Funny Car driver Matt Hagan picked up his fifth win of the season for Tony Stewart Racing on Sunday at World Wide Technology Raceway, defeating defending world champion Ron Capps in the final round in front of a huge crowd at the 12th annual NHRA Midwest Nationals.
Clay Millican (Top Fuel), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Gaige Herrera (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also won the 18th of 21 races during the 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season, and the third of six races in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
Hagan went 3.991-seconds at 324.90 mph in his 11,000-horsepower American Rebel Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat to slip past Capps’ run of 4.025 at 306.68, earning his 48th career win in the process. The three-time world champ also pulled to within less than a round of first, as he now trails Bob Tasca III by just 13 points heading into the final three races of 2023.
It was a clutch performance by Hagan as he defeated Alexis DeJoria, John Force and Tasca to reach the finals. He went 4.016 at 316.38 to get past Tasca and then held off Capps and his run of 4.025 at 306.68 to get a much-needed victory.
“We knew we had to win this race to be in the hunt for this thing,” Hagan said. “It feels like it’s meant to be, and I’m just enjoying the ride. [The team] sat down and looked across from each other, and it’s one of those things where you go, I’m going to dig for you, you dig for me, let’s make this happen. I think that’s what makes it happen, having a core group of guys you want to work hard for. You want to show up for them, and today they all showed up for me, and I felt like I showed up for them.
“The pressure is huge. I was telling (crew chief) Dickie Venables, damn, this is a lot of pressure, but that’s what you want. That’s what we’re here for. If we didn’t have the pressure, that means we didn’t have a shot. The pressure was huge – you just have to find a way to capitalize on it.”
Capps reached the final round for the seventh time in 2023 and the 147th time in his career after defeating Tim Wilkerson, Alex Laughlin and Blake Alexander. Tasca leads Hight by just six points – marking the first time Tasca has held the points lead in the playoffs – with Capps only 33 points back in fourth.
In Top Fuel, Clay Millican powered to his third win this season and sixth in his career, defeating Leah Pruett in the championship round with a pass of 3.758 at 331.94 in his 11,000-horsepower Parts Plus/Comp Cams dragster for Rick Ware Racing. He jumped up to eighth in points in the process, tying Antron Brown for the second-most wins in Top Fuel in 2023.
He reached the finals by defeating Austin Prock, Mike Salinas and Tony Schumacher, before outrunning Pruett in a thrilling side-by-side duel. It is Millican’s first career victory at World Wide Technology Raceway and the veteran was thrilled with his team’s performance in the heat.
“Man, what a day. This is huge,” Millican said. “He gave us a hot weekend and man, (crew chief) Jim O (Oberhofer) just showed again that when it’s hot out, look out. We got away with a couple, but we outperformed the cars we raced, and I am so proud. I mean, this was huge. Jim O will quickly tell you, give me a track above 90 degrees and look out. Needless to say, with this perspiration on my face here, it’s above 95 degrees out there, and it was all day. I am already talking to the man upstairs, bring on the heat in Dallas, baby.
“Our goal is obviously top 10, as far as we can possibly get. It’s way too big a gap to think about chasing down No. 1, but three wins for this Parts Plus team is huge.”
Leah Pruett advanced the finals for the fourth time this year and the 23rd time in her career, driving past Shawn Langdon, points leader Doug Kalitta and Steve Torrence. She also jumped to second in points, trailing Kalitta by 47 points at the halfway point of the Countdown to the Championship. Torrence is 51 points back of Kalitta and Justin Ashley is 77 points behind.
Greg Anderson’s late-season surge in Pro Stock continued at St. Louis in a major way, as the veteran won for the second straight weekend thanks to a run of 6.552 at 209.92 in his HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro in the finals against Aaron Stanfield. After struggling for much of the season, Anderson is now second in points – just 25 points behind Erica Enders – picking up his second win of the season and the 103rd in his career. He’s gone from eighth to second in just two races, taking down Jerry Tucker, Deric Kramer and Enders on Sunday to reach the final round.
It was the second straight semifinal win against Enders, as Anderson was .002 on the starting line against the defending world champ, also snapping her string of four straight wins in St. Louis. He was great on the starting in the final round, too, going .021 to lead wire-to-wire against Stanfield, who went 6.567 at 209.14.
“I’m back in the game. I’ve legitimately got a shot at this championship with three races to go, and that’s all you can ask,” Anderson said. “I went to the first race at Reading and lost in the first round, and I’ve said it a million times – you can’t win the championship at the first race of the playoffs, but you can lose it. I was knocking on the door of knocking myself out of it. if I didn’t have a big recovery at the next race, I was out of it. I’m back in the fight, and I have a great hot rod, but there are so many great cars, so many great drivers in this class right now. It’s incredible. These next three races are going to be a bare-knuckled brawl.
“From first round on, it’s like racing the final, every week. Right now, if you don’t do a perfect job round one you go home. There’s no telling what’s going to happen from here on out. I feel fantastic about the way things have gone these past two weeks. With the job my guys have done on my racecar and even the job I’ve been able to do behind the wheel, it feels great.”
Stanfield advanced to his first final round of 2023 and 14th in his Pro Stock career by defeating Camrie Caruso, Chris McGaha and Bo Butner. Matt Hartford, who was upset in the first round, is 38 points back of Enders and Dallas Glenn, who also lost in the opening round, trails the defending champ by 64 points.
It was a picture-perfect weekend for Gaige Herrera in Pro Stock Motorcycle, continuing his dominant season with a run of 6.728 at 201.79 on his Mission Foods/Vance & Hines Suzuki to defeat teammate Eddie Krawiec in the final round. It gives Herrera his eighth victory this season, extending his lead to 99 points over Matt Smith at the halfway mark of the playoffs. After qualifying No. 1 for the 11th time this season – tying the single-season mark in Pro Stock Motorcycle history – Herrera broke the track E.T. record in the first round (6.701) to defeat Joey Gladstone.
He knocked off rookie Chase Van Sant to reach the final round, where he dispatched Krawiec and his 6.761 at 201.52 to deny his teammate of his 50th career victory. But in the process, Herrera moved a step closer to his first career NHRA world championship.
“Hopefully, I still have a job after knocking Ed off, but that final round was good for our whole team” Herrera said. “All day I had a very consistent motorcycle, and first round was probably the most nervous round for me. Racing Joey, he’s always a tough competitor, so I knew he was going to be on it. All day has been really good.
“I can’t give enough credit to the whole Vance & Hines Mission Suzuki team. I still can’t believe I got that phone call almost a year ago now to race for them. It’s been incredible, and I’m proud to be part of it.”
Krawiec reached the final round for the second time this season and the 93rd in his career thanks to round wins against Ryan Oehler, Jianna Evaristo and Smith.
The NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series returns to action Oct. 12-15 with the 38th annual Texas NHRA FallNationals at the Texas Motorplex in Dallas.