Memphis: GM Racing Saturday summary

Chevrolet's Jeg Coughlin leads pro stock field into mid-south eliminator MEMPHIS, Tenn., Sept. 20, 2003 - Chevy Cavalier driver Jeg Coughlin Jr. earned his first low qualifying spot of the year today at the O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals at...

Chevrolet's Jeg Coughlin leads pro stock field into mid-south eliminator

MEMPHIS, Tenn., Sept. 20, 2003 - Chevy Cavalier driver Jeg Coughlin Jr. earned his first low qualifying spot of the year today at the O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals at Memphis Motorsports Park. During Friday's night session of time trials, Coughlin's yellow and black Cavalier shattered the previous elapsed time track record and rolled to the lead position with a run of 6.748 seconds at 202.94 mph. Coughlin's effort marked the third time this season, and the third consecutive race that a Chevrolet has started an NHRA national event from the No. 1 qualifying position.

"We've been No. 2 a few times already this year and have consistently been in the top four here lately," said Coughlin. "It's a testament to the entire shop, all of the research and development work that goes on back home and the guys tuning the Jeg's Chevrolet here this weekend. Obviously we've made some tremendous gains in performance and moved some steps forward in the way we run the racecar. It's taken us awhile to get to this level this year and we're going to enjoy it."

It marked the seventh career No. 1 starting spot for the 33-year-old Coughlin and the 31st consecutive race that he's successfully qualified for an NHRA Pro Stock field - the longest streak in the class. The defending Mid-South Nationals champion and two-time NHRA POWERade title winner was the provisional No. 1 qualifier at Reading, Pa., last weekend before that event was postponed because of rain. Coughlin also won this race in 2000.

"It's going to take a flawless performance from both the driver and the racecar to win tomorrow," said Coughlin. "What we saw from track and air conditions today should be similar to what we experience on Sunday. We felt pretty confident that the Jeg's Chevrolet could run another 6.74 this morning. Yesterday, our first run was a 6.83 and we were all over the lane. Taking that into consideration, we weren't too displeased with this morning's 6.77. The car faded out to the left just a little, and struck the tire pretty hard through second and third. It was just a matter of calming it down and getting more aggressive with the setup. Being third quickest for this morning's session wasn't too bad considering the level of competition out here."

Points-leader Greg Anderson has the Vegas General Construction Pontiac qualified in the No. 2 spot with a Saturday-best elapsed time of 6.759 seconds and a track-record top speed of 204.23 mph. It also marks the 14th time this season that Anderson's Pontiac has qualified either first or second in the Pro Stock field.

"This morning's run was what we needed, but it was the only good run we've had this weekend," said Anderson. "We've struggled with the setup we need for this racetrack. We've certainly raced in these conditions before, and we think we know how, we just have to prove it tomorrow. Some how we have to duplicate this morning's run. We tried some different things tonight but it just made the car shake even harder. If nothing else we have this morning's baseline to fall back on. We'll go back to what's been tried and true at the last few races and let it fly."

After struggling during the first two rounds of time trials on Friday, Warren Johnson's GM Performance Parts Pontiac leap-frogged to the No. 3 starting position with a run today of 6.774 seconds at 203.46 mph. Johnson is a four-time winner of the Mid-South Nationals (1991-92, 1996, 1998).

"During this morning's run we left a little bit on the table," said Johnson. "We were a little light on the clutch because we didn't want to go overboard. We probably left close to a mile-an-hour, and maybe a hundredth and a half to two hundredths in e.t. We came back this afternoon, made some tune-up adjustments to the GM Performance Parts Pontiac and got the clutch just about right for this last run. The car is competitive so we can't ask for anything more. Today we located both ditches and kept the car in the middle of the road. Based on the two runs we made today, I think that bodes well for us tomorrow."

Splitfire/Peak Pontiac driver Jim Yates has his Grand Am parked in the No. 4 position for tomorrow's race with a run of 6.780 seconds at 201.97 mph. It is the third time this season that Yates' Grand Am has started from the fourth position. Yates is looking to capture his first win of the season and his second victory at the Mid-South Nationals.

"I'm really happy with the progression of our Splitfire Pontiac," said Yates. "Since Ricky (Smith) came aboard at Brainerd we've consistently moved forward. We were No. 4 qualifier at Indy and now we're No. 4 here. We ran good last night and then moved the tune up around because we weren't satisfied with the speed or how the car ran down the backhalf. We went the wrong way this morning but got it back in the right direction tonight - the Splitfire Pontiac seemed to pick it up in the last session. We're getting a better handle on what the engine wants, what the car wants and that's giving us the consistency we lacked at the beginning of the year. Hopefully tomorrow we can put that combination back in, tune it up a little bit and run a big number."

Ron Krisher is qualified in the No. 6 position for tomorrow's eliminator and Kurt Johnson is parked in the No. 7 spot, both in Chevy Cavaliers.

"We're running better but not where we want to be," said Krisher. "We've picked up all of our numbers this weekend but we're working on running faster in the backhalf. We've lost some speed since Reading and we're trying to figure out why. We were No. 2 in speed at Reading and here we're No. 11. We don't have any oxygen sensors on the car and we're trying to figure out if we're running lean. We're washing the spark plugs down and they're looking lean. We put more fuel in it, we run slower, and the sparkplugs look even more lean. We're happy with the car though. This Chevrolet is running real, real good down low. First, second and third gear have been tremendous. The backhalf and the speed though have us puzzled."

Mike Edwards will start Sunday's Mid-South Nationals from the No. 11 qualifying spot in a Pontiac, Bruce Allen is 12th in a Pontiac and Steve Schmidt is 15th in a Cavalier. The bump was 6.817 seconds separating the quickest Mid-South Nationals Pro Stock field by .069 seconds.

"We're happy to be running as good as we are but there's still plenty of room for improvement," said Allen. "We've been soft, on the conservative side on every run and right now we're trying to step it up. We think it's just a matter of one small adjustment in the right spot before we make a big move with this Grand Am. We may not run a 6.75 but we think we can at least be one of the fastest three or four cars."

NHRA Manufacturer's Points -

Pontiac continues to hold the lead position in the race for the 2003 NHRA Manufacturer's Cup. The most recent standings released on August 26 show Pontiac in first place with 2,680 points, Chevrolet is second with 1,340 points and Ford and Dodge are tied for third with 300 points. Pontiac has won six NHRA Manufacturer's Cups since 1996 (1996 - 2001). Chevrolet won last season's title and is the all-time NHRA leader with 15.

Kurt Johnson has not lost a first-round matchup since the 2003 U.S. Nationals when he was eliminated by Allen Johnson. That is a streak of 23 consecutive races that began at last season's NHRA Nationals in Reading, Pa., on Sept. 15, 2002. Chevrolet's Jeg Coughlin has the second-longest streak at 12 races.

If Greg Anderson goes on to win the Pro Stock title this year, it would be Pontiac's sixth champion in the category since 1996. Jim Yates won the NHRA championship in a Pontiac in 1996-97 and Warren Johnson is a three-time title winner in a Pontiac (1998-99, 2001). If Kurt Johnson can pass Greg Anderson, it would mark Chevrolet's second-consecutive NHRA Pro Stock title. Jeg Coughlin won the championship last season in a Chevy Cavalier.

With Greg Anderson's most recent win two weeks ago in Indianapolis, Pontiac SC/T Grand Am drivers have won 11 of the first 17 races contested and four of the last five national events. GM racers have combined to win all 17 national events this year and have been low qualifier 17 times.

Anderson's win at Indianapolis was Pontiac's 120th all-time NHRA Pro Stock victory, the most by any manufacturer in the history of the sport, and Grand Am's 29th all-time win in Pro Stock competition.

Jeg Coughlin's win at Sonoma, Calif., on Aug. 3 was Chevrolet's 116th all-time NHRA Pro Stock victory and Chevy Cavalier's 29th all-time win in NHRA Pro Stock competition.

Current Pontiac SC/T Grand Am drivers who have previously won the O'Reilly Nationals include George Marnell (2001), Mike Edwards (1999), Warren Johnson (1991-92, 1996, 1998), Jim Yates (1997) and Mark Pawuk (1995).

Current GM drivers who have previously placed runner-up at the O'Reilly Nationals include Mark Pawuk (2001), Kurt Johnson (1998), Jim Yates (1996) and Warren Johnson (1989).

Eight GM racers currently occupy a spot in the top-10 of the Pro Stock standings. Pontiac's Greg Anderson leads the title pursuit with 1,570 points, Chevrolet's Kurt Johnson is in second place with 1,394 points, Jeg Coughlin is in third place in a Cavalier with 1,134 points and Warren Johnson is in fourth place in a Grand Am with 1,044 points. Ron Krisher (Chevrolet) moves up to fifth place with 777 points, Mike Edwards (Pontiac) is seventh with 715, Pontiac's Jim Yates leap frogs from 11th place to ninth place with 602 points and Bruce Allen (Pontiac) is 10th in a Pontiac with 599 points.

Only three Pro Stock drivers have qualified for every race this season. They are Chevrolet's Kurt Johnson and Jeg Coughlin Jr., and Pontiac's Greg Anderson.

Qualifying for the O'Reilly Nationals can be seen on ESPN2 on Saturday, Sept. 20, beginning at 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations will be televised on ESPN on Sunday, Sept. 21, starting at 1 p.m., and again on ESPN at 6 p.m. All times Eastern.

-gmr-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Mark Pawuk , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Greg Anderson , Ron Krisher , Bruce Allen , George Marnell , Allen Johnson , Steve Schmidt , Mike Edwards