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AUTO RACING

Funny-car driver Matt Hagan sitting pretty at NHRA Finals

Hagan posts the top funny-car speed in qualifying Friday as he looks claim his first title after last year's stunning loss to John Force.

November 11, 2011|By Larry Stewart
  • Matt Hagan takes to the track during qualifying for the Auto Club Finals in Pomona on Thursday.
Matt Hagan takes to the track during qualifying for the Auto Club Finals… (Mark J. Rebilas / U.S. Presswire )

A year ago, Matt Hagan came into the National Hot Rod Assn. Finals at Pomona with a 38-point lead and appeared to be in line to win a national funny-car title in only his second full season of drag racing.

He was seeded fourth going into the final-day eliminations but lost in the first round. That loss opened the door for John Force to pull off a stunning victory and up his NHRA record to 15 national championships.

Hagan returned to Pomona's Auto Club Speedway in February for the Winternationals, the first event on the 22-event NHRA schedule, and finished second by the narrowest of margins, .033 seconds behind Robert Hight, Force's son-in-law.

Now, after turning in the top qualifying run on Friday at this year's NHRA Finals at the Auto Club Speedway, Hagan appears to be sitting pretty again. Hagan covered the 1,000 feet in 4.088 seconds with a top speed of 310.41 mph.

Hagan remains seeded third because Hight and Mike Neff had faster runs on Thursday, the first day of qualifying. But Hagan, a Virginia cattle rancher who turns 29 next Friday, picked up three bonus points by having Friday's fastest run. Those three points could prove important.

Hagan now leads Jack Beckman by four points in the battle for the national championship. It appears it may come down to a four-person race for the funny-car title, with Neff and Hight the other contenders. So far, Cruz Pedregon, in third place in points, has not qualified for the 16-car elimination field. He is now 17th.

Hight, who had the fastest run Thursday and second-fastest Friday, has picked up five bonus points over the two days. He is in fifth place, 69 points behind Hagan. Neff, in the fourth spot, trails by 35 and Pedregon is 29 back.

In top fuel, Antron Brown is in a position similar to Pedregon's. Brown is third in the points standings but currently 22nd among 26 dragsters in qualifying.

"We're hoping for a sunny day tomorrow," he said. "Things are what they are. There's no need to be jittery or nervous now."

Rain could conceivably wipe out Saturday's qualifying, which would be bad news for Pedregon, Brown and other drivers still trying to make Sunday's elimination round.

The sun was shining through clouds on Friday, after an overcast day on Thursday.

The warmer weather softened the track just enough to slow down speeds a bit. Tony Schumacher's 3.827 on Thursday held up as the fastest top-fuel qualifying time. Del Worsham's 3.830 was the second-fastest.

But Worsham picked up three bonus points with the fastest run Friday — 3.834 seconds. But his top speed Friday was faster than Thursday's, 316.67 mph to 314.61.

With five bonus points over the two days, Worsham moved ahead of Spencer Massey in the points standings, 2,506 to 2,504. Massey is in the third qualifying spot.

Everything is in place for a most interesting weekend in both top fuel and funny car, weather permitting.

Brown, when asked how early he was going to get up to check on the weather, said: "I don't care what the weather is when I get up. I care what it is at 11 or 12 o'clock."

sports@latimes.com

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