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Hagan Jumps To Pole In Arizona

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 22 2015

Two-time/reigning world champion Matt Hagan will attempt to notch season-opening, back-to-back Funny Car victories from P1 Sunday after recording his first career sub-4-second run during final qualifications for the 31st annual CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals.

Crew chief Dickie Venables turned up the wick on Hagan’s Rocky Boots/Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T during the fourth and final qualifying session at Wild Horse Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz., near Phoenix. The result was a career-best 1,000-foot performance of 3.978-seconds at 320.28 mph that secured the pole and also stands as the fifth-quickest Funny Car pass in NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series history.

“It speaks volumes for why we are a championship team,” said Hagan, who opened defense of his second title with a victory over Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps at the Circle K NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, Calif., two weeks ago. “Our guys have just been phenomenal. Dickie Venables and (assistant crew chief) Mike Knudsen, these guys are putting one helluva car underneath me and I’m very blessed to be able to drive the wheels off of it.

“Dickie and I talked-up in the lounge before the run; we were qualified well and at the worst we thought we would maybe lose a spot or two if we smoked the tires. Dickie just decided we were going after it. It got late enough where it cooled down and it held the power out there.”

Meanwhile, eight-time/reigning Top Fuel world champion Tony Schumacher and reigning Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders-Stevens also will enter Sunday’s eliminations as No. 1 qualifiers. ESPN2 will re-air two hours of qualifying coverage Sunday at 6 p.m. (EST). The network has scheduled three hours of final eliminations for Race No. 2 of the 24-event schedule on a delayed basis at 8 p.m. (EST) Sunday.

Hagan, whose four qualifying runs on Friday and Saturday ranged between the 3.97 and 4.051-seconds, will race Jeff Diehl in Sunday’s opening round.

“We just have a great race car and I feel really good about (Sunday),” Hagan said. “It’s always tough to win from the No. 1 spot. Obviously, there’s going to be some struggles along the way this year but this team just continues to grow and continues to impress me and continues to awe me.

“We’re really working well together. Everybody gets along great and we have some great chemistry. I’m very, very excited about what the future holds for us this year. I think we’re going to win a lot of races and have a lot of fun doing it.”

Courtney Force, Friday’s provisional pole-sitter, will start from the second spot in her Traxxas Chevy Camaro SS opposite rookie Shane Westerfield. Eight-time Phoenix winner John Force, Courtney’s father/team-owner and a 16-time world champion, qualified seventh and will meet teammate Robert Hight in the opening round. Last year’s event winner, Alexis DeJoria, qualified fourth in her Patron Cafe XO Incendio Toyota Camry and will meet former two-time world champion Tony Pedregon in the first round.

Schumacher, meanwhile, raced to a Top Fuel record 77th No. 1 qualifying position via his career-best 1,000-foot performance of 3.722-seconds at 325.61 mph set during Friday’s second session. In addition to the track record, the four-time Phoenix winner also had one of the quickest dragsters during Saturday’s two sessions, posting a pair of low 3.7-second runs.

“It’s great that we went down the track on all four runs and got every point except one,” said Schumacher, driver of the U.S. Army dragster. “It’s more impressive that the run was my career-best. The car is making good, quality runs down the track and it’s being consistent. If we can continue to do that we’ve got a good chance of going out and winning some races.”

“The Sarge” will face Jenna Haddock in the first round as he looks to rebound after a disappointing first-round loss against DSR teammate/former world champion Antron Brown in Pomona. Sunday’s pairing is a rematch from last year’s race at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison, Colo., near Denver, where Haddock defeated Schumacher in her first career start.

“We’ll go out there and do our job, not try to smoke the tires in the first round like we did in Denver,” Schumacher said. “That was an exciting win when she beat me in Denver; I just don’t want her to get used to it.”

Doug Kalitta qualified second and will race Clay Millican in Round 1. Richie Crampton, last year’s top NHRA rookie, posted the quickest run in Saturday’s final session (3.739-seconds/324.51 mph) to move into third overall. Winternationals winner and current point-leader Shawn Langdon qualified sixth and will face Leah Pritchett in the first round.

In Pro Stock, Enders-Stevens earned her 14th career No. 1 and second of the season with her Friday best quarter-mile pass of 6.545-seconds at 211.20 mph in the Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro. Enders-Stevens will open eliminations against Joey Grose.

“It’s just a great start to the year for the entire Elite Motorsports team _ a better start to the year than we had in 2014 _ so I’m really proud of them,” said Enders-Stevens, who won this race in 2013. “It would definitely be great to win early in the year. It, obviously, doesn’t determine where you end up but it certainly helps boost confidence and morale.”

Enders-Stevens was eliminated by rookie teammate Drew Skillman during the semifinals at Pomona.

“I’m really blessed with a team where we always have fun no matter what,” Enders-Stevens said. “I would never turn down a win, for sure, but to start off early, it would be wonderful.”

Elite Motorsports customer/teammate Rodger Brogdon qualified second and will race Deric Kramer in Round 1. Skillman, who finished runnerup in his Pro Stock debut to two-time world champion Jason Line at Pomona, qualified third and will face Phoenix resident Matt Hartford.

Sunday’s first-round pairings for the 31st annual CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the second of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Pairings based on results in qualifying, which ended Saturday. DNQs listed below pairings.

Top Fuel _ 1. Tony Schumacher, 3.722-seconds, 325.69 mph vs. 16. Jenna Haddock, 4.015, 295.59; 2. Doug Kalitta, 3.733, 329.02 vs. 15. Clay Millican, 3.924, 311.34; 3. Richie Crampton, 3.739, 324.51 vs. 14. Troy Buff, 3.905, 306.81; 4. J.R. Todd, 3.753, 323.97 vs. 13. Terry McMillen, 3.844, 310.27; 5. Antron Brown, 3.753, 318.69 vs. 12. Dave Connolly, 3.804, 321.58; 6. Shawn Langdon, 3.755, 319.37 vs. 11. Leah Pritchett, 3.794, 317.72; 7. Steve Torrence, 3.760, 325.85 vs. 10. Brittany Force, 3.792, 323.81; 8. Larry Dixon, 3.778, 324.05 vs. 9. Spencer Massey, 3.791, 321.81.

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Steven Chrisman, 4.410, 218.90.

Funny Car _ 1. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 3.978, 320.28 vs. 16. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Solara, 4.866, 264.96; 2. Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.996, 321.58 vs. 15. Shane Westerfield, Charger, 4.558, 273.22; 3. Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 3.997, 319.98 vs. 14. John Hale, Charger, 4.194, 307.23; 4. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.000, 313.58 vs. 13. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.060, 310.13; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.003, 315.27 vs. 12. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.047, 309.63; 6. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.020, 316.30 vs. 11. Chad Head, Camry, 4.043, 309.13; 7. John Force, Camaro, 4.025, 315.05 vs. 10. Robert Hight, Camaro, 4.038, 318.47; 8. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.032, 306.60 vs. 9. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 4.034, 314.39.

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Terry Haddock, 5.082, 181.84.

Pro Stock _ 1. Erica Enders-Stevens, Chevy Camaro, 6.545, 211.26 vs. 16. Joey Grose, Camaro, 6.689, 207.05; 2. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.545, 211.63 vs. 15. Deric Kramer, Dodge Avenger, 6.643, 208.91; 3. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.548, 211.20 vs. 14. Matt Hartford, Pontiac GXP, 6.632, 209.14; 4. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.551, 211.36 vs. 13. Jimmy Alund, GXP, 6.626, 209.69; 5. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.559, 210.54 vs. 12. V. Gaines, Dart, 6.620, 209.95; 6. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.562, 211.59 vs. 11. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.586, 210.87; 7. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.565, 211.46 vs. 10. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.578, 210.34; 8. Larry Morgan, Camaro, 6.569, 211.89 vs. 9. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.578, 210.67.

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Jeff Isbell, 6.718, 205.98.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 22 2015
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