Tony Stewart Racing points leaders Pruett and Matt Hagan focused on task at hand at NHRA Nevada Nationals
After a first-time double up for the Tony Stewart Racing nitro teams of Leah Pruett and Matt Hagan, the duo heads into Las Vegas in a unique and exciting position: leading the points in both Top Fuel and Funny Car with two races remaining.
Pruett leads Doug Kalitta and Steve Torrence by just four and 13 points, respectively, heading into this weekend’s 23rd annual NHRA Nevada Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, while in Funny Car, Hagan holds an advantage of 36 points over Bob Tasca III, with Robert Hight 69 points behind.
It adds up to an exciting opportunity for both Pruett and Hagan, with Pruett trying to pick up her first Top Fuel world championship. But with two races left in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs and a loaded field well within striking distance, Pruett knows there is plenty of work still to be done in her 11,000-horsepower Dodge Direct Connection dragster.
“We are four points ahead. That means literally nothing,” said Pruett, who has 12 Top Fuel wins. “We were so happy as a team that Sunday night (in Dallas), but the next day were back in our race mode preparing for the Las Vegas event. I think Tony’s overall team atmosphere helps everyone here. The highest virtue that Tony has is treating people well. He helps me and our team with a racer’s mentally because he has been there and won in everything. It’s a huge help for everyone on the TSR team.”
Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Hagan (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) won the 2022 NHRA Nevada Nationals. This season’s race will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including eliminations at 5 p.m. ET on Sunday. It is the 20th of 21 races during the 2023 season and the fifth of six races in the Countdown to the Championship.
Hagan brings plenty of confidence into Vegas, helped in part by last year’s win at the penultimate race of the year. That kept him in title contention, but Hagan and his team have been on point in 2023, winning six times and advancing to eight final rounds. Nothing is close to being decided, but Hagan likes where his team is at heading into Vegas in his 11,000-horsepower Dodge Direct Connection Charger SRT Hellcat. To add to the team’s momentum, Hagan, who is also a victory away from 50 career NHRA wins, has won the fall Vegas race three of the past four years.
“Having back-to-back wins (this season) rolling into Vegas gives us a lot of confidence,” Hagan said. “Funny Car racing is very humbling, so you never know what you’re going to get. When we’re in Vegas, we’re halfway to Denver’s altitude as far as making power goes. You have to change a lot on the car. I have faith in my crew and my job is to drive the wheels off of it. We have a lot of momentum, so we just have to keep it going. I’m proud of my team. They’re turning the car around really quick and that’s all you can ask for. I’ve won two of my championships with Dickie (Venables – crew chief), so we know what we need to do and what we’re capable of.”
Pruett has also made impressive strides this season. They’ve been in the top five for the bulk of the season, entering the playoffs in fourth. Since then, they’ve been remarkably consistent, advancing to the semifinals or better at all four playoff races, including back-to-back final rounds at the last two races. It’s propelled the standout into the points lead in the Countdown to the Championship for the first time in her career. But she also knows Kalitta and Torrence, a four-time champ, as well as the likes of Justin Ashley, Antron Brown, Mike Salinas and Force are lurking, which means she’ll need another big weekend in Vegas to stay in front.
“Honestly, our confidence is higher than it’s ever been,” Pruett said. “We experienced multiple moments of validation last week in Dallas. Being able to make small adjustments through race day with a power-balanced car brought on peak performance and consistency. That’s what we knew it would take to win that race, and that’s what it will take to stretch our lead.”
Thanks to two straight playoff wins, Hagan moved back into the points lead in Dallas over Tasca, who is seeking his first Funny Car world title. But Hight is capable of a late-season run as well and back-to-back world champ Ron Capps is within 99 points. For Hagan, that means there’s no opportunity to let up and he’s aiming for a big finish, one he knows will be necessary to clinch a fourth world championship.
“It’s still anybody’s ballgame out here,” Hagan said. “You can pat yourself on the back, but there is still a lot of work to be done. We have seen these things flip back and forth a lot. (But) I feel like we’ve had a great car all year long. We’ve won six races so far this season. We just need to keep doing what we do. We are in a fight for the championships, and we’ll use Tony’s experience in chasing a championship.”
Enders has been dominant in Las Vegas in recent years with nine wins from the facility, the most of any driver in NHRA history. A year ago, her Vegas win clinched a fifth championship for the star. She holds a commanding lead over Greg Anderson following her Dallas win this year, which also gave her the most wins by a female in NHRA history. Other contenders include Dallas Glenn, Aaron Stanfield and Matt Hartford.
Arana Jr., who has one win on the 2023 season, powered his way to victory last year by defeating Matt Smith in the final round. But this season has been dominated by Gaige Herrera, who has nine wins and will have the opportunity to clinch his first world championship in Las Vegas.
The NHRA Nevada Nationals also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, which includes some of the sport’s top drivers, and the Summit Racing Series ET Finals, where national champions will be crowned, including the first EV national championship in NHRA history. The weekend will also include action in the thrilling Nostalgia Funny Car class, while fans can watch a spectacular jet dragster exhibition from Team “Muy Caliente” after nitro qualifying on Friday and Saturday.
It’s also the final race of the season in Flexjet Factory Stock Showdown, the FuelTech NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by Type A Motorsports and the new Factory X presented by Holley category. Fans can also enjoy the finale of the NHRA Summit Series, with drivers competing for a national championship.
As an added attraction, a special drag-and-drive exhibition will take place during the event, with participants in Sick The Magazine’s “Death Week” will be on display for fans interested in NHRA Street Legal Drag Racing. The cars will be paraded in front of the crowd, with fans getting to see the unique cars taking part in the drag-and-drive event.
Before the race weekend, the NHRA’s biggest stars will take over the Fremont St. Experience for the annual fan fest from 5-7 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 26. An autograph session takes place from 5:30-6:30, allowing fans to meet their favorite drivers as part of this great event leading into the race weekend.
On Saturday, the Las Vegas Golden Knights marching band will also perform. Race fans at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway can enjoy the special pre-race ceremonies that celebrate each of the drivers racing for the prestigious Wally on Sunday and includes the SealMaster Track Walk. The final can’t-miss experience of any NHRA event is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes, where fans are invited to congratulate the NHRA Nevada Nationals event winners.
Fans are invited to the Nitro Alley Stage all weekend, which will help create a festive atmosphere leading into Nitro Alley. The Nitro Alley Stage will be the main entertainment hub in the pits when the Camping World Drag Racing Series competitors are not on the track, hosting Nitro School, meet and greets, influencer interviews and much more. As always, fans get a pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. Fans can see their favorite teams in action and servicing their hot rods between rounds, get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers, and more. They can also visit NHRA’s Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create an exciting atmosphere that includes interactive displays, merchandise, food, and fun.
NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 12:00 and 3:00 p.m. PT on Friday, Oct. 27, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Oct. 28 at 12:00 and 3:00 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11:00 a.m. PT on Sunday, Oct. 29. Television coverage includes qualifying action on FS1 at 7:00 p.m. ET on Friday with eliminations on FS1 at 5:00 p.m. ET on Sunday.
To purchase tickets to the NHRA Nevada Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, call 800-644-4444 or visit www.lvms.com. Children 12 and under are admitted free in general admissions areas with a paid adult. For more information about NHRA, visit www.nhra.com