NHRA Funny Car: It took 9 years but Matt Hagan finally earns first U.S. Nationals win

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BROWNSBURG, Indiana – Matt Hagan finished what he started.

The former two-time NHRA Funny Car champ came into this weekend’s Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals with 20 career wins – but he had never won the sport’s biggest race.

Scratch that off his bucket list now.

Hagan started Monday’s final eliminations at Lucas Oil Raceway as the No. 1 qualifier, showed great consistency and power throughout all five rounds of qualifying, and then capped things off by finally earning his first career win in the U.S. Nationals.

MORE: NHRA U.S. Nationals: Final finishing order, results, round-by-round, standings

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MORE: NHRA Top Fuel: Tony Schumacher earns record-breaking 10th U.S. Nationals win

When asked his reaction to winning the race, Hagan channeled wrestler Rik Flair’s trademark line: “Wooooooooo!”

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But seriously ….

“We made it right here at Indy when it counts,” said Hagan, who defeated defending series champ Del Worsham in the final round. “I’m just tickled to death to be up here. This is something I’ve been wanting to check off the list for a long time.

“This is something incredible, something we’ve been trying to accomplish for the last nine years with DSR (Don Schumacher Racing). It’s not an easy task. But we have the parts and pieces and people around me – especially (crew chief) Dickie Venables, who put a great hot rod under me all weekend.”

Hagan won his third race of the season with a strong performance of 3.964 seconds at 327.43 mph. Worsham was a very close second at 3.958 seconds at 324.20 mph.

“The car was just on kill the whole weekend,” Hagan said. “That’s what it takes to win championships, to win races. I really feel this car is really starting to peak at the right time.”

Hagan took home $100,000 for the win, while Worsham won $30,000. Hagan also made it a sweep for Don Schumacher Racing in the two Nitro classes (Tony Schumacher won the Top Fuel race Monday).

“I can’t believe we won the U.S. Nationals,” Hagan said. “I’m on cloud nine right now. It’ll probably take me a couple days to process.”

More importantly, Hagan enters the upcoming six-race Countdown to the Championship as the No. 3 seed (of 10 drivers).

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After earning the 22nd win of his Funny Car career, Hagan now looks ahead to going for his third championship (won in 2011 and 2014).

“Championships define careers,” Hagan said “This is a huge race and something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. But championships to me, is what it all comes down to.

“I’ve been able to win a few (championships), but I’ve also been able to set some milestones in history and win a lot of races. But people remember the championships.”

Hagan was also philosophical about how the entire day played out.

“It was a bad-ass show for the fans,” Hagan said. “They got what they paid for today. … There’s a lot of things that define great people and great moments. … When those moments come into play, you can’t fold. You have to be that person that stands out and makes it happen.”

Among other highlights from the four rounds of eliminations:

* Ron Capps remains the leader as the points are reset for the Countdown. Capps will enter the first race at Charlotte in two weeks with 2,110 points. Del Worsham is second (2,080 points), followed by Matt Hagan (2,070), Courtney Force (2,060), Jack Beckman (2,050), Robert Hight (2,040), Tommy Johnson Jr. (2,030), 16-time Funny Car champion John Force (2,020), Tim Wilkerson (2,010) and Alexis DeJoria (2,000).

* It was a rough day for John Force Racing. Sixteen-time Funny Car champion John Force lost in the first round to Chad Head. Daughter Courtney Force and JFR president Robert Hight both lost in the quarterfinals. Courtney was defeated by Tommy Johnson Jr., while Hight fell to Hagan.

* Hagan becomes the 30th different U.S. Nationals winner in Funny Car. He earned $100,000, while Worsham won $30,000.

* Alexis DeJoria made her return to competition after missing the last two races due to a fractured pelvis suffered in a crash a month ago at Sonoma. DeJoria lost in the first round of eliminations Monday to teammate Del Worsham.

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New schedule has Josef Newgarden seeing double (points) again in 2020

Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
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Two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske believes the latest revised schedule for 2020 will change his approach to the season.

The new schedule has the defending IndyCar champion looking at ways to double the possibilities for a second consecutive championship.

“When I look at the whole schedule they released now, I look at it as double-points as a whole in all of them,” Newgarden told NBCSports.com Monday. “Iowa is double points on a short oval. There are double points at the Indy GP because there are two races and a road course. Then double points at Laguna, which is a different road course than IMS. And there is double points in the Indianapolis 500.”

IndyCar announced to team owners two weeks ago that the season finale (once scheduled for Laguna Seca and now at St. Petersburg) will no longer be a double-points event. But Monday’s schedule revision essentially adds three double points-style races to the Indy 500’s double-points format, Newgarden said.

“Those are four events where you have to be quite strong,” Newgarden said. “They are all very different from each other. Each one is critical to get right. Iowa has a chance to be the most difficult. From a physical standpoint, it’s already a physical track for one race. To double it up on one weekend will be quite the toll for the drivers.

“It will be a very big test physically to see who will get that weekend right. You can bag a lot of points because of it.”

Just 12 days after the first schedule revision, IndyCar officials announced another revised schedule Monday because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The new schedule features doubleheader weekends at Iowa Speedway in July and Laguna Seca in September. There is an additional race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course Oct. 3.

That race will be known as the IndyCar Harvest Grand Prix. It will be the second time in Indianapolis Motor Speedway history that an IndyCar race is held in the fall. The only other time was the Harvest Auto Racing Classic, a series of three races won by Johnny Aitken on Sept. 9, 1916.

The Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix scheduled for May 30-31 will be dropped from the 2020 schedule. Michigan has a “Stay at Home” order that won’t be lifted in time to start construction of the Belle Isle street course.

Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles said the Detroit event will return in 2021.

The IMS road course essentially will have a doubleheader spaced out by nearly three months. The first race will be the GMR IndyCar Grand Prix on July 4, and the second will be Oct. 3 in the Harvest Grand Prix.

The extra doubleheaders combined with the loss of Detroit gives IndyCar a 15-race schedule for 2020. It started out as a 17-race campaign, but April’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, the Acura Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the AutoNation IndyCar Classic at Circuit of The Americas (COTA) have been canceled. The season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is being revived as the season finale on a TBA weekend in October.

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Newgarden also is excited about the chance to run at Indianapolis for three major races in one season. Of course, that all depends on how soon IndyCar can return to action because of the global pandemic.

“I’m continually excited about the thought of getting back to the race track,” Newgarden said. “We would love to be there now, but we can’t. With the current situation, everyone is trying to do the best they can to pitch in and do their part so we can get back to the track as quickly as possible.

“I’m excited to get back to racing at some point in the future. To see that is planned to start at Texas is still great. IndyCar has done a great job staying active and fluid with the ever-changing dynamics and current situation.

“We have three opportunities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There are a lot of chances to get it right at the Mecca of our sport.

“I have a lot of trust and faith in IndyCar and Roger, and they are doing their best to stay on top of the situation.”

The one downer to the revised schedule is the loss of the Detroit doubleheader, a very important weekend to Team Penske because Roger Penske also owns the Detroit race. It’s a chance to showcase the series in front of as “Motor City” crowd, which is also the home to the Penske Corp.

“It’s a shame that we miss any event this year,” Newgarden said. “As a racer, you look forward to each one of them. If any of them drop off, it’s a tough pill. Detroit is more so because it is such an important race for us at Team Penske. It’s in our backyard for Penske Corp. Also, our relationship with Chevrolet, how much they put I that event and try to get it right for everybody involved. It’s tough to not have a go at that this year.

“I think of the volunteers. The Detroit weekend is so well run and executed with such a positive momentum behind it for the last eight years that I’ve gone there. I’ve always enjoyed that weekend off the back of the Indy 500.

“It’s a shame we will miss that this year, but I look forward to getting back there in 2021 and getting it started again.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500