Matt Hagan left Old Bridge Township Raceway Park looking forward to the next race in two weeks at Bristol, Tenn.
The Virginia cattle farmer has reason for optimism despite extending his streak of not advancing past the second round to nine straight NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series events this year.
"I really think we are starting to turn the corner," said Hagan, the reigning Funny Car world champion for Don Schumacher Racing.
"Our Aaron's Dream Machine ran well in qualifying, and we were strong in the first round. We must have dropped a cylinder in the second round, but we're getting aggressive out there."
In qualifying for the 43rd annual NHRA SuperNationals, Hagan's Dodge Charger R/T produced four qualifying runs between 4.035 and 4.119.
The 4.035-second effort on Friday night earned Hagan and crew chief Tommy DeLago the No. 5 qualifying position. It is the third straight event in which the team has qualified in the top seven, and the Friday run was by far the quickest the team has gone this season.
"We'll keep working at it," Hagan said. "Tommy has been aggressive and that's what I like. We went (4.03) on Friday night and that's the best we've done this year. We have a lot of momentum to build on."
After defeating two-time Funny Car world champion Tony Pedregon in the first round with a run of 4.129 seconds at 302.28 mph, an apparent mechanical problem slowed Hagan to a 4.172 at 292.27 mph when he lost to rookie Courtney Force's 4.123 (303.64 mph).
"Obviously you're going to run a 4.17 when you put a hole (cylinder) out," Hagan said. "Overall, I'm pleased with the progress we made this weekend."
The championship round matched a pair of Hagan's teammates when Johnny Gray defeated Ron Capps for his second career Funny Car title.
Matt Hagan, Aaron's Dream Machine Dodge Charger R/T Qualified: No. 5 SUNDAY Round 1: HAGAN (4.129 sec., 302.28 mph) def. Tony Pedregon (4.540, 196.30) Round 2: Courtney Force (4.123, 308.57) def. HAGAN (4.172, 292.27)