NHRA: Winning weekend in New England for Hagan, Torrence

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At the rate things are going, New England Dragway may want to think about changing its name to something like Matt Hagan Dragway.

For the third time in as many years, the Don Schumacher Racing driver won the NHRA Funny Car division in Sunday’s finals of the New England Nationals at the Epping, New Hampshire dragstrip.

Hagan (4.014 seconds at 322.81 mph) defeated Shawn Langdon (4.046 seconds at 317.49 mph) in the final round to take home the “Wally” winner’s trophy.

It’s Hagan’s second win of the 2019 season and 31st of his Funny Car career. In his semi-final matchup Sunday, Hagan stopped Bob Tasca III’s two-race winning streak (Tasca won at both Bristol, Tennessee, and Norwalk, Ohio in the last two NHRA national events).

We went down the track in qualifying and that created a lot of confidence in our team,” said Hagan, who also picked up his 350th career round win during eliminations. “Rolling into race day, I knew we had a great car and I was confident in it.

We kept lane choice every pass and that was big. I’m really excited we were able to get another win and we needed this to be our turning point this season. We needed to gather up some momentum and I feel like we’re making the right steps to move forward coming out of this race.”

As for Top Fuel, Torrence remains virtually unstoppable. The Texas native earned his seventh win of the season, as well as his second straight triumph at New England.

Torrence (3.861 seconds at 321.58 mph) defeated Scott Palmer (4.014 seconds, 251.25 mph) in the final round to keep his class-dominating performance rolling. Torrence is now just four wins away from tying his 11-win season in 2018, which included becoming the first driver in NHRA history to win all six Countdown to the Championship playoff races.

Sunday’s win was Torrence’s 13th in the last 19 races dating back to last season’s playoffs and 26th win since 2017.

I really, really want Scott Palmer to win a race, but we want to win them all, too,” said Torrence, who qualified ninth and won from the seventh different qualifying position in 2019. “That was a great final round. That’s a really good group of guys and to see the progression we’ve both made, it’s pretty neat and really special for us.

Without being cocky and just being confident, you carry the mindset of you want to go everywhere and win. With doing that, you don’t treat anywhere any differently. This is a fun place to come to and it’s a pretty neat part of the country.”

NOTES: Torrence is nominated for the Best Driver Award at Wednesday’s 2019 ESPY Awards. … Surprisingly, Mike Salinas, who has been one of the biggest stories in Top Fuel this season after Torrence, did not make the trip from his San Jose, California home base for this weekend’s race in New England. … John Force still continues to chase the 150th win of his illustrious career. … There are now 11 races left on the 24-race NHRA national event schedule. … The NHRA enjoys next weekend off before the start of the annual “West Coast Swing,” which begins July 19-21 with the 40th Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway in Denver, followed by Sonoma, California and Seattle, Washington.

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Here’s the final statistics from Sunday’s eliminations in New Hampshire:

FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence; 2. Scott Palmer; 3. Richie Crampton; 4. Clay Millican; 5. Dom Lagana; 6. Terry McMillen; 7. Antron Brown; 8. Austin Prock; 9. Audrey Worm; 10. Brittany Force; 11. Cameron Ferre; 12. Doug Kalitta; 13. Dan Mercier.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Matt Hagan; 2. Shawn Langdon; 3. Tim Wilkerson; 4. Bob Tasca III; 5. Cruz Pedregon; 6. Ron Capps; 7. Robert Hight; 8. J.R. Todd; 9. Jack Beckman; 10. Jim Campbell; 11. Terry Haddock; 12. John Force; 13. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 14. Jeff Diehl; 15. Mike Smith.

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SUNDAY’S FINAL ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: Steve Torrence, 3.861 seconds, 321.58 mph def. Scott Palmer, 4.014 seconds, 251.25 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 4.014, 322.81 def. Shawn Langdon, Toyota Camry, 4.046, 317.49.

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Dom Lagana, 3.862, 305.98 def. Brittany Force, Foul – Red Light; Steve Torrence, 3.756, 328.62 def. Austin Prock, 3.843, 323.19; Clay Millican, 3.914, 247.84 was unopposed; Terry McMillen, 3.867, 322.50 def. Doug Kalitta, 7.563, 104.88; Antron Brown, 4.018, 281.42 def. Cameron Ferre, 4.406, 187.26; Scott Palmer, 3.894, 320.13 def. Dan Mercier, Broke; Richie Crampton, 3.827, 320.20 def. Audrey Worm, 4.020, 296.11; QUARTERFINALS — Palmer, 4.252, 214.31 def. Brown, 6.843, 101.10; Millican, 3.813, 324.20 def. Lagana, 3.886, 321.81; Crampton, 4.176, 219.01 was unopposed; Torrence, 3.883, 323.81 def. McMillen, 4.328, 217.25; SEMIFINALS — Torrence, 3.832, 323.35 def. Crampton, 4.062, 292.20; Palmer, 3.905, 299.13 def. Millican, 9.020, 79.49; FINAL — Torrence, 3.861, 321.58 def. Palmer, 4.014, 251.25.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 4.540, 188.10 was unopposed; Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 4.006, 320.20 def. Jeff Diehl, Camry, 4.568, 206.01; Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 4.037, 281.36 def. Terry Haddock, Mustang, 4.239, 268.76; Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 3.980, 315.19 def. Mike Smith, Dodge Stratus, 7.299, 84.21; Shawn Langdon, Camry, 4.036, 316.75 def. Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.062, 305.98; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.958, 326.24 def. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.016, 322.04; Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 4.511, 257.28 def. John Force, Camaro, 4.540, 244.56; Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.259, 233.72 def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.559, 186.38; QUARTERFINALS — Tasca III, 4.023, 319.22 def. Pedregon, 4.045, 319.45; Hagan, 3.991, 325.22 def. Capps, 4.101, 262.64; Langdon, 3.999, 320.51 def. Hight, 4.103, 271.24; Wilkerson, 4.242, 233.88 def. Todd, 4.274, 229.12; SEMIFINALS — Langdon, 4.006, 320.36 def. Wilkerson, 4.053, 315.56; Hagan, 4.000, 324.05 def. Tasca III, 4.478, 219.12; FINAL — Hagan, 4.014, 322.81 def. Langdon, 4.046, 317.49.

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UPDATED POINT STANDINGS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence, 1,278; 2. Doug Kalitta, 799; 3. Antron Brown, 781; 4. Brittany Force, 777; 5. Mike Salinas, 732; 6. Clay Millican, 730; 7. Leah Pritchett, 651; 8. Richie Crampton, 612; 9. Terry McMillen, 576; 10. Scott Palmer, 563.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, 1,079; 2. John Force, 903; 3. Tommy Johnson Jr., 891; 4. Ron Capps, 870; 5. Jack Beckman, 851; 6. J.R. Todd, 825; 7. (tie) Matt Hagan, 770; Bob Tasca III, 770; 9. Tim Wilkerson, 691; 10. Shawn Langdon, 675.

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New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”