Auburn Hills, Mich. - Allen Johnson starts Countdown to Championship as Pro Stock No. 1 seed. Jeg Coughlin Jr. in the 10th and final spot in Pro Stock playoffs, 110 points behind leader Johnson.
Funny Car driver Matt Hagan focuses on winning six event titles in place of championship. Eight of the 12 winners of the Countdown opener at zMAX Dragway have gone on to win championships
As the Countdown to the Championship begins this weekend with the fifth annual NHRA Nationals at zMax Dragway in Concord, N.C., Team Mopar® Pro Stock drivers Allen Johnson and Jeg Coughlin Jr. take on unfamiliar roles as hunted and hunter in the final six races of the season.
Allen Johnson starts the playoffs in his Mopar Dodge Avenger as the No. 1 seed for the first time since the adoption of the playoff format in 2007, but relishes the task of staying atop the standings by doing the same thing they’ve been doing all season; gathering as many points as possible along the way.
“When you have a bulls-eye on your back, you're out in front, it is sort of a strange feeling,” said Johnson, whose top billing gives his Mopar-powered Dodge a 30-point advantage over second place. “There’s a lot more pressure than I thought there would be but it's something you got to get in your mind and enjoy. I'm trying to have fun with it.
The whole team is. We definitely have something for them during this Countdown. It's going to be intense. Everybody's going to feel that intensity, including the fans. That's what makes Pro Stock exciting.”
“I've been a very, very big proponent of the Countdown every year until this year,” adds Johnson jokingly. “I've always been back in sixth or seventh place and gained, but this year I lost 150 points. This year I'm not a proponent of it.”
In the opposite situation is fellow Mopar-powered Dodge Avenger driver Jeg Coughlin Jr. who battled his way into the 10th and final spot in the field of eligible drivers for the Pro Stock playoffs. Coughlin is now just 110 points behind leader Johnson, rather than the 830 he was prior to the points resetting for the Countdown, erasing a deficit of 720 points.
“It's a rebirth,” said Coughlin, who has won, since the adoption of the playoff system five years ago, two championships in 2007 and 2009. “And it allows us to refocus on our ultimate goal of winning the 2012 Full Throttle championship.
It won't be easy and we're probably not on par with the top teams just yet but when you see Dave Connolly go into the U.S. Nationals last weekend and win the race with a bunch of steady runs and some awesome driving, it reminds you that it's possible.”
In contrast, Mopar Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car driver Matt Hagan won’t have a chance to defend his Championship crown after missing the out of a top-10 position and thus a playoff spot. But the NHRA Full Throttle season is far from over for Hagan as he sees six event titles up for grabs and an opportunity to play spoiler.
“My attitude is I'm not going out there to make friends. The gloves are coming off, they've been off but now I'll do whatever it takes to win,” says Hagan whose three fellow Don Schumacher Racing Mopar-powered Dodge Charger teammates, Ron Capps (1), Jack Beckman (3) and Johnny Gray (5) are among the top-five contenders in the Funny Car championship hunt.
“I'm going to each race to wreck their day but I don't care,” adds the Mopar driver. “I'm going to have fun trying to win races. We didn't do what we needed to do, but I've always felt I could rise to the occasion so it will be a challenge for me to see if I can adapt to not having pressure on me and making myself get up and really do what I need to do to win races.”
In addition to Johnson and Coughlin, Mopar-powered drivers Vincent Nobile and V. Gaines, with fifth and eighth-place starting positions in the playoffs respectively, bring the total to four Team Mopar entries battling for the Pro Stock crown. Seven Mopar entries will be vying for the championship in two divisions.
Pro Stock and Funny Car qualifying sessions are scheduled Friday and Saturday at zMax Dragway in Charlotte with eliminations beginning at 1 p.m.
Source: Mopar Motorsports