Hartford. “We’re pretty far behind but I absolutely believe that Erica or Jeg, or Jason can lose in the first round at any given time. It’s so close now that none of us are safe. If we have a race or two where they stumble and we happen to win a few rounds, we’re right in this thing.”

It's worth noting that Hartford and longtime crew chief Eddie Guanarccia made the tough decision to change engine suppliers this season, leaving the Elite team for a least program with the KB team. Using Elite power, Hartford won two events in the last three seasons and went to seven final rounds. In 2019, he finished the season as the No. 5 ranked driver in the class with a 27-17 record in elimination rounds.

“When we made the switch, it meant we had to work on our set-up and I think we got behind the eight-ball a little bit,” said Hartford. “There’s not a lot of differences between engines but there are a few subtle things that you need to adjust for. We’ve always done our own program as far as the clutch and chassis and Eddie has a good handle on that, but there are a few things we need to adjust.

“With [KB teammates] Greg [Anderson] and Jason [Line], we always know what we have,” Hartford continued. “They tell us what’s up. If we’ve got an engine that’s down on power a little, we know beforehand, so we don’t chase our tails like we did at times last year. We go by what the scoreboard says.”

Looking back on his drive to the Indy final, Hartford felt like he did almost everything he could do to win the race including a competitive .026 light and a 6.610, but he came up short on both ends to Erica Enders’ .009 light and 6.606. Such is life in the ultra-competitive Pro Stock class.

“It sucks that we came up on the wrong end of it but what can you do?” said Hartford. “Honestly, I would have preferred to race Mason McGaha in the final. He was going to beat Erica in the semifinals before he broke a motor. I wouldn’t have felt as bad losing to him, and obviously that would have helped us in the points. Then again, Erica had the same bad luck when she lost the [2019 Indy final] to Alex Laughlin so I guess that’s just karma.”