After a runner-up finish at the most recent race in Dallas, three-time NHRA Funny Car world champ Matt Hagan remained right in the thick of the championship hunt. But the standout driver for Tony Stewart Racing knows he may need to be even better at the final two races of the 2022 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season if another world title is in his future.
Trailing points leader Robert Hight by 76 points heading into this weekend’s 22nd NHRA Nevada Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Hagan may be in must-win territory at the penultimate race of the Countdown to the Championship playoffs, with defending world champ Ron Capps also within 10 points of Hight.
But Hagan knows his team and his 11,000-horsepower Dodge Power Brokers Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat is capable of rising to the occasion. He went a blistering 3.825 seconds in Dallas en route to the runner-up, and Hagan is focused on collecting his first victory since June, knowing it would also come at a perfect time this weekend.
“I think it’s one of those things where you’re up against it and you have no choice. You need to go to the final, and you need to win the race,” said Hagan, who has three wins this season. “We wanted to win in Dallas, but I was impressed with my team. We came out swinging, scooped up some little [qualifying] points, and did what we needed to do. We were just on the back side of a good drag race [against Capps] in the final.
“Moving to Vegas, we need to have that same mentality. It’s do-or-die for us. Capps and Robert both have good cars and are going to go rounds, so we don’t have much time to make up ground. Vegas is a great track and a great venue, so we’re tickled to death to still have a shot at it, and we’re going to be aggressive.”
Racing for the first-year Tony Stewart Racing team, it’s been a banner year for Hagan, who led the points for six straight races earlier this season. The second half of the season has belonged to Hight, who has eight wins in 2022, and Capps, who slipped past Hagan in a thrilling final round in Dallas to grab his fifth victory this year.
But Hagan is by no means out of championship contention, especially if he’s able to secure his fourth career victory in Las Vegas. He qualified No. 1 in Dallas and made a series of strong runs, and with ideal weather conditions headed to Vegas, Hagan and his team, led by crew chief Dickie Venables, are capable of throwing up big numbers. Of course, he’ll also have to get past the likes of Bob Tasca III, J.R. Todd, Alexis DeJoria, John Force, and Tim Wilkerson, but Hagan is eager for the challenge that awaits.
“We’ve been to a lot of finals in Vegas, and it’s treated us very well,” Hagan said. “Dickie has a good handle on the track, and I feel confident we can push hard. But you look at the caliber of people you’re racing, and you have to keep swinging. You don’t want to be the weak link, and you don’t want to let your team down. It’s just so tough and cutthroat in this class. It’s so close, it really is incredible, and we’re excited about the weekend.”
To purchase tickets to the NHRA Nevada Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, call 800-644-4444 or visit www.lvms.com. Children 12 and under are admitted free in general-admission areas with a paid adult.