Three-time NHRA champion arrives at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for this weekend’s second annual Pontiac Showdown intent on kicking off his 2007 championship charge with a victory. Although the event doesn’t count towards the POWERade championship — the official season starts Feb. 8 in Pomona, Calif. — Coughlin knows positive momentum can be gained in the Nevada desert,

“We’re not trying for second place,” Coughlin said. “The Pontiac race has always been an excellent place for drivers to see how they stack up against the competition. We all go off to our separate corners of the world in the off-season and work like crazy to gain any edge we can on the other teams, but it’s not until the Pontiac race where you see if all that hard work is going to pay off.

“The Pontiac Showdown is the first barometer of where you are in relation to the field.”

Coughlin and his Cagnazzi Racing teammate Dave Connolly did manage to get in five days of testing a fortnight ago in Florida when the talented duo raced both Coughlin’s Slammers Ultimate Milk/ Chevrolet Cobalt and Connolly’s Torco/Slammers Ultimate Milk Chevrolet Cobalt down Gainesville Raceway.

“We learned a lot in Florida and our goal now is to take the experience we gained in testing and run even better in Las Vegas,” the 36-year-old Coughlin said. “I believe it will be a huge advantage throughout the season for me and Dave to share all the data we can to make both of these Slammers cars better.

“This weekend will also be the first time where we’re setting up and operating as a two-car team under real racing conditions so it will be a good trial run for the crew guys as well. We have a few new mechanics that I know will do a great job for us and I’m sure they’re anxious to go through the motions for real so they can feel more comfortable with what they’re doing.”

To that end, Coughlin and the team plan to treat Saturday’s Pontiac Showdown just as they would any other race day.

“We’ll get the car turned around between rounds as quickly as possible and we’ll see how everyone reacts to the pressure, including the driver,” Coughlin said. “That’s another reason we want to race for the win — I’d like to get my driving confidence up before we hit Pomona. I think we all want to be at the top of our game when the season starts.

“I’ve never won the Pontiac deal. They ran it for several years in Houston and I was never fortunate enough to win in the few that I attended so we’ve got that as a goal as well. It should be a lot of fun all the way around.”

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