While most teams struggled in Saturday’s heat at Firebird International Raceway, former Phoenix champ Jeg Coughlin somehow managed to power into the coveted top half of the elimination field for the 21st annual Checker, Schuck’s, Kragen NHRA Nationals. Coughlin rode crew chief Bob Glidden’s expert tune-up to a drastically improved 6.756-second pass at 204.63 mph to lock-up the No. 8 position in the field.

“We’re very happy to have moved up in the standings,” Coughlin said. “There’s still a lot of room left in the tune-up to improve so it continues to be an exciting time in this camp. Any time you can better your Friday night time in the daylight is a good thing.”

The Don Schumacher Racing camp was buzzing after Coughlin’s teammate, Richie Stevens, remained unchallenged atop the Pro Stock standings. His double-track-record 6.735-second pass at 205.35 mph earned DSR its first Low Qualifier award in the factory hot rod class.

“Having Richie on the pole is such a big deal for this team,” Coughlin said. “The thing is we know what’s in that hot rod and how it’s put together so the advantages of a two-car team should become more and more apparent as time goes along. We made a lot of changes between rounds today but I didn’t do a great job of driving in Round 4 or else we would have moved up even higher.”

A three-time series champion with two Pro Stock world titles, Coughlin will face back-to-back NHRA champ Greg Anderson in the first round of eliminations. Anderson owned Coughlin last year, posting a 5-0 mark against his rival. This time around Coughlin enters the match-up with lane choice, something he never enjoyed opposite Anderson in ’04.

“Bottom line, we have to go some rounds tomorrow,” Coughlin said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a rookie or the two-time champ in the other lane; you have to beat them all to get the trophy. I’d just as soon race Greg early because it appears they’re having some issues themselves over there. I like Greg and respect him quite a bit, but it’s time to duke it out and see who has the best hot rod. It should be a lot of fun.”

Eliminations begin at 11 a.m. with same-day coverage on ESPN2.

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