LAS VEGAS (Feb. 2) — Reigning NHRA POWERade Pro Stock champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. picked up right where he left off last season by winning the third annual Pontiac Showdown test race Saturday night at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The cash prize event is the final preseason test for professional drag racers. The 24-race POWERade Drag Racing Series starts Thursday in Pomona, Calif.

The Pontiac Showdown doesn’t reward points or count towards the 2008 championship, but the confidence and bragging rights gained at the event offers the winning team a huge boost of confidence heading into the regular season.

“We came out here, made 10 great passes, qualified No. 1 for the Pontiac Showdown against 18 other real good drivers, and we took home the trophy at the end of the day,” Coughlin said. “I’d say that’s a pretty good test. We’re thrilled, and I’m especially happy for our team owner, Victor Cagnazzi, because he’s been working around the clock to find a replacement sponsor for my teammate Dave Connolly so it’s wonderful to give him this lift and bring some more attention to his awesome race team.”

Coughlin’s Chevrolet Cobalt was strong throughout testing. In Las Vegas, Coughlin had the quickest or second quickest car of every session, eventually earning the No. 1 position in the 16-car field with a Round 4 run of 6.685 seconds at 205.82 mph in Saturday’s final qualifying round.

“We made two runs Thursday, three more yesterday, and five today and the car was pretty darn good,” Coughlin said. “We had to switch put the clutch between the first and second rounds but the guys handled it like pros. The car was repeating very well.”

Looking as sharp as he did in clinching the ’07 championship with a victory at the season-ending Auto Club NHRA Finals in November, Coughlin dismissed his four challengers with some great driving and a strong racecar.

A winner of 51 national events and four world titles, Coughlin opened eliminations with an easy win over rookie-to-be Vinnie Deceglie by a 6.724 to 7.331 margin. He then flashed a trademark killer reaction time of .004 seconds in a quarterfinal win over veteran V. Gaines, whom he went on to beat with a 6.725 to Gaines’ 6.745.

The marquee match-up came in the semis when Coughlin faced fellow three-time Pro Stock champion Greg Anderson, who had run quicker than Coughlin in Round 2 and had the advantage of lane choice. Knowing he needed to be spot-on to win, Coughlin responded with another near-perfect light, a .005-second reaction time to Anderson’s .035, to beat Anderson on a holeshot, 6.730 to 6.715.

By then Coughlin was on a roll and final-round foe Allen Johnson offered little opposition. Coughlin beat him off the line — .016 to .070 — and drove away for a big win, clocking a 6.711 at 204.94 mph to Johnson’s 6.735 at 203.92 mph.

“It’s a great bit of momentum for us,” Coughlin said. “Hopefully we can carry this over to Pomona and try to win back to back races there. If the JEGS Cobalt runs like this and I can keep my driving on line, we should be able to make a run at it.”

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