Jeg Coughlin Jr. will begin his final pursuit of a sixth NHRA Mello Yello Pro Stock championship from the No. 1 qualifying spot after his 6.533 from Friday’s opening session held through both of Saturday’s qualifying runs at the Auto Club NHRA Finals. Coughlin has now been the top qualifier 32 times in his career including three times this season with his Elite Motorsports-powered JEGS.com Camaro. He will race against No. 16 qualifier Cristen Cuadra in Sunday’s opening round.
“We’ve had a couple of real close red-lights in Countdown and that kind of took us out of the championship but this weekend I feel great about it," said Coughlin. "We’re going to get every point we can to see if we can’t parlay this into something special. We definitely want to stay 1-2 in the points but there is a lot of racing left tomorrow and this is Pomona where anything can happen.”
Coughlin, who has 62 career Pro Stock wins including one this season, is not only quick, but he’s also been consistent at Auto Club Pomona Raceway with runs of 6.538, 6.568, and a strong 6.539 to finish out qualifying. All told, Coughlin earned 14 qualifying bonus points to cut his deficit to leader and teammate Erica Enders from 92 to 81 points. That means that Coughlin must advance three rounds further than Enders in order to win the title. When it comes to late-season pressure situations, few drivers have more experience that Coughlin who has won a total of six championships including five in Pro Stock as well as the 1992 Super Gas title. He’s also finished in the top ten 19 times in Pro Stock since 1997.
Surprisingly, Coughlin may find that his biggest ally in the battle for the championship is also his biggest rival since Summit Racing-backed driver Greg Anderson is scheduled to face Enders int the opening round of eliminations. In one of the most-talked about events of the weekend, Anderson intentionally slowed his Summit Camaro during qualifying so that he’d qualify in the bottom half of the field. Anderson shut off at the 1,000-foot mark on each of his four qualifying runs and the strategy was effective. Anderson’s strategy is intended to aid his teammates, Jason Line and Bo Butner, who are both in the running for the 2019 title. Line and Butner must win the race and hope that Enders go out in round one in order to have a chance.
“In my mind we’re just trying to make good quality runs and not worry about points,” said Coughlin. “I don’t root against Erica. She’s my teammate and she’s had a great season. If the door opens, we’ll do our best to take advantage of it but I don’t see that happening. I know there were some shenanigans, if you want to call it that with the KB team but that’s up to them. I guess the figured they could get qualified opposite Erica or figured they’d hit one of us. Greg is a good racer, but I know where my money is at.
“She’s gonna have to go out and earn it tomorrow…” @GregAnderson_ps strategically raced to qualify in the bottom half of the field for a chance to take on @erica_enders. He got what he wanted and the two will square off in Round 1. #NHRAFinals— #NHRA (@NHRA) November 17, 2019
MORE: https://t.co/WQ8ai0wK00. pic.twitter.com/u5iG8ySo2F
For her part, Enders has also been consistent during qualifying including a best of 6.538 in her Elite Camaro that is good for the No. 2 spot. Earlier this week, Enders also announced an extension with sponsor Melling Performance. For her part, Enders doesn’t seem the least bit intimidated by the prospect of racing the four-time world champion in the opening round.
“That guy has hated losing to a girl since the day I first set foot out here and I plan to keep it that way,” Enders told the Pomona crowd after Saturday’s final qualifying run.