DENVER (July 17) — With just five races remaining until the Countdown to the Championship playoffs, five-time Pro Stock champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. says the upcoming Western Swing of consecutive races in Denver, Sonoma and Seattle could prove to be pivotal for the true championship contenders in the NHRA's factory hot rod class.
Beginning with this weekend's 38th annual Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at picturesque Bandimere Speedway, Coughlin says zeroing in on a consistently fast setup is top priority for the JEGS.com/Elite Performance Chevrolet Camaro race team.
"We need to firm up our foundation and find a sweet spot with the car, the engine and the tune-up we can ride into the playoffs," Coughlin said. "You definitely start to look at these last few races before the Countdown as super important in our journey towards challenging for another Mello Yello championship.
"We've had a great first half. Our number of round wins and rankings in the points are much improved from last season. We've shifted through a lot of race day setups and engine combinations with this Chevy Camaro and overall, the Elite team has really shined. We just need to hone in on what will work best for us down the stretch."
Currently a lofty fourth in the rankings, Coughlin's season has been highlighted by runner-up results in Houston and Topeka, No. 1 qualifying efforts in Houston, Charlotte and Bristol, and a respectable 18 elimination-round victories.
The four-car Elite Motorsports race team plans to keep its three full-time racers — Coughlin (fourth place), Erica Enders (sixth place) and Vincent Nobile (seventh place) — firmly in the top 10 to assure all three drivers a chance at the 2017 title. That quest begins Friday in the foothills on the far western edges of Denver.
"Denver is always a favorite stop for me, mostly because of our family's longstanding friendship with the Bandimeres," Coughlin said. "They're just wonderful people who strive to put on one heckuva race every year, both for the racers and the fans. They are top-quality people.
"Being in Pro Stock, we race without the help of superchargers where you can create atmosphere, so we are completely at the mercy of Mother Nature and the conditions she provides. Obviously in Denver we have a drastic change in elevation from anywhere else we race so it's a real test for the tuners."
Coughlin has mastered the mountain twice in the past, in 1998 and 1999, but he knows a victory this year would be extra special.
"We have all the people, parts and passion we need," Coughlin said. "We'll give it our best shot, for sure."
Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 5 and 7:30 p.m., Friday, and 4 and 6:30 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations begin at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will carry the first two rounds of qualifying action live from 6-7 p.m., Friday. The FOX Network will carry eliminations live from 1-4 p.m., Sunday. (All times are local and subject to change.)