Hagan and Gaines Take Mopar to Final Round at Season-opening NHRA Winternationals
· Matt Hagan earns runner-up finish at Pomona in debut of Mopar Express Lane graphics on his Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car
· Dodge Avenger Pro Stock driver V. Gaines advances to his first-career Pomona final round
· Mopar/J&J Racing teammates Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Allen Johnson exit early in eliminations
· Mopar to bring 426 HEMI 50th anniversary celebration to select NHRA events in 2014
Pomona, Calif. (Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014) – Team Mopar drivers Matt Hagan and V. Gaines helped rev up the Mopar brand’s year-long 426 HEMI 50th anniversary celebration, driving to runner-up finishes in the NHRA Funny Car and Pro Stock classes, respectively, in the elimination rounds at the 54th Annual NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif.
The off-season evidently didn’t leave any rust on Hagan, who picked up right where he left off after his season-ending Pomona victory at the 2013 NHRA Finals. The 2011 NHRA Funny Car champ bested Courtney Force to begin eliminations with a 4.036/322.73, but his run didn’t end at the finish. Hagan’s Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T continued off the drag strip and into the sand after one of his chutes failed to fully deploy, necessitating a little extra work for the Don Schumacher Racing crew.
In a quarterfinals showdown with another John Force Racing driver, Robert Hight, Hagan again came out on top, thanks to a modest holeshot. Hagan left the line first with a .063 reaction time (compared to Hight’s .070) and recorded a 4.035/322.04 pass on his road to victory. In the semis Hagan’s 4.030/318.32 sent home Del Worsham to clinch a spot in the final against 16-time series champ John Force — a rematch of the 2013 NHRA Finals money round. This time, however, Hagan smoked the tires early and watched Force drive to the win.
“We were just pushing hard,” said Hagan, who advanced to his 25th career final and recorded his second Winternationals runner-up spot. “Force had been running 3.90s all weekend long. We knew we had to bring our A-game. He’s got a great hot rod right now but we’ve got a pretty good one too. It’s going to be a great season this year, and I can’t wait to battle it out and turn some more win lights on.”
Gaines, the No. 4 qualifier in Pro Stock, powered his Mopar HEMI-fueled Dodge Avenger past Greg Stanfield in round one with a 6.531/211.89 mark, earning lane choice against Erica Enders-Stevens, who knocked off Dodge driver Deric Kramer to advance to the quarterfinals. Gaines handled the always-tough Enders-Stevens, winning off the starting line (a .035 reaction time to Enders-Stevens .062) and at the finish with a 6.527/212.29 mark.
In the semifinals the veteran Gaines stopped No. 1 qualifier Vincent Nobile, using a superb .003 reaction time and 6.543/212.09 run to send the young driver to the trailer on a holeshot victory. In his 15th career final-round appearance and first-ever at Pomona, Gaines’ quest for his first Winternationals win came up a hundredth of second short, as his 6.533/212.56 couldn’t match Line’s quicker 6.526.
“It was a good weekend and a good way to start the year, but losing such a close race in the final round isn’t easy,” said Gaines, who finished a career-best seventh in the 2013 standings, with four-runner-up finishes. “Erica [Enders-Stevens] has had my number, so beating her was pretty big. I’m tickled to death that we’ve picked up right where we left off in the Countdown last year, that we have a great car and great crew, and all the components that go with it.”
Jeg Coughlin Jr. kicked off his Pro Stock title defense starting from the eighth position in his JEGS.com/Mopar Dodge Avenger and took down Rodger Brogdon to begin his day, with a winning 6.568/211.66 pass. In a second-round matchup against former J&J Racing teammate Nobile, Coughlin came out on the losing end with a slower 6.568/211.30 despite a slightly quicker reaction time.
J&J Racing team owner and driver Allen Johnson will look to rebound following a quick exit at Pomona. After a strong two days of qualifying in which he earned eight bonus points and put his Mopar Express Lane Dodge Avenger in the No. 2 position, Johnson suffered a first-round upset at the hands of Larry Morgan. Johnson’s 6.567/211.36 effort, paired with an uncharacteristically sluggish .128 reaction time, wasn’t enough to reel in Morgan at the finish. Rounding out the five-car Mopar Pro Stock field, Matt Hartford was unable to edge Jason Line at the top end in a first-round battle.
“I haven’t been feeling well all weekend, but that’s no excuse for getting distracted on the start,” said Johnson, the 2012 Pro Stock champion. “We have a really strong package right now to build on, as the Mopar Express Lane Dodge was really great all weekend. I’m disappointed to start the season like this but I’ll take the negative and turn it into a positive by making myself a little bit madder so I can come out at Phoenix with a vengeance.”
Hagan’s DSR Funny Car teammate Ron Capps sent home Dodge pilot Jeff Arend before exiting in his second round face-off with Bob Tasca III after his Dodge Charger R/T forcefully tapped the wall. In a first-round all-DSR Mopar Dodge showdown, Tommy Johnson Jr. used a 4.048/320.81to defeat 2012 Funny Car champ Jack Beckman, before falling to John Force. Mopar-powered Dodge Charger racer Gary Densham exited in the quarterfinals, while Paul Lee was unable to make his first-round run against John Force.
The NHRA Winternationals also marked the first race to feature the Mopar brand’s year-long celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the 426 HEMI engine. Special displays and activities, such as a unique 426 HEMI Heritage wall and a 426 HEMI birthday card available for fans to sign, will travel to select NHRA events at which the Mopar display rig is featured. Fans can enter to win a unique neon 426 HEMI 50th anniversary sign, with secondary prizes also up for grabs. Don Schumacher Racing driver Hagan will stage a unique salute to the legendary Mopar motor by campaigning a special 426 HEMI 50th anniversary graphics wrap on his Mopar Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car at the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals and U.S. Nationals.