A newly stripped down John Force squares off in his Mustang against Matt Hagan in the final round. (Ron Lewis photo)

The championship scenario couldn't have been better scripted for NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series fans Oct. 31 at the 10th annual NHRA Las Vegas Nationals. The top two in Funny Car points, Matt Hagan and John Force, matched each other round for round to meet up in the final stanza.

Points leader Hagan, racing the DieHard Dodge Charger Funny Car for Don Schumacher Racing, struggled in qualifying to land in the No. 5 spot, earning only one qualifying bonus point to No. 2 qualifier Force's five. He entered Sunday's eliminations 57 points ahead of Force with a determination to win it all. The 27-year-old Angus Cattle farmer from Virginia came close, but fell just one round win short.

He posted the quickest elapsed time of 4.071 seconds at 305.49 mph of the opening round while defeating Tony Pedregon, then did it again in the second round, using a 4.133/303.98 to dismiss Jim Head. He continued his streak of round-quick runs in the semifinal to send packing Ashley Force Hood with a 4.097/304.80.

With lane choice all the way, Hagan faced Force in the final round under the lights in what appeared to be ideal conditions. As the pair launched, Hagan surprisingly struck the tires at the hit of the throttle, slowing to a 6.925/110.96, while Force tore to the finish line to take the win with a 4.232/281.36.

"We gave up valuable points in Reading (where he lost in the final after Force went out in the first round), so it's a little disheartening," said Hagan, who held on to the lead, but is now 37 markers ahead of Force. "We just have to roll into Pomona and keep our heads on straight and try to do better.

"The DieHard team is better than this, I'm better than this, and (crew chief) Tommy DeLago is better than this. We have the car to beat and we just have to figure out what we need to do to keep our heads in the game, and it will be all right.

"We had a great race car all day long. I don't know why it smoked the tires in the final like that. It was a surprise to Tommy, too. We both figured it would go right down the track.

"It will be what it will be. We can't force anything. We came in here 64 points ahead, and now we're 37 ahead. We obviously gave up a lot of points this weekend. We have to do better, no doubt about it.

"We just can't let this championship slip out of our hands. We had a pretty good grasp coming into here. We have to start picking up some more of those qualifying bonus points. Force did everything he was supposed to this weekend. We have to do everything we're supposed to."