The exhilarating Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge took place during Saturday qualifying at the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA Mile-High Nationals, and the bonus race did not disappoint. After two elimination rounds, Justin Ashley (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Troy Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock), and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) emerged as winners and will take home the cash and bank valuable bonus points that will come into play when the Countdown to the Championship playoffs begin.
The first round of the Funny Car Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge saw defending world champion NAPA Toyota driver Ron Capps up in smoke next to Tasca, who surged ahead but also began to drift in his Motorcraft Quicklane Ford. Tasca won it on a 4.11 to a 5.90. Soon after, J.R. Todd and Hagan came to the starting line for their semifinals rematch, and this time it was Hagan with the victory in his Dodge Direct Connection Funny Car over Todd's tire-smoking 6.62 in the DHL Toyota.
Hagan, who also secured the 50th No. 1 qualifier award of his career, was off the starting line first and easily kept ahead of a traction-troubled Tasca for the 4.51 to 8.22 win that would stand as his first in the specialty race.
"I think we're putting on a pretty good show for Dodge," said Hagan. "Not only with our 50th No. 1, but also winning the #2Fast2Tasty Challenge — we got a little bonus money for my guys. We did what we needed to do today to get our first #2Fast2Tasty and the last one on the hill. It's a really emotional day, and I'm proud of my guys, proud of [crew chief] Dickie Venables and all the work they put in. This cannot be done without the team that I have.
"[Team owner] Tony Stewart provides us with all the great stuff we need to go out there and do what we need to and run good. It's fun right now. We're having a great time."
In the first round of the Top Fuel competition, Ashley was off the starting line first and wheeled the Phillips Connect Toyota to a 3.98, 307 as Brittany Force struck the tires in her Monster Energy Flav-R-Pac Chevrolet and slowed to a 4.46. On the other side of the ladder, Leah Pruett, driving the Dodge Direct Connection rail, and Montana Brand/Rocky Mountain Twist pilot Prock were both fighting traction trouble. Prock was able to get it lined out to turn on the win light, 4.28 to 6.79.
Ashley, again, left the starting line first in the final round and skirted ahead with ease as Prock rattled the tires. Ashley claimed his fifth Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge win in six events with a 3.88 — his quickest pass of the weekend.
"This is incredible," said Ashley. "You try not to think about the championship this early in the year, but how can you not? These championship points are so critical. Now that we're at 15, and it really is like a dream come true. When they reset the points [before the Countdown to the Championship], everything starts from scratch — but those 15 points are critical. We're ecstatic with all these Mission #2Fast2Tasty wins. We'll try and keep tacking them on and learning each time we go down the racetrack.
Pro Stock points leader Dallas Glenn remained winless in the #2Fast2Tasty Challenge as he was a bit tardy off the starting line in the RAD Torque Chevrolet, allowing Coughlin to scoop up the win for JEGS.com on a holeshot in the opening act. Coughlin's .020 reaction time and 6.95 to a .049 and 6.94 got it done by .018-second. The next pair was decided on the starting line as well when Stanfield threw down a blisteringly perfect .000 reaction time in his Janac Bros. Chevrolet ahead of Matt Hartford's .026 in the Rottler/Total Seal/GETTRX Camaro. Stanfield won by .017 with a 6.97 to Hartford's 6.96.
Coughlin claimed his second Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge win the moment Stanfield turned it -.030 red in the final. Coughlin was a perfect .000 with a 6.94 in his victory lap.
"Winning this gets you into race mode," said Coughlin. "You win and it's exciting, but you almost have to get over it pretty quickly and get back into race mode. You really have to know when to turn it on and turn it off, and it's mental toughness, but that's exciting.
"I really haven't thought much about the points. A wise guy once told me that the most important race of the year is your next race. I'm just trying to take it one lap at a time and stay focused on what it takes to make good laps. We'll count the points in November, and if we're on top, we'll talk on stage — if not, we'll work even harder."
The opening round of Pro Stock Motorcycle began with Jianna Evaristo clocking a killer .005-second reaction time on her Scrappers Racing Suzuki, but Steve Johnson's SJR Suzuki got the win light, 7.24 to 7.50. In the next pair, No. 1 qualifier Hector Arana Jr. let the clutch out -.012 too soon on his GETTRX Buell and went red, sending Smith and his DENSO Suzuki ahead on a .020 reaction and 7.15.
In the final, Smith was .020 at the tree to Johnson's .015, but he snatched the lead with fair immediacy and kept it to the finish-line stripe. Smith tripped the final timer first with a 7.15 to his opponent's 7.24.
"We came up here with a new bike this year, a Suzuki, and I've never run one in my whole life up here," said Smith, who has won the main event at Bandimere Speedway four times. "But we made our best time of the weekend last run, and I'm very happy with everything. We've got it running better. It's still not where I want it to be, but we are close."
Smith, who oversees Matt Smith Racing, has seen riders under the umbrella compete in the #2Fast2Tasty Challenge throughout the year, but the Denver appearance was his first.
"Angie [Smith] got this win at Norwalk, and this is the first time I've even been in it," said Smith. "It's kind of been frustrating, because I've had Angie in it, I've had Jianna in it, I've had Chip Ellis in it, but I was never in it. I had everybody around me in it. So, for me to get in and win it on the first time is pretty good. I'm just happy that Mission is putting this on. It pumps the racers up and it gives us something else to shoot for. Hopefully we can do good tomorrow and be in it for Seattle. We only have two more of these left, we have to make a move here and get as many bonus points as we can."