Jeg Coughlin has Chevy Cavalier moving up the points ladder. INDIANAPOLIS, August 26, 2002 - For the second consecutive year, the U.S. Nationals comes to the storied confines of Indianapolis Raceway Park with a brutal Pro Stock points battle...
Jeg Coughlin has Chevy Cavalier moving up the points ladder.
INDIANAPOLIS, August 26, 2002 - For the second consecutive year, the U.S. Nationals comes to the storied confines of Indianapolis Raceway Park with a brutal Pro Stock points battle that is still up for grabs. With a scant 135 points separating the first four drivers in the category, this year's eliminator at IRP could go a long way in determining the eventual champion.
Without a doubt, the hottest competitor in the class is Chevy Cavalier driver Jeg Coughlin Jr. Beginning with the Sears Craftsman Nationals in St. Louis, Coughlin has won three races in the last five events, 14 rounds of eliminations and advanced to third place in the standings, just 35 points shy of category-leader Greg Anderson. Coughlin is accustomed to the pressure-cooker atmosphere usually associated with the "Big Go." He's won this event on two different occasions; once in Super Gas in 1992, and in Pro Stock in 2000 starting race day from the No. 16 qualifying position. The 2000 NHRA Pro Stock champion has 26 career victories heading into the U.S. Nationals, and is tied with Lee Shepherd for fourth place on the all-time Pro Stock win list. On the eve of this year's contest, Coughlin talks about the recent surge in performance of his Pro Stock Chevy Cavalier.
What's been the key to your success this season? "I think we've had a great year so far. We missed two shows during the first 10 races, including the first race at Pomona, and those were our low points. But in the other races we've been going rounds, and the races we have lost it's been in close contests. There've been a lot of contributing factors to our success including more horsepower and learning how to use it at the track better by applying different fuel and timing curves. Our chassis program, our clutch program and our suspension program are extremely solid. After that it's up to the driver and I've been real comfortable behind the wheel. There've been a lot of rounds in the last four or five races that we've won by thousandths of a second as well, and those easily could have gone the other way. Fortunately they didn't. I think we've been able to capitalize on those, and getting into the winner's circle has been a big help in allowing us to climb up the points ladder."
At this point of the season, are you thinking about the championship? "We always think about it, even when we were 240 points down and eight races into the season. It took us about seven races to get into that trouble so we figured it would take us about that much time to get out of it if we were fortunate. If you ask my father what his goal is for 2002, it's to win the Pro Stock championship. You could ask him that in January, you could have asked him that in May when we were in 10th place, and you can ask him that today when we're in third place, 35 points out of first. The answer is always the same - win the championship. Winning the championship is why we're out here racing."
As you get closer to the points lead is there any additional pressure, or is it becoming more enjoyable? "I enjoy the rivalries. Fortunately, I've been in this position many times in my career, as a Sportsman racer, and in Pro Stock the last few years. I typically thrive on the pressure and try to turn it into positive energy. I think the team will continue to do their job and right now that's playing with zero tolerance with no room for error. Going into Indy it's going to be a power-packed field. We have five qualifying runs, three of them are at opportune times, and this could be another field separated by three-hundredth's of a second or less. That's a lot of pressure on the drivers and the crews, but that's what Pro Stock is all about in this day and age. Our goal is to bring home a POWERade Pro Stock championship for GM, Chevrolet and everyone at Jeg's High Performance."
What does racing at the U.S. Nationals mean to you? "We've grown up in Division 3 so Indy feels just like racing at home. The long-time operator of the track, Bob Daniels and his family have always been good friends with our family, so it's always felt like home to us. Troy (Coughlin) won in his first U.S. Nationals (Super Gas) in 1991 and then I won in 1992 (Super Gas). The last three years we've come out of there wearing the Chevy bow tie winner's circle hats so that makes it extremely special to us."
What will it take to win the U.S. Nationals? "You have to get qualified first. That's going to be priority No. 1. Running on Friday night will give us a great session and Saturday afternoon will give us a tune-up for Saturday night. It's going to be extremely tight, and we don't know for sure what the weather's going to be, but qualifying, like it always is, will be a race in itself. Both lanes are typically extremely good there so that will make for some excellent racing. On race day though, a lot of teams are going to be feeling that Indy pressure. It's going to come down to who makes the best calls in the pits, and the driver behind the wheel who gets out there and gets it done."
With the longer race schedule at Indy, do you prepare any differently? "Not really. We're fairly accustomed to the long days. Even when we run at four o'clock in the afternoon we're at the track by eight in the morning. The added day, and the added activities may create another twist to it, but our families will be there so the extended schedule isn't usually an issue."
Has this year been the best year of NHRA Pro Stock racing? "I would say that is accurate. There have been so many different winners that have mixed it up and I think that's been important in this close points battle. At Indy, we'll have 50 cars competing for 16 qualifying spots and that's sure to make it exciting. There will be 30 cars capable of making the field and it could turn out that all five qualifying sessions are opportune."