As close as the Funny Car points race has been all season, Matt Hagan — along with an assist from Tommy Johnson Jr. — is suddenly threatening to run away with a second straight title.
That’s at least what it seems like after he opened up a 59-point lead over his Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps thanks to his win two weeks ago in St. Louis.
It’s hardly an insurmountable lead, but in the world of Funny Car in 2021, 59 points is somewhat gargantuan. It’s the largest the points lead has been since May 2, when Bob Tasca III opened up a 60-point advantage on J.R. Todd. That makes it the second-biggest lead this season, though Hagan is well aware just how quickly that can dissipate, especially in this year of extreme parity.
“You have to stay realistic. This is Funny Car racing, and these things can humble you in an instant,” Hagan said. “I don’t know how this season will end, but I’m proud of these guys, and I’m just excited right now. There’s a lot of things going our way. The car is fun to drive. It’s running great, my lights are great and [crew chief] Dickie [Venables] is going to keep being aggressive. Everything’s clicking right now, and it’s so fun.”
Heading to Texas Motorplex for this weekend’s Texas NHRA FallNationals, Hagan has a chance to keep the points lead for a second straight race, something that hasn’t happened in Funny Car in three months.
It has changed hands eight times in eight races, with Hagan grabbing it twice in that span. The second came with his impressive performance in St. Louis, continuing a great Countdown to the Championship for the team and giving Hagan a bigger lead than anyone has had since the third race of the season.
“We’ve got a real opportunity to win a fourth title. We’ve got a great team, and things are really clicking,” said Hagan, who has three wins in 2021, all coming in the last three months. “Dickie and the team are doing a great job of making the right calls. We were throwing down with Capps in St. Louis, but we’re not sitting on our high horse. It always comes down to these last couple of races, and it’s going to be a dogfight until the end. You’ve just got to trust in your guys.”
Hagan certainly has that with his team, and the 39-time also has a fresh perspective on things after missing two races with COVID-19.
He watched Johnson win in his car in Reading to open the Countdown to the Championship, and Hagan followed with the team’s second win in three races with his stellar performance at the most recent race in St. Louis.
With four races remaining in this year’s seven-race playoffs, Hagan wasn’t about to entertain running away with the title, but there is plenty pointing in his favor, including the points lead, a string of outstanding reaction times, and an abundance of excitement even in the midst of the most nerve-wracking part of the season.
“COVID was one of those things that truly humbled me, and it does put a lot of things in perspective,” Hagan said. “I’m blessed to be driving a race car, and I’m enjoying the ride and having fun doing it. I’m really not feeling any pressure, and I’m just having fun. That’s the biggest difference after coming back.
“The way Dickie is being so aggressive, it’s just awesome. I’m really seeing the lights well, and I’m just thinking about leaving the starting line consistently. It’s just been a good combo.”