MILLINGTON, Tenn.- Jeg Coughlin could not have picked a better time to gain some positive momentum. Coughlin started the 2002 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing season by not qualifying for the season-opener in Pomona, Calif., leaving him in 17th...
MILLINGTON, Tenn.- Jeg Coughlin could not have picked a better time to gain some positive momentum. Coughlin started the 2002 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing season by not qualifying for the season-opener in Pomona, Calif., leaving him in 17th place.
The season is 23 races long for a reason, and Coughlin has catapulted his way into the top three of the Pro Stock standings and emerged as a leading candidate to win a second series crown.
His short-term goals include winning as many races as possible, including the 15th annual O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals, Sept. 19-22, at Memphis Motorsports Park. Kenny Bernstein, Gary Densham and George Marnell are the defending winners of the $1.9 million race. It is the 19th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.
Coughlin's long-term goals include, well, to put it bluntly, winning it all.
"It feels great, to say the least, making the move (up from 17th place)," Coughlin said. "We have been focused and our work ethic across the board within Team Jegs has helped us get back in the hunt for the coveted NHRA POWERade championship. But we have five races left (starting at Memphis) in the season and we need to be on our best behavior to capitalize on every opportunity we can."
In the first nine races of the season, there were nine different winners - an NHRA record. Coughlin, however, was not one of them. He went to the finals twice during that span, losing both times. He picked up points along the way, and by the 12th race of the season, Coughlin found himself in winner's circle, celebrating a victory over Greg Anderson at St. Louis. The win moved him into fourth place, and was the first of three victories in five races for Coughlin and the Jeg's Mail Order Chevy Cavalier. He lost in the first round at Denver before beating Mark Whisnant in the finals at Seattle the next weekend. Before winning in Brainerd, he was ousted in the semifinals at Sonoma. A victory at the prestigious Mac Tools U.S. Nationals gave Coughlin the points lead for a brief moment, until Jim Yates took it away at Reading, Pa. A first round loss combined with a Yates victory at Maple Grove Raceway pushed Coughlin to third in the standings.
"My driving in the past five races has been hot and cold," Coughlin said. "The victory in St. Louis was great. I got nipped in the opening round at Denver, on driver error. But we rebounded strong with a big win in Seattle and then got beat on a holeshot in the semifinals in Sonoma. From there, Brainerd and Indy were carbon copies of Seattle.
"I can tell you that I am looking forward to the challenges of the remaining races and that I look to be very strong from behind the wheel."
That should concern some of the other drivers in championship contention. If Coughlin has been hot and cold, and still managed to climb from the cellar, what is the team capable of producing when Coughlin is consistently hot? Coughlin insists there haven't been any major changes to prompt the turnaround in the Jeg's camp.
"We are the same team and we are going about our business in a very similar fashion," Coughlin said. "We have made more horsepower, in our research and design facility, and we have been able to translate that to the scoreboards. That has been a big boost. But also in the past several races we have won a couple of rounds that were just a couple of thousandths true win margin.
"During the first half of the season, we didn't seem to be on the good side of the close races. Timing is everything and we are really in high-gear now."
Coughlin, the 2000 Pro Stock champion, is the first to admit that the competition for the Pro Stock title is stronger now than ever.
"Pro Stock today is tough for a number of reasons," Coughlin said. "The NHRA technical department has implemented several changes over the last couple of years that have definitely increased the consistency across the brand makes. Couple those changes with more multi-car teams and new upstart teams that have come from Pro Stock and (the former) Pro Stock Truck classes, and you have the modern day POWERade Pro Stock category.
"To this point we have not seen any one team break away with the points because of the tight qualified field and the talent that is among the class behind the wheel."
The competition may be tough, but Coughlin has a game plan on how to win it all.
"I believe that in order to win the championship qualifying for the remainder of the events is a prerequisite," Coughlin said. "From there, a strong semifinals finish in mandatory. It may even take an average of runner-up finishes. One thing is for sure that motorsports fans of any sort are in for a treat because the Pro Stock championship is going to be awesome coming down the stretch."