MADISON, Ill. — official release — NHRA photo — When Jeg Coughlin pulls into Gateway Motorsports Park this weekend for the third annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals the reigning Pro Stock world champion knows he will need a memorable performance if he hopes to extend his reign to back-to-back titles.
Coughlin struggled out of the gates in the 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship, falling in the first round of the playoffs last weekend in Dallas to drop to eighth in points.
It will take a monumental effort to jump back in the championship mix but Coughlin has the championship pedigree to do so. He also has a proven track record at the remaining Countdown tracks, as 17 of his 58 career wins have come in St. Louis, Reading, Las Vegas and Pomona. He’s won twice at Gateway Motorsports Park, which is enough for Coughlin to believe he still has a shot to make a late-season run at defending his title.
“Realistically we probably need to go to the final of all four races and try to win a few to have a chance,” Coughlin said. “We’ve had great success in the past at all four of the remaining racetracks so that’s a big bonus for us. I’m very comfortable with the guys behind me and with the way I’ve been driving. We’ll get up on the wheel and do all we can to get back in the fight.”
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event. The AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals also marks the halfway point of the six-race NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship and is the third of four straight race weekends.
It comes at a vital time for Coughlin, who entered the Countdown fourth in points and moved up a slot to third in Dallas when the postponed Pep Boys NHRA Carolina Nationals were completed on Saturday. But a massive shift took place the next day in the loaded Pro Stock class and Coughlin suffered the consequences in his JEGS.com/Mopar Dodge Dart.
His car had problems in his opening-round loss to Greg Anderson, sending him 116 points behind series leader Jason Line.
“Well certainly we’ve not started the Countdown the way we wanted to at all,” said Coughlin, who has two wins in five final round appearances in 2014. “This is the time of year to limit mistakes and we feel as though we’ve used up any cushion we may have had. At the same time, I don’t feel we need to change anything. We have a great team here, a team that’s collectively won the last two Mello Yello championships (counting teammate and 2012 world champion Allen Johnson). We have everything we need to win. We just need to continue to do what we know how to do.”
What Coughlin knows how to do is win when it counts and his championship pedigree is as impressive as anyone in the class. In earning his fifth world title a year ago Coughlin came alive in the Countdown, winning two races and advancing to three finals rounds in the six-race playoffs.
He will likely need to replicate that performance down the stretch in 2014 to stay in the championship hunt but it won’t be easy competing against a talented Pro Stock field led by Line and Dave Connolly, who jumped to second in points after winning last weekend in Dallas. Other championship contenders include Johnson, rookie Jonathan Gray, who won the Countdown opener, Enders-Stevens, who has back-to-back St. Louis victories and has won four races this season, Indy winner Shane Gray, Vincent Nobile, V Gaines and Chris McGaha.
“In Dallas, with the finishing up of the Charlotte race and then rolling into this event, we had high hopes,” Coughlin said. “The car just wasn’t where we needed it to be. It just didn’t work out this time. We’ll pick up the pieces on the Pro Stock effort and finish the year with the remaining four races real strong.”