BRAINERD, Minn. (Aug. 10) — Reigning POWERade champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. secured his chance to defend his world title by racing to a third-place finish Sunday at the 27th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway. Coughlin joined Greg Anderson, Kurt Johnson, and Jason Line on the list of qualified racers that will begin a six-race fight for the 2008 title on Sept. 11 in Charlotte. Six more racers will join them to fill out a 10-car playoff field.

“It’s an exciting time for Victor Cagnazzi Racing and everyone at JEGS,” Coughlin said. “When you start the season as defending world champions you set a lot of goals for your team. The most obvious one is to repeat as champions. The first big step towards that goal is making sure you’re in the playoffs. We’ve cleared that hurdle now so there’s a sense of excitement and relief.

“We’ve gained some momentum over the past few races and we want to continue building on that heading into the Countdown to 1. I feel like we’ve got some work to do in the four weeks before the playoffs start but the entire team should certainly enjoy this accomplishment.”

Beginning this race day as the No. 11 qualifier, Coughlin’s renowned driving ability spooked his first two rivals into handing him easy elimination-round wins with red-light starts, meaning they left too early and were disqualified. Taking a chance at a good start was probably a sound strategy as both drivers were outrun by Coughlin’s Chevrolet Cobalt on the quarter mile.

First it was Justin Humphreys leaving -.014 seconds before the green light, with Coughlin going on to run what was then the quickest pass of the race, a 6.663 at 206.54 mph. Next, Vieri Gaines took a chance but fouled out by -.011 seconds, while Coughlin coolly ran a 6.683 at 206.04 mph, a full two hundredths of a second quicker than Gaines’ pass.

“We gave them a good run today,” Coughlin said. “We got the Brainerd Zoo train rolling, and rode her ’til the semifinals. That’s not a bad day at the office. We have a good car; I believe we were third best in both of the first two sessions.”

In the semifinals, Minnesotan Kurt Johnson, the home state favorite, managed to take a close win with a 6.657 at 206.83 mph to Coughlin’s 6.679 at 205.94 mph. Johnson went on to win the race and tie Coughlin on the all-time Pro Stock wins list with his 39th career victory. Coughlin actually has 52 national event wins, but 13 came in the sportsman ranks.

“Kurt had a great racecar today and he drove extremely well,” Coughlin said. “I had to get up on the wheel to race him but he still put us down. Today was his day.”

Coughlin only has a few days off before hitting the quarter-mile once again this Friday at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa.

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