Matt Hagan Facing Big Pressure At The Big Go
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
Talk about things being in place for a big year. Matt Hagan was the defending NHRA Funny Car champion when 2012 began. Proven winner Tommy DeLago was back on the wrenches, the same skills that made Hagan one of the best leavers in racing was still in place and Hagan was still driving for the biggest team in the NHRA.
What possibly could keep Hagan from an easy berth in the Countdown and then a super-strong run at a second straight championship?
And lots of it. Visible stuff and invisible stuff, big stuff and little stuff. Stuff that Hagan kind of didn’t seem to want to get specific about during a media teleconference last week, but stuff that has put him 11th in points with just this weekend’s U.S. Nationals remaining before the start of the 10-driver Countdown.
That’s right, Hagan, at this moment, has no berth as he is 19 points behind bubble-sitter Bob Tasca III in Funny Car. He will be in the driver’s seat literally when the Nationals begin, but not figuratively.
Hagan said he will start The Big Go armed with a couple of things.
First, a philosophical attitude. “We still have a big hill to climb,” Hagan said. “Bob Tasca is in front of us and it’s just a matter of getting out there and making big plays and stepping up to the plate and trying to knock it out of the park. But things have got to line up, too, and we have had that happen for us. If Tasca goes out and wins a
race, we can’t change that.”
Second, with momentum. He raced to the finals in two of the last three events and to the semifinals in the third.
“We put a combo in there the last couple races and we have been in two finals and a semi since we have had it in there,” Hagan said. “Why we didn’t do that a long time ago, I don’t know.”
A long time ago as in the earliest parts of the season.
Hagan and his Don Schumacher Racing team didn’t log their first elimination-round victory until the fourth race of the season. The victory came at Las Vegas. However, it provided zero momentum as Hagan and DeLago DNQ’d at the next race, which was at Heartland Park Topeka.
Hagan won just three more rounds over the next eight events. He left Bandimere Speedway in Colorado 13th in points and on heels of three straight first-round losses.
“We’ve had a horrible year this year,” Hagan said. “Nobody expected us to come out and struggle the way we have. But that’s life and that’s what you do and that’s what you have to deal with.”
From Denver, the NHRA went to Sonoma for the second leg of the Western Swing. It was there that Hagan began to get into the swing. He advanced to the finals that weekend and followed it up with another final-round appearance in the final leg of the Western Swing in Seattle.
The last time out, at Brainerd, Hagan and his team advanced to the third round before being edged by teammate and event winner Ron Capps.
The momentum-building comes at the right time. The essential time. It comes in time for the biggest event of the season, which also happens to be the last race before the playoffs.
It comes with big pressure on Hagan and DSR.
“Without getting into this deal (the Countdown), there is no championship, so you feel the pressure there,” Hagan said. “I think that if anybody said there’s no pressure, it’s no big deal would be lying. It’s just a matter of dealing with the pressure.”
Hagan will rely on experience in dealing with the pressure. The experience of last year when Hagan started the Countdown sixth in points and ended them with the big Wally.
“You know what I did in the championship deal (last year) is basically minimize what you have control over,” he said. “You focus on what you can change out there. You know, if you worry about the guy beside you or who is bolting the heads on or what this guy in the next lane is doing, you get overwhelmed with the situation. For me it’s no different than going up there and doing the same thing I’m used to doing, and that’s all I can control out there. So the pressure is there. There’s no doubt about it. But it’s just a matter of really dealing with the pressure and making sure that you’re doing the right things and that you’re not a weak link in the chain.”
• SCHEDULE: The first of five qualifying sessions are scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 31. Two sessions will be held on Saturday, Sept. 1 at 2:30 p.m. and 6 p.m., and the final two qualifying sessions will take place on Sunday, Sept. 2 at 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 3.
• TICKETS: Tickets are available for the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Auto-Plus. Tickets are available by calling (800) 884-NHRA (6472), or online at www.NHRATIX.com.
• ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise more than 10 hours of coverage of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Auto-Plus. Three hours of qualifying coverage and coverage of the Traxxas Nitro Shootouts will air at 11 a.m. (ET) on Sunday, Sept. 2. Two additional hours of qualifying coverage and Traxxas Shootout highlights will also air on Sunday, Sept. 2 at 5 p.m. (ET). Eliminations for the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Auto-Plus will be featured during six hours of coverage on Monday, Sept. 3, starting at noon (ET).No Comment