POMONA, Calif. – Jeg Coughlin isn’t exactly sure what sparked his love affair with Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, but for an Ohio driver to have had as much success as he’s had at the famed Southern California dragstrip located just east of downtown Los Angeles, there must be an element of fate attached to it.
Coughlin comes to the Auto Club NHRA Finals this weekend (Nov. 7-10) with an opportunity to wrap up his fifth Pro Stock world championship title at the historic facility. He is 71 points in front of his closest challenger, Jason Line.
With six victories at Pomona in 13 career final round appearances there, including a runner-up effort at the season-opening NHRA Winternationals this year, Coughlin certainly brings plenty of confidence to the final race of the season and the last playoff event in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.
Brandon Bernstein (Top Fuel), Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock), and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are defending winners of the tradition-rich race that will be televised nationally on ESPN2 and ESPN2HD.
Of Coughlin’s six Pomona wins, three of them have come at the Auto Club NHRA Finals, including his last two, in 2007 and 2005. He’s not ready to call it his home track just yet, but it sure has become a nice home away from home for him over the years.
“Pomona, it's an electrical and magical place,” Coughlin said. “We're fortunate in the NHRA Mello Yello Series where we've got Pomona as the bookends of the season.
“There's so much excitement, it is hard not to pull off of that excitement and energy, in my case, to be able to get out there and want to perform better than I ever had. I've had some great, great runs at Pomona and we hope for this year to be no different.”
The veteran driver also has proven he can finish off a championship. He’s won four Pro Stock crowns, including two during the Countdown to the Championship era.
“We have been very fortunate to win a lot of rounds, win a lot of races, and put ourselves in the position to win a lot of championships,” said Coughlin, who has earned 56 career Pro Stock victories and claimed his last championship title in 2008. “We've brought several of those home. They are all extremely challenging in their own right, in their own way.”
After skipping the 2011 season and finishing ninth in the standings last year, Coughlin joined forces with defending world champ Johnson and the move has proven to be very positive. He powered his familiar yellow and black JEGS.com/Mopar Dodge Avenger to four victories in eight final rounds this season and claimed two No. 1 qualifying positions.
He surged forward in the Countdown by winning the playoff-opener in Charlotte, N.C. and then powered to the victory at the fourth Countdown stop in Reading, Pa. He took over the series lead with the win in Pennsylvania and increased his lead with a semifinal effort at the penultimate race in Las Vegas on Oct. 27.
Now he is ready to secure championship No. 5 and bring home a second straight title for the Johnson & Johnson Racing team and Mopar.
“This season has been unique in a way, partnering and teaming up with Roy and Allen Johnson at J&J Racing, we had just one heck of a season between the three of us,” Coughlin said. “Vincent Nobile, myself and Allen have won a lot of races, won a lot of rounds. At this point we’re in a position to bring home a championship. That would be extremely special not only for our family, but the Johnson family and also for everyone at Mopar and Dodge. It's been a big season.”
However, even with the significant lead, Coughlin isn’t getting too far ahead of himself. He realizes one tiny slip and Line, Mike Edwards, Las Vegas winner Shane Gray or Johnson could take advantage and pull the title from his grasp in the final moments of the season. Edwards is 80 points back, Gray trails by 84, and Johnson is 93 behind in fourth place. There is a maximum of 150 points on the table for a single driver, and each round win earns a driver 20 points. A 20-point bonus is also available for a national record elapsed time performance. The current national record was set in April at Charlotte, N.C., by Edwards at 6.471 seconds. Line holds the Pomona track record at 6.495 seconds, set last November.
There are many different scenarios for exactly when Coughlin can clinch the championship, and it could come as early as the quarterfinals depending on qualifying bonus points and qualifying positions. He could also be forced to race to the final round to get the job done. Either way, Coughlin and his team are focused on the job at hand.
“We’re riding pretty high and things look good, but we’ve got work to do,” Coughlin said. “Everyone on this JEGS.com/Mopar Dodge Avenger race team knows that. In the past, we’ve come to Pomona needing a huge weekend to come from behind and win it all and we’ve done it. We've also come here with a lead and lost it. No one in our pit is going to take anything for granted. We all know what we need to do.”
In Top Fuel, Southern California native Shawn Langdon is the current leader and is followed by defending world champ Antron Brown, Doug Kalitta, Spencer Massey and Morgan Lucas. Langdon holds a 102 point lead over Brown, who won the most recent race in Las Vegas.
NHRA icon John Force has already earned his NHRA-record 16th world championship title in Funny Car, as he took the crown at Las Vegas two weeks ago. A talented pack of drivers will be battling for second place at the Auto Club Finals, including 2011 world champ Matt Hagan, defending champ Jack Beckman, '09 champ Robert Hight and last season's top rookie and NHRA Winternationals winner Courtney Force.
Matt Smith, who secured the Pro Stock Motorcycle world championship with his fourth win of the season in Las Vegas, will try to add another victory before the close of the year. Michael Ray is currently second in points and if he can finish the season in that position it will be a career high for the Texas rider. Hector Arana, Hector Arana Sr. and Eddie Krawiec will also be among the top contenders to score a victory at the season-ending event.
Fans can catch the first glimpse of the 2013 Mello Yello championship title chasers at the official event press conference on Thursday Nov. 7, which is free for all Thursday ticket holders and will be held in the nitro pits starting at 11 a.m.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and enjoy some cherished face time with their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
While strolling through the pits, fans will want to check out the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum’s “Hot Rod Junction” car corral featuring dozens of nostalgic dragsters, race cars and hot rods on display. The Hot Rod Junction also will showcase several NHRA-exclusive Cacklefests throughout the weekend, where vintage front-engine dragsters will be fired up simultaneously.
Fans also will want to take advantage of the popular Championship Sunday Track Walk, which is free to all Sunday ticket holders. This popular event gives fans the opportunity to walk down the legendary drag strip alongside some of the NHRA’s biggest stars. Auto Club Ford Mustang Funny Car driver Robert Hight will lead the track walk at the Auto Club NHRA Finals.
The NHRA Motorsports Museum, which is located on the Auto Club Raceway of Pomona grounds, is also offering fans the opportunity to visit the museum for free and learn about the history of the sport. The fan-favorite Night of Champions with NHRA Mello Yello drivers will be held on Friday, Nov. 8 at 6 p.m. Admission is free during the Auto Club NHRA Finals weekend.
The NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series also will thrill the crowds during the weekend with intense competition on the track.
The NHRA Finals qualifying sessions are scheduled for 1:45 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 7 and Friday, Nov. 8. Qualifying continues at 11:45 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 9. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 10.