Coughlin rode into the NHRA’s Countdown to 1 playoffs as the hottest driver in the factory hot rod class, winning two of the last three regular season races and taking runner-up honors at the other. But just as it was one year ago, his JEGS.com Chevrolet Cobalt has been erratic since the postseason began and he’s slipped to six place in the rankings, 151 points off the pace of leader Mike Edwards.
“It’s looking like a replay of 2009 for us,” said Coughlin, who was the top qualifier in the ’09 Countdown only to struggle down the stretch. “It hurts to say that, but it’s reality. We’re not excited about our performance at all over the last three races.
“No one on this team is happy and we’re looking for redemption. I fully expect for us to contend for the trophies at these last three races. We need to win all three. Will that put us in contention for a sixth world championship? Probably not at this point because you don’t expect the others to fall off much, if at all, but I’m not counting us out.”
The 40-year-old from the Columbus suburb of Delaware, Ohio, has driven extremely well in the playoffs, upsetting defending series champ Edwards on a massive holeshot in Charlotte after qualifying 15th overall and coming within .001 seconds of eliminating top qualifier Allen Johnson at the last event in Dallas. Unfortunately, his car has failed him.
“We’ve not had our act together,” he said. “I think we’ve changed the engine three times in the last 10 runs. The Countdown format favors the teams that peak at the right time and we thought coming in that we were hitting our stride, but Sunday of the Indy race the bottom kind of fell out and we’ve been all over the place ever since.
“One thing Victor Cagnazzi Racing prides itself on in being prepared and the bottom line is we’ve been inconsistent since the playoffs started. I know it’s not sitting well with anyone on this team. The advantage we have right now is that we’ve won two of the last three championships and we know how to attack our issues. This is a team filled with championship-caliber people and we will rebound from this, no question.”
Aside from trying to win his fourth Pro Stock race at Maple Grove (2009, 2008, and 1999), Coughlin will contest Super Comp in his nephew Troy Coughlin Jr.’s JEGS.com dragster. The car has won multiple trophies in NHRA competition.
“I’m excited about running T.J.’s car,” Coughlin said. “I’ve worked on it quite a bit so it’s a car I’m familiar with. Plus, my fiancé Samantha Kenny is racing her Super Comp dragster this weekend so we may get a chance to go head-to-head for family bragging rights.”
ESPN2 will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 10:30 p.m. Saturday. ESPN3.com will televise eliminations starting at 11 a.m., Sunday, with ESPN airing two and half hours of coverage starting at 9 p.m., Sunday.
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