With three of his five world titles coming in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship era, it’s clear that Pro Stock star Jeg Coughlin Jr. loves this pressure-packed time of the year. It will continue at this weekend’s 11th annual NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway, where Coughlin will look to stay in contention for a sixth world title in the class.
The longtime standout is currently third in Pro Stock, trailing points leader Tanner Gray by 90 points after Gray has won back-to-back races, including topping No. 1 qualifier Coughlin in a thrilling final round last weekend in Dallas. It was a tough loss for the veteran, but he is prepared to bounce back as the second half of the Countdown to the Championship begins in Charlotte.
“The key here is we still have an opportunity to win the championship,” said Coughlin, who has 61 career wins. “With the way we've been running the first three races of the Countdown to the Championship we certainly plan to continue down the same path. The JEGS.com Elite Performance Chevrolet Camaro has been very fast and consistent, as witnessed by our qualifying performances, and if not for a few little hardships on race day, we'd be even closer to the top.”
Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Tanner Gray (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including live final eliminations coverage starting at 2:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Oct. 14. It is the fourth of six races in the Countdown to the Championship and also the 22nd of 24 races in the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season. It’s been another banner year for Coughlin, who has won three races and been to five final rounds.
He’s been the No. 1 qualifier at the past two playoff races, improving his performance at each of the first three races. That gives him a good feeling heading to Charlotte, where Coughlin has one win, but Coughlin has plenty of company in trying to chase down Gray, who has seven wins this season. Vincent Nobile is a point ahead of Coughlin, while Drew Skillman is only 44 points behind the veteran, but that type of competition is what Coughlin loves most about the playoffs.
“Since '07, the first year the NHRA instituted a playoff, it's just been so fun,” Coughlin said. “Winning that first title of the playoff era is still the single most exciting day of my career. Round 1 was so intense. We were the last pairing and I was watching how the various scenarios played out in front of us. By the time I got up there I knew exactly what we needed to do to win it all. The Countdown was designed to infuse a lot of excitement into the final portion of the season and it's worked tremendously well. There's a lot of emotion in every round of all six races and it's been wonderful for the drivers and the fans.”
A win at zMAX Dragway would add a huge dose of excitement for Coughlin heading down the stretch, and he knows his Elite Motorsports team will be ready. Nobile won the Countdown to the Championship opener for the team, but Coughlin believes the team can continue to accomplish more to close out the season if everyone maintains an aggressive mindset.
“I've had amazing people around me all these years and that certainly is the case this season,” Coughlin said. “My crew chief, Rickie Jones, I really admire him in so many ways. He's very calculated in the way he approaches each race but he's not afraid to be aggressive when he needs to be. I think we'll definitely see that side of him in these final three races.”
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 2:45 and 5:15 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 12, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Oct. 13, at 12:45 and 3:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 12 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 14.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 800-455-FANS (3267). Tickets also are available online at www.zmaxdragway.com. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate.