INDIANAPOLIS (Sept. 1) — Of the eight Pro Stock cars racing in the quarterfinal round of the 54th annual U.S. Nationals, none was quicker than reigning world champion Jeg Coughlin Jr.’s Chevrolet Cobalt.

But drag racing is a strange sport at times and having the best car doesn’t always equate to a win light. That was the case Monday afternoon when Coughlin’s quicker 6.681-second pass at 206.29 mph wasn’t enough to beat Kurt Johnson’s 6.686 at 207.15 mph.

The difference came at the starting line, where Johnson shot off the launch pad with a .002-second reaction time (.000 is perfect) to take a lead he never relinquished. Coughlin’s normal .032-second start time started the chase and he was closing the gap on Johnson at every incremental timer, but he simply ran out of race track.

“I just got cracked,” Coughlin said. “Kurt did a good job. He was .013 in Round 1 and .002 against me. He’s in a good spot mentally right now.

“I expect this is the way the rest of the season will go. The guys in the playoffs are going to win and lose races at the starting line more times than not. We have the car running great. There is nothing to complain about at all. We just need to find a way to win more of these close races.”

The NHRA’s Countdown to 1 begins at the next race. The Countdown is a six-race sprint to the finish with only the top 10 drivers from each professional category eligible to win the 2008 title. Coughlin enters the Countdown as the No. 3 qualifier. As such, he will be 40 points, or two rounds of action, behind the first-place racer.

“It’s going to be a thrill ride,” Coughlin said. “We’ve been working towards this point all year. Now it’s here and I’m very happy with where we are and how the team has come together for this stretch run.

“We’re going after our fifth championship. We have all put a tremendous amount of effort into making it happen but the real work begins now. I’m confident we’ll be up to the task.”

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