Hagan Stays Hot With Gateway No. 1

Matt Hagan topped the NHRA Funny Car charts during qualifying Saturday at Gateway Motorsports Park. (NHRA Photo)
Matt Hagan topped the NHRA Funny Car charts during qualifying Saturday at Gateway Motorsports Park. (NHRA Photo)
Matt Hagan topped the NHRA Funny Car charts during qualifying Saturday at Gateway Motorsports Park. (NHRA Photo)

MADISON, Ill. – Funny Car points leader Matt Hagan earned the No. 1 qualifying position Saturday at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park near St. Louis.

Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana Sr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also will lead their categories into Sunday’s 11 a.m. eliminations as No. 1 qualifiers at the 21st race of the season and the third of six playoff races in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.

Hagan’s stellar season continued as his Friday track record performance of 4.001 seconds at 320.20 mph in his Magneti Marelli/Rocky Boots Dodge Charger gave the 2011 world champ his fifth No. 1 qualifying position of the season and the 15th of his career.

“I feel like yesterday was one of those deals where we set ourselves up where we needed to, and then today, you come out and try to work on race-day setup,” said Hagan, who will meet second-generation driver Daniel Wilkerson in the first round. “Today we missed a little bit early when it was hot out, and then it was just a little bit weak on the second session, but I’ve got all the confidence in the world in [crew chief] Dickie Venables. He’s going to do a great job tomorrow, and we’re going to turn four win lights on and hold up the trophy at the end of the day.”

During the four rounds of qualifying, Hagan increased his series lead from 51 to 63 over second place Cruz Pedregon, who qualified 10th and will meet local favorite Tim Wilkerson in a titan first round Countdown match up.

“Every lap counts,” said Hagan. “I mean, you’re looking at small points. You’re trying to pick up three points every time you go down the racetrack. My mentality is to just come out here and drive my race car and do what we know how to do and go down the racetrack and make it into a phenomenal weekend.”

Robert Hight will start second in his Auto Club Ford Mustang with his 4.022 at 315.64 and 15-time champ John Force qualified third with a 4.023 at 313.66 in his Castrol GTX Mustang. Force was quickest and second-quickest on Saturday, while his daughter Courtney, who will race Tony Pedregon in the opening round, was quickest in the last session with a 4.037 and second-quickest in the first at the controls of her Traxxas Mustang.

In Top Fuel, no one improved on Langdon’s 3.761 at 326.40 from Friday either, so the Al-Anabi Racing driver used that effort to score his sixth No. 1 of the season, second in a row in the Countdown and 12th of his career. He will race Troy Buff in the opening round.

“The Al-Anabi team did an excellent job preparing the car for the four qualifying runs this weekend,” Langdon said. “The last run got a little bit overaggressive, but we’re basically trying to go out there and trying to throw down to see what exactly it will hold. We were a little on the conservative side on the first three runs, but just trying to race smart and get those bonus points and get that points lead. We were able to accomplish that and get the No. 1 qualifier in the process and put ourselves in a good position for tomorrow.”

With his two quick times from Friday and a second-best lap on Saturday, Langdon extended his Countdown lead to 13 points over second place Doug Kalitta. Spencer Massey, who qualified 14th, is 15 points back in third.