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Matt Hagan took over the Funny Car points lead by racing to victory Sunday at the NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway.
Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Rodger Brogdon (Pro Stock), and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also were winners at the fourth of six playoff events during the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship.
Hagan crossed the finish line in spectacular fashion when his Rocky Boots Dodge Charger’s engine exploded following a 4.333-second pass at 215.00 mph, defeating Tommy Johnson Jr. in the final round. He was appearing in his third Countdown final and picked up his second win in the playoffs.
Hagan, who has three victories in the season and 13 in his career, opened up a 36-point advantage on 16-time world champ John Force with two races remaining in the season. He defeated Tony Pedregon, Jack Beckman, and Alexis DeJoria to advance to the final.
“The points lead is huge, but like I said, we showed up here to win a race,” said Hagan, the 2011 Funny Car world champ. “Points change, but the Wallys [trophies] you put on your shelf don’t. We did what we set up to do this morning, and that was to turn the win light on four times.”
It was the third final of the season for Johnson and his second Reading final; he moves to fourth in the points standings with the runner-up finish in his Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger.
Force and daughter Courtney entered Reading one-two in the points but struggled on race day with both falling in the first round: John to Bob Tasca III and Courtney to Jeff Arend. Courtney is now third in points.
Seven-time world champ Schumacher extended his Top Fuel points lead after he held off Brittany Force in a thrilling final round, where both cars lost traction early and were on and off the throttle all the way downtrack. It was the third Countdown victory this season for Schumacher, his fifth win of the season and 77th of his career. Schumacher, who has five career victories at this event, increased his series lead to 134 over Doug Kalitta heading to Las Vegas.
“Luckily I don’t have the give-up attitude,” said Schumacher, who took early-round wins over Bob Vandergriff Jr., Steve Torrence, and Kalitta. “I got back in it. I think I pedaled it twice and finally got it to hook up a little bit. I’ve been working on that a long time. That’s the first one of those I’ve won in a long time; I’ve been taken a beating. You’ve got to win those.”
Force was contesting her fourth final of the season and is still seeking her first career win. Her Castrol Edge dragster was strong all weekend, defeating Terry McMillen and two-time season winners Richie Crampton and Spencer Massey en route to the final.
In Pro Stock, Brogdon secured his second career victory with a 6.516 at 212.13 in the Owens Corning Chevy Camaro, defeating Dodge Dart driver Allen Johnson in the final. Brogdon won from the No. 11 qualifying position, upsetting Richie Stevens in the opening round and then knocking off series points leader Jason Line and four-time world champ Greg Anderson in the next two rounds.
“I think that we can’t be taken for granted,” said Brogdon, who picked up his first career win in Bristol last season. “We’re working on hopefully a three-year deal with Owens Corning and this win definitely had to help.”
Johnson was looking for his fifth win of the season in the Magneti Marelli Dodge Dart. Despite the loss, he moved to fourth in Pro Stock points. Points leader Line exits Maple Grove Raceway with a 35-point advantage over Reading No. 1 qualifier and semifinalist Erica Enders-Stevens.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Krawiec picked up his fourth win of 2014 with a 6.793 at 197.13 on the Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson, beating Scotty Pollacheck. It was Krawiec’s 27th career victory and third at Maple Grove Raceway. He cut teammate Andrew Hines’ points lead to 25.
“We were joking around that it looks like it’s going to come down to a two-hog [Harley] race instead of a two-horse race,” said Krawiec, who beat Shawn Gann, Adam Arana, and defending world champ Matt Smith en route to the final. “I knew that this was an important day for me personally. If I wanted to stay in championship contention, I have to make sure I can make up every round.”
Pollacheck was 0-4 in previous final-round appearances and was trying to reverse that trend aboard his Petrolhead Apparel Buell. Despite the loss, the Matt Smith Racing driver moved to sixth in points and is within striking distance of fourth-place Steve Johnson and fifth-place Smith.
The NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship continues Oct. 30-Nov. 2 with the NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.