DELAWARE, Ohio (Oct. 18) — The POWERade Drag Racing Series is entering an unprecedented, pressure-packed stretch of two races that ultimately will decide all four NHRA champions. The newly-implemented Countdown to the Championship has pared the field of eligible racers to the top eight and then the top four, who will now race for the title over the final two events of the season in Las Vegas and Pomona, Calif.

With so much money and prestige on the line over consecutive weekends, the feelings of stress and anxiety have never been higher in 56 years of NHRA competition, which suits Pro Stock driver Jeg Coughlin just fine. In 18 years of drag racing, the 37-year-old Coughlin has won three world titles and 50 national events.

Over that time Coughlin has developed a well-deserved reputation as one of the most unflappable racers in the history of straight-line competition. That coolness should serve him well in the days to come.

“I think it will all come down to who performs the best over these last eight rounds of racing,” Coughlin said. “The pressure is on the drivers. I look at the four of us in this final group and between us we’ve won 19 of the first 21 races. That tells me our cars are pretty doggone similar and we’re all making about the same horsepower. The difference could come down to which one of us performs flawlessly when the helmets go on.”

A fan poll on has Coughlin’s teammate Dave Connolly as the runaway favorite to win the 2007 title and with good reason. Connolly has won eight races this year, including the last five in a row.

“According to that poll we might as well call the engraver and put him to work right now,” Coughlin said. “Fortunately, we don’t race each other on the internet. I agree it’s awfully hard to argue against Dave being the favorite. He’s got all the tools and he’s on a great run at the moment. I also look at Greg Anderson and see a guy that’s been on a roll for five years. Allen Johnson also is there with something to prove.

“The thing is, with just two races to decide the winner it can come down to something crazy happening. I mean, look at the last race in Richmond. Greg pulls up to the line in Round 1 and his car breaks. Just like that he’s done for the day. Stuff like that happens and if it happens in the next two weeks, you’re done.

“It’s going to come down to Pomona and it will probably go right down to the final round on Sunday. The Finals will have a giant exclamation point this year, that’s for sure.”

Coughlin’s three championships have come in a variety of scenarios. His first, the 1992 Super Gas title, was earned under the intense format of sportsman racing where competitors count points from both divisional and national events and often must win five, six, or seven rounds on race day to earn the trophy. His second in 2000, his first in Pro Stock, was a runaway as he won six of the first seven races to start a wire-to-wire run that ended with 10 wins by the end of the year. His most recent, in 2002, was a mad scramble that featured Coughlin needing to claim eight of the last 12 events to win it all.

Now he’s trying to get it done again with the Countdown to the Championship, which has placed a huge emphasis on making each of the first two cutoffs just to have a chance at the championship.

“I’ve heard the grumblings but I personally enjoy the format quite a bit,” Coughlin said. “It’s certainly more of what the mass sports audience is used to seeing. Upsets do happen in sports. The best college basketball team in the country can lose in the first round of the NCAA tourney and be done just like that. It adds an element of excitement we haven’t always had at the end of the season, especially in Pro Stock.

“We’re third in the points right now, which is right where we should be if you go off statistics. But we still had to fight to make the final four. There was some pressure there to be sure.

“The bottom line is this — if you want to win the championship, you have to win races and beat the guy in the other lane, especially at crucial times. That’s the way it’s always been. If you can’t handle the pressure or you don’t like this format, then don’t race. Me personally, I’ll take my chances. I want to win another title.”

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