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Big Hagan Lead Not Big Enough

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 14 2010

Matt Hagan had a nightmare of a day on Sunday.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

An emotionally-exhausted Matt Hagan was left to ponder his bright future, and graciously praise 15-time Funny Car champion John Force, at the conclusion of the 46th annual Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals.

Hagan finished as runnerup to the 61-year-old Force as the 2010 Full Throttle Drag Racing Series concluded at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif.

Hagan watched his 38-point lead heading into Sunday’s final eliminations disappear after a first-round defeat at the hands of Bob Tasca III.  A failed piston at the 660-foot mark slowed Hagan to a 4.162-second 1,000-foot lap at 290.44 mph, while Tasca passed him en route to numbers of 4.148-seconds/303.57 mph.

Force, driver of the Castrol GTX High-Mileage Ford Mustang, won his first round match against Gary Densham, then won again in the second round against Bob Bode to take the points lead and the crown.

“You’re not going to see any tears from me,” said Hagan, second-year driver of the DieHard Dodge Charger R/T fielded by Don Schumacher Racing. “You get hit square in the chin and sometimes it hurts worse when you grin right back at the guy. So, you just shrug it off.

“We mixed-it-up with whom I consider to be the best guy out there, the 15-time world champ, and we had him down to one or two rounds here in the final event of the year. We fought a hard fight, we dug deep and we just weren’t good enough today. And at the end of the day he’s the champ.”

Hagan qualified fourth on the 16-car ladder led by Ashley Force Hood, Force’s daughter and teammate at John Force Racing.

“We have to put it behind us and move forward,” said Hagan, an Angus cattle farmer from Christiansburg, Va., who will turn 28 on Thursday. “I’m proud of (crew chief) Tommy DeLago. I’m proud of all my DieHard crew guys. I wouldn’t trade them for the world. I plan on working with them for a long time.

“I’m going to sit down here and firm some stuff up for my future for next year and hopefully I’m back out here.” 
 
Asked to explain his first-round exit, Hagan suggested he ran out of engine parts – and luck – at the worst possible moment.

“It just started hurting some parts and beating up some pistons. It just wasn’t meant to be,” Hagan said. “All weekend we qualified well and ended up No. 4. I don’t think you can say that we didn’t do anything right. I think that we did everything right. We just didn’t have any luck on our side. And sometimes you have to be lucky out here.

“I left on Tasca and everything was the way it should be. But it just didn’t work out. That’s NHRA drag racing. I’m not going to cry over spilled milk, and if I’m back here next year, we’ll get right back out there and mix it back up with them.”

DeLago said Sunday’s championship setback should not overshadow the team’s effort during the 23-race season, including the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

Hagan ended the year with three wins in five final rounds, six semifinal and seven quarterfinal finishes, four No. 1 qualifiers and a round-win record of 37-20. In his 51 NHRA Funny Car races, he has won three times in seven final rounds, reached seven semifinals and 15 quarterfinals, qualified No. 1 six times, set two national elapsed-time records while posting a career round-win record of 53-45.

“I think it’s been a really good season,” DeLago said. “It was really going as planned from the beginning. The DieHard team, including (assistant crew chief) Glenn Huszar, Matt Hagan, all the guys, had a plan from last year to learn and grow together and become stronger as a team.  
 
”We weren’t quite strong enough here at the last race like we needed to be. But we had a really good season and a lot to build off to get stronger next year.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 14 2010
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