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A year ago, Matt Hagan was in a competitive drought, and he was known more for his appearance in a video clip that went viral than he was for simply being a champion race car driver.
Something had to change for the Virginia native as he began his fifth full NHRA season.
In April, he ended a 17-month winless streak in NHRA Funny Car competition — nearly a year and a half after he won the NHRA Funny Car championship in 2011.
On Sunday in Illinois, Hagan won the Funny Car championship and strengthened his hold on the NHRA’s Funny Car driver points lead. Now, he prepares to compete this weekend in the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals.
Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk will host the yearly drag racing event, which begins Thursday and continues through Sunday afternoon’s finals in four top-tier drag racing events: Pro Stock, Pro Stock motorcycle, Funny Car, and Top Fuel. The NHRA’s Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifications begin at 4:45 p.m. Friday.
The three days of NHRA drag racing are essentially a process of elimination among the top-tier drivers, with each driver competing for the event championship in his or her classification.
Sunday at the O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 Nationals in Joliet, Ill., Hagan passed John Force at the 60-yard mark and stayed ahead of the drag racing veteran and team owner for the remainder of the final.
“John [Force] is tough so we knew we had to run well, and that 4.06 [seconds] in the final was stout,” Hagan told NHRA.com.
Hagan won one of four finals Sunday; Tony Schumacher, Hagan’s Don Schumacher Racing teammate, won the Top Fuel title, while Jeg Coughlin won the Pro Stock title, and Michael Ray won the Pro Stock motorcycle title.
Hagan has three wins in 13 Funny Car races this season, but won only two races the year he won the Pro Stock championship. He’s aware that anything can unfold — even an unexpected car explosion — during the course of a season that spans nearly 10 months.
“This is such a humbling sport,” Hagan said. “Things can change fast so we’re just gonna keep going what we’ve been doing.”
Kimmel ties mark for ARCA victories
WINCHESTER, Ind. — With a victory Sunday at Winchester Speedway, Frank Kimmel tied Toledo native Iggy Katona for all-time ARCA wins.
Kimmel won the Herr's Chase the Taste 200 to earn his 79th ARCA win.
"Every once in a while you have one of those near flawless days," Kimmel said. "This was one of those days for us."
Kimmel, 51, earned his third win of the season. Kimmel led 158 laps of the 100-mile, 200-lap event and held off a late charge by Austin Wayne Self to earn the win.
"He had a fast car, but I knew if I didn't make a mistake, held my line, and stayed in the middle and didn't spin out or something that he would have a hard time passing me," Kimmel said.
Kimmel and Self finished ahead of Brennan Poole, Kyle Weatherman, and Mason Mitchell.
Kimmel leads the ARCA points standings entering the Ansell ActivArmr 150 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: email@example.com, 419-724-6510, or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.