With the first of five qualifying sessions for the prestigious Mac Tools U.S. Nationals slated for this evening, there will be four Funny Car drivers, in particular, who will be seeking to post instant, positive results.
Matt Hagan, Tim Wilkerson, Jeff Arend and Bob Tasca III are all fighting for the final two spots in the six-race Countdown to the Championship, the NHRA’s version of the post-season playoffs.
While Arend and Tasca III have the upper hand at the moment given their ninth-place and 10th-place standing, respectively, Hagan and Wilkerson will clearly be looking to make a statement during the three days of qualifying in an effort to put the pressure on.
"I'm just glad we still have a fighting chance to go out there and do this," Hagan said of getting into the Countdown. "We still have a big hill to climb. It's just a matter of getting out there and making big plays and stepping up to the plate and trying to knock it out of the park. But things have got to line up, too."
Entering Friday’s action at Lucas Oil Raceway Park, Hagan is 19 points behind Bob Tasca III in 10th-place while 12th-place Tim Wilkerson is nine out of 10th.
"You can't change what other people do, you can only control what you have available in front of you, and that's what we have tried to focus on," said Hagan, whose Dodge has advanced to a pair of championship rounds and a semifinals in the past three events.
For Wilkerson, owner/tuner/driver of the Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang Funny Car, the plan is quite simple – to not only get in the show, but as high up on the ladder as possible.
"You can look at the five-lap deal two ways," Wilkerson said. "When you're not running well to start the week, you feel better knowing you're going to get one more shot at it than you would anywhere else, but when you are running well you also know that all these big hitters out here have one more shot to knock you off your perch and push you down the ladder. It's a very difficult race to qualify well at, because everyone gets that extra chance to figure it out.
"We finally got our heads screwed on right in Brainerd, just kind of going for it instead of being conservative, and it worked. We're going to keep that same mindset the rest of the year, too. We have nothing to lose, so we might as well take some shots. Not wild and crazy shots, where you're just guessing, but more like you look at the range of what you think you might be able to run, and instead of thinking 'Well, we'll aim for the middle of that window' you kind of just aim for the best option. You go for it.
"You've got four of us here, trying to earn the last two spots, so winning rounds is obviously key. If we had control of how it lays out, it would be great to have your fate in your own hands. If the four of us could somehow line up racing each other in round one on Labor Day, that would be some huge drama and a lot of fun. If we're all running someone else, all you can do is run your best and hope they lose. I think it would be way cooler if we could somehow duke it out against each other, but none of us can control that. Being the team in 11th, we might need some luck to have the ladder fall our way. We'll see."
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