BRAINERD, Minn. (Aug. 8) — Defending series and event champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. started this weekend’s 27th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway with a pair of low 6.7-second passes. At the midway point of qualifying, Coughlin and his Chevrolet Cobalt team are a comfortable seventh in the field.

The 52-time national event winner, who earned his landmark 50th career victory one year ago at BIR, opened with a 6.724 at 204.98 mph before improving to a 6.714 at 205.35 mph in Round 2.

“We’re very pleased with the day,” Coughlin said. “The Cobalt went nice and straight both runs, which is exactly what we like to see. I think we all wanted a tick or two more in Q2 there but we weren’t quite as efficient as we needed to be in the first few feet of the run. After that it hustled down through there perfectly.

“The weather was perfect for us today. There was some nice cloud cover and that helped us all run big numbers. I’m looking at the qualifying sheet and we’re all packed in there close within a few hundredths of a second so the dogfight continues.”

Coughlin is coming off a strong runner-up finish at the POWERade Drag Racing Series’ last stop in Sonoma, Calif. It was his third runner-up result of the year. He’s also got a win and three final-four showings this season.

Earlier this year, Coughlin led the POWERade points on two different occasions. He’s currently fourth overall and will clinch a position in the Countdown to 1 playoffs by simply qualifying for this weekend’s race. The playoffs start Sept. 11-14 in Charlotte.

“It’s exciting to have the chance to secure our spot in the Countdown field this weekend because it will give us a chance to catch our breath a bit and get ready for that six-race run to the championship,” Coughlin said. “In reality, you can’t ever let up out here but it will be nice to take that next step and know we’re in the race for sure. It’s just like qualifying for race day every weekend; you always feel better after you know you’re in.”

Qualifying resumes Saturday with the final two time trials scheduled for 11:15 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. Sunday’s eliminations begin at 11 a.m.

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