PLYMOUTH, Ind. (April 19) – Cody Coughlin and the JEGS.com Chevrolet team look to get off to a good start to the JEGS/CRA All-Stars Tour season this weekend when the series kicks off with the Eric Saunders: I Can I Will 100 presented by JEGS at Plymouth Speedway.
Coughlin, 16, is the defending Howie Lettow Rookie of the Year winner in the series. But with new crew chief Butch VanDoorn – who won the last three All-Stars Tour championships – Coughlin is looking to improve on his sixth-place finish in the points from 2011.
“It’s extremely important to go strong in the beginning,” Coughlin said. “We saw that at Toledo last year, where we got into that unfortunate accident (in the season-opener). We almost got back to fifth in the points, but it was hard.
“I honestly think if you’re going to win the championship, you cannot have a bad race like that. You may be able to finish 15th once, but I don’t think you can afford to finish worse than that more than once. I think you’ll have to have top-10s every race and definitely some top-fives if you want to win the championship. That’s obviously our goal.”
VanDoorn, 19, hopes a fast start at the .375-mile track will be a good foundation for the season. Coughlin finished fifth and sixth at Winchester Speedway last year, site of the next JEGS/CRA All-Stars race.
“You always want to start the season out solid,” VanDoorn said. “We want to qualify in the top five, finish in the top five and get maximum points. We want to finish every lap to have something going into Winchester. Cody’s really good there, and he loves that place. We need to have a base to build off of going into Winchester so we can play a little more offense instead of defense there.”
Coughlin posted four top-five and seven top-10 finishes in 11 All-Stars Tour races a year ago, his first full season in a full-bodied stock car. Even with that kind of early success, his mentality has definitely changed as he approaches 2012.
“Last year, I was new to the sport,” Coughlin said. “I wanted to win all the races, lead all the laps and sit on all the poles, but nobody can do that – not even Jimmie Johnson or Jeff Gordon or Tony Stewart. My goals this year are simple. I’d like to get that championship, but I’m going to try my best every race, and that’s all I can do as a driver. As long as I know that I tried my best, I’m going to be happy at the end of the day.”
VanDoorn believes Coughlin is ready to step up and contend for the title in 2012. Coughlin’s championship mettle was tested in a Pro Late Model race April 7 at Gresham Motorsports Park, when Coughlin was forced to come from the rear of the field several times before posting a sixth-place finish.
“He proved it at Gresham,” VanDoorn said. “The race was 208 laps, and there were a lot of circumstances that didn’t go his way. He fought through it all and prospered. The different things he faced were great for him to learn before the start of the year: knowing how to manage tire wear and things like that. That’s all good information for him to learn to help him for the season.
“We should’ve been wrecked multiple times when wrecks were around us, but he races past the end of his race car and keeps the fenders on. That’s a key to winning championships. It’s not winning every race, it’s finishing every lap.”
Coughlin will have his parents, John and Di, and his sister and biggest cheerleader, Kennedi, on hand this weekend, showing that racing remains a family affair for the Coughlins.
“I thank God every day for all he has given me, especially my family,” Coughlin said. “Racing just wouldn’t be the same without them, and I appreciate their support. We do everything for the Lord, and I hope that shows every day in my life.”
The Eric Saunders: I Can I Will 100 is slated to be among the Plymouth Speedway feature races, which start at 2:30 p.m. Eastern on Sunday.
The first JEGS/CRA All-Stars practice is scheduled for 11:30 to noon Sunday, with the second from 12:15 p.m. to 12:45. Qualifying for the All-Stars Tour cars is scheduled for 1:45 p.m.