Pomona II: Saturday qualifying report

COUGHLIN CLINCHES NHRA POWERADE SERIES PRO STOCK WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP Five drivers will battle for Funny Car crown, while three race for title in Pro Stock Motorcycle POMONA, Calif. -- Jeg Coughlin raced to his second consecutive and fourth NHRA...

COUGHLIN CLINCHES NHRA POWERADE SERIES PRO STOCK WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
Five drivers will battle for Funny Car crown, while three race for title in Pro Stock Motorcycle

POMONA, Calif. -- Jeg Coughlin raced to his second consecutive and fourth NHRA Pro Stock world championship title Saturday by qualifying for the Auto Club NHRA Finals.

He joins Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel) as a 2008 POWERade Series champ as Countdown to 1 battles in Funny Car and Pro Stock Motorcycle will be settled during Sunday's final eliminations at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.

Coughlin, who advanced to three finals during the six-race playoffs in his Jegs.com Chevy Cobalt, needed only to qualify at this event to lock up the series title.

"We're going to celebrate grand style, no question," said Coughlin, who will start 13th in the final race of the season. "To win back-to-back championships is a great compliment to Cagnazzi Racing and it's very exciting. My team performed flawlessly and that's what it took in this Countdown to 1 and we just kept on ringing up round wins. The huge win two weeks ago in Las Vegas propelled us over the top. Chef Nicky (Morse, team chef) has a big celebration dinner whipped up for us tonight."

Four of the five Funny Car championship contenders -- Cruz Pedregon, Tim Wilkerson, Robert Hight and Tony Pedregon -- enter today's 11 a.m. eliminations on the same side of the 16-car eliminations bracket. In first-round pairings, defending series champ Tony Pedregon and Hight will meet, while Cruz Pedregon and Wilkerson could race in the second round. Wilkerson faces a tough first round pairing against 14-time champ John Force.

Cruz Pedregon, who is 13 points ahead of Wilkerson, will try to win his second career title, the first since 1992.

"What a nerve-wracking day we had," said Pedregon, the 1992 world champ, who entered the final two qualifying sessions outside the field in his Advance Auto Parts Toyota Solara. "We came through when we had to. That could've been our last run of the year. I'm glad we're still in the hunt. I don't want to get caught up in all the talk about winning a championship. We came in here with a thin points lead. Tim has been phenomenal and Robert has been there the last couple of years. At the end of the day, whoever wins this championship is going to earn it."

Second-place Wilkerson led the point standings for much of the regular season in his Levi, Ray & Shoup Chevy Impala.

"We're proud to be here, no matter what happens tomorrow," Wilkerson said. "It's been a great year and I'm looking forward to racing John tomorrow. To be the champ, you have to beat the champ and as far as I'm concerned, there's no one better than John and it doesn't get any better than that. I'm looking forward to it."

Hight, who will be driving a home-team L.A. Dodgers-themed Auto Club Ford Mustang and will have legendary manager Tommy Lasorda in his dugout offering motivational support, likes his chances because at this track he has won three races in a row and four out of the last five. However, he faces defending champ Tony Pedregon, who is fourth overall and trails the leader by 61 points.

"Tomorrow is going to be exciting, and there's no two ways about it," said Hight, who trails by 39 points. "But we have to perform. We know what we have to do tomorrow. First, we have to beat the defending champion in the first round. We're looking forward to getting pumped up and winning this race tomorrow. John is so pumped up you'd think he's going for the championship. Tim is going to have a tough one in his first round."

On the opposite side of the Funny Car bracket, Jack Beckman needs to win the race and have all four of his opponents lose early to have a chance to win his first championship.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, defending champ Matt Smith will battle Eddie Krawiec (-20) and Chris Rivas (-45) for the world championship crown. Smith earned his seventh No. 1 qualifying position of the season with a performance of 6.962 at 188.86 on his NitroFish Wear Buell, while Krawiec qualified second on his Vance & Hines Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson and Rivas was ninth on his G-Squared/Drag Specialties Buell.

"I'm going out there to try and win this race like we did last year and then there'll be no question about who the champion is," Smith said. "I have a fast enough bike to win the race. We'll play it out tomorrow. We're going to do the best job we can, run our race and not worry about who's in the other lane. If we win all four rounds there's no way we can't win this championship. With the budget I have compared to some of the other teams I feel like I have done all I can do and I will feel good about the result no matter what it is."

Schumacher, Mike Neff and Greg Anderson also claimed No. 1 qualifying positions at the final NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series event of the year.

Schumacher earned his ninth No. 1 of the season in Top Fuel, covering the distance in 3.827 at 315.93 in his U.S. Army dragster. If Schumacher wins the race he will set NHRA season records for most wins and elimination round wins.

In Funny Car, Neff earned his second top qualifying effort of the season with a 4.079 at 305.49 in his Old Spice Ford Mustang. Anderson secured his seventh No. 1 of the season in Pro Stock in his Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac GXP with a run of 6.634 at 208.20.

-credit: nhra

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Tony Pedregon , Tony Schumacher , Greg Anderson , Cruz Pedregon , Tim Wilkerson , Jack Beckman , Chris Rivas , Matthew Smith , Robert Hight , Mike Neff