After a first-time double-up for the Tony Stewart Racing nitro teams of Leah Pruett and Matt Hagan, the duo heads into Las Vegas in a unique and exciting position: leading the points in both Top Fuel and Funny Car with two races remaining.
Pruett leads Doug Kalitta and Steve Torrence by just four and 13 points, respectively, heading into this weekend’s 23rd annual NHRA Nevada Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, while in Funny Car, Hagan holds an advantage of 36 points over Bob Tasca III, with Robert Hight 69 points behind.
It adds up to an exciting opportunity for both Pruett and Hagan, with Pruett trying to pick up her first Top Fuel world championship. But with two races left in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs and a loaded field well within striking distance, Pruett knows there is plenty of work still to be done in her 11,000-horsepower Dodge Direct Connection dragster.
“We are four points ahead. That means literally nothing,” said Pruett, who has 12 Top Fuel wins. “We were so happy as a team that Sunday night [in Dallas], but the next day we're back in our race mode preparing for the Las Vegas event. I think Tony’s overall team atmosphere helps everyone here. The highest virtue that Tony has is treating people well. He helps me and our team with a racer’s mentality because he has been there and won in everything. It’s a huge help for everyone on the TSR team.”
Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Hagan (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock), and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) won the 2022 NHRA Nevada Nationals. This season’s race will be broadcast on FOX Sports 1 (FS1), including eliminations at 5 p.m. ET on Sunday. It is the 20th of 21 races during the 2023 season and the fifth of six races in the Countdown to the Championship.
Hagan brings plenty of confidence into Vegas, helped in part by last year’s win at the penultimate race of the year. That kept him in title contention, but Hagan and his team have been on point in 2023, winning six times and advancing to eight final rounds. Nothing is close to being decided, but Hagan likes where his team is at heading into Vegas in his 11,000-horsepower Dodge Direct Connection Charger SRT Hellcat. To add to the team’s momentum, Hagan, who is also a victory away from 50 career NHRA wins, has won the fall Vegas race three of the past four years.
“Having back-to-back wins [this season] rolling into Vegas gives us a lot of confidence,” Hagan said. “Funny Car racing is very humbling, so you never know what you’re going to get. When we’re in Vegas, we’re halfway to Denver’s altitude as far as making power goes. You have to change a lot on the car. I have faith in my crew, and my job is to drive the wheels off of it. We have a lot of momentum, so we just have to keep it going. I’m proud of my team. They’re turning the car around really quick, and that’s all you can ask for. I’ve won two of my championships with Dickie [Venables – crew chief], so we know what we need to do and what we’re capable of.”
Pruett has also made impressive strides this season. They’ve been in the top five for the bulk of the season, entering the playoffs in fourth. Since then, they’ve been remarkably consistent, advancing to the semifinals or better at all four playoff races, including back-to-back final rounds at the last two races. It’s propelled the standout into the points lead in the Countdown to the Championship for the first time in her career. But she also knows Kalitta and Torrence, a four-time champ, as well as the likes of Justin Ashley, Antron Brown, Mike Salinas, and Force are lurking, which means she’ll need another big weekend in Vegas to stay in front.
“Honestly, our confidence is higher than it’s ever been,” Pruett said. “We experienced multiple moments of validation last week in Dallas. Being able to make small adjustments through race day with a power-balanced car brought on peak performance and consistency. That’s what we knew it would take to win that race, and that’s what it will take to stretch our lead.”
Thanks to two straight playoff wins, Hagan moved back into the points lead in Dallas over Tasca, who is seeking his first Funny Car world title. But Hight is capable of a late-season run as well, and back-to-back world champ Ron Capps is within 99 points. For Hagan, that means there’s no opportunity to let up, and he’s aiming for a big finish, one he knows will be necessary to clinch a fourth world championship.
“It’s still anybody’s ball game out here,” Hagan said. “You can pat yourself on the back, but there is still a lot of work to be done. We have seen these things flip back and forth a lot. [But] I feel like we’ve had a great car all year long. We’ve won six races so far this season. We just need to keep doing what we do. We are in a fight for the championships, and we’ll use Tony’s experience in chasing a championship.”
NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at noon and 3 p.m. PT on Friday, Oct. 27, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Oct. 28 at noon and 3 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. PT on Sunday, Oct. 29. Television coverage includes qualifying action on FS1 at 7 p.m. ET on Friday with eliminations on FS1 at 5 p.m. ET on Sunday.
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.