DELAWARE, OH. (Aug 24) – With 50 national event victories and three world championships to his credit, Jeg Coughlin Jr. has experienced plenty in his drag racing career. But even the ultra-cool, unflappable Coughlin admits NHRA’s new Countdown to the Championship has got him revved up for the remainder of the 2007 season.

“For the first time in the history of the sport we’re going into the U.S. Nationals in Indy — the granddaddy of the all — looking at 32 racers who are all legitimate challengers for the championships,” said Coughlin, driver of the Chevrolet Cobalt Pro Stock entry. “You want excitement? How can there not be with that many teams all within striking distance?”

Implemented this season, the Countdown to the Championship effectively divides the POWERade Drag Racing Series schedule into three distinct portions. The first, called Countdown to Eight, took place over the first 17 national events. Racers in all four professional categories — Pro Stock, Top Fuel, Funny Car, and Pro Stock Motorcycle — had 17 races to earn enough points to place them in the top eight of their respective classes.

After 17 races, heading into the 53rd annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals Aug. 29-Sept. 3, the top eight racers are placed in a new points pool — called Countdown to Four — and separated by just 10 points each from top to bottom. These eight racers are the only ones left eligible to win the championship. Four races later, the field is reduced to the top four and regrouped in the points once again for a final push to the championship. Dubbed Countdown to One, this final sprint takes place over the final two races of the year.

“Everyone believes they have a chance now,” Coughlin said. “Even before this first cutoff point, just about every racer in the class figured on making the top eight right up until the last race or two. And everyone did have a chance. All of us that made the next stage of the Countdown have multiple first-round losses. Those were times we were vulnerable. It’s made every round of every race seem more important. That’s especially true now because there’re only 16 rounds in the Countdown to Four.”

Coughlin enters the Countdown to Four in the No. 3 position, just 20 points behind regular season leader Greg Anderson and Dave Connolly, Coughlin’s teammate at Victor Cagnazzi Racing.

“They reset the points now so we’re exactly one round behind the leader,” the 37-year-old Coughlin said. “That’s the closest we’ve been since opening day so it’s great for us, especially when you consider the way we’ve been running this summer. We’re at a point with this team where we’ve progressed a ton, especially in relation to the others in the class. We’ve got great engines between the rails and great engines under the workbenches in the trailer to back them up. We’re prepared for this run.”

For 13 races in a row, from the national event in Houston in late March on through to the mid-August race in Brainerd, Minn., Coughlin was the top points earner in the Pro Stock class. He recorded three wins in six final-round showings over that time span.

“We’ve got four races to show we’re one of the top-four cars in the sport,” Coughlin said. “I look at it as four races we can win. Once you get to the Countdown to One, it’s on. We’ve actually worked out a plan of attack right down to having contingency procedures in place if we happen to have a rainout. We want to be the first champions under this new format and we want to be totally prepared for anything that might happen.”

Coughlin actually secured a spot in the Countdown field four races ago in Seattle, which allowed his team to freshened-up all of their motors back at their Mooresville, N.C., engine shop. They’ve also been able to try some new things in competition that they believe will help them down the stretch.

“We have engines in the trailer that have been saved specifically for Indy and beyond,” said Coughlin, the Pro Stock world champion in 2000 and 2002. “We think they’re a hundredth or two (of a second) quicker. We’ve been fortunate enough to have had the time to test some things over the last few races and that will help. We know the opportunity we have in front of us and we’ll be going in with our best effort.

“It’s going to be exciting for all of us. For the fans to see it all come down to Pomona in all four Professional categories is enormous. We all saw what happened with the Army team last year (winning the championship on the last pass of the year with a world record elapsed time.) It was the most thrilling finish ever. Now we’ll have that every year in every class.”

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