POMONA, Calif. (Nov. 12, 2017) - Matt Hagan has won two NHRA Funny Car world titles in the past seven years, but anything less than a championship is unacceptable for a winning athlete and team.
Hagan and his Mopar Express Lane Powered by Pennzoil Dodge Charger R/T led by crew chief Dickie Venables and assistant Michael Knudsen won four NHRA Mello Yello titles this year along with four No. 1 qualifying positions.
The Don Schumacher Racing team started the year by winning the first two titles of the season and added a third in early June at Epping, N.H. But in the finicky world of nitro racing, it doesn't take much to throw a monkey wrench into the toolbox.
Hagan and the Mopar team were confident at this weekend's NHRA Finals at Pomona, Calif., after closing qualifying with a 3.8-second run and posting two more in that range on Sunday during eliminations.
It also helped their confidence that they won two weeks ago at Las Vegas.
But Sunday in the season-finale, Hagan produced a 3.875 run at 332.18 mph but it wasn't enough to get by new world champion Robert Hight who completed his run in 3.851 at 334.32 in the second round.
"Good, bad or indifferent, we didn't win the championship this year," said Hagan who won big trophies in 2011 and 2014. "But I wouldn't trade Dickie or Mike for anybody out here. I feel like we're growing as a group. We have a lot of good chemistry and know each other's ins and outs and every move.
"It takes that to really click and win races and win championships. You're not going to win them all the time, but we've always been in the hunt. That means a lot to me because every time I strap in the car I know I've got a chance on Sunday to win."
Hagan finished the season ranked fifth marking fifth straight year he's finished in the top-five.
"We came out strong with good momentum after winning the first two races," he said. "I thought 'Man, it's going to be our year'. Then the heat comes on a bit and things changed so we changed our combo. It's one of those deals where you have to adapt. We adapted and we learned a lot with the different things we changed.
"Drag racing is only going to get more competitive. You have to get after it. We're always growing, adapting doing research and development at DSR."
Despite winning 25 Mello Yello titles this year, including one Sunday night by Tommy Johnson Jr. and the Make-A-Wish Dodge, it marks the first time DSR has not won a world championship in the past four years and only the third time in the past seven seasons when it did not have a champion crowned.
2017 NHRA world champion: Robert Hight (John Force Racing)
Event winner: Tommy Johnson Jr. (Don Schumacher Racing)
No. 1 qualifier: Jack Beckman (Don Schumacher Racing) 3.835 sec., 334.98 mph
MATT HAGAN, Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T
Crew chief: Dickie Venables; Assistant: Michael Knudsen
First round: HAGAN (3.872 sec., 332.59 mph) def. Gary Densham (no time)
Second round: Robert Hight (3.851, 334.32) def. HAGAN (3.875, 332.18)
Qualified: No. 7
FRIDAY: 7.606 sec., 91.30 mph, (Session 1); 7.947, 79.68, (Session 2)
SATURDAY: 3.933, 328.62, (Session 3); 3.898, 333.08, (Session 4)
COUNTDOWN TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS - FINAL
(Official standings after 24th of 24 events; DSR drivers in CAPS)
1. Robert Hight-CHAMPION (4) 2686 -----
2. RON CAPPS (8) 2588 -98
3. Courtney Force 2543 -143
4. JACK BECKMAN (2) 2519 -167
5. MATT HAGAN (4) 2470 -216
6. TOMMY JOHNSON JR. (2) 2452 -234
7. John Force (1) 2388 -298
8. Tim Wilkerson 2296 -390
9. J.R. Todd (2) 2282 -404
10. Cruz Pedregon 2178 -508