LAS VEGAS (April 11) — Three-time Las Vegas winner Jeg Coughlin Jr. is off to a strong start at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, qualifying with a steady 6.743 at 203.98 mph Friday evening to claim the No. 8 spot on the provisional ladder.

Usually qualifying positions don’t mean as much this early in the POWERade season, but Coughlin entered the ninth annual NHRA Nationals, the fifth of 24 national events on the 2008 schedule, just three points out of the lead. He knows the No. 1 ranking he held just one race ago is attainable just by qualifying well.

“It all matters when you’re racing in the Pro Stock class because as we’ve seen already this season, any car in the field is capable of winning,” Coughlin said. “We’ve seen championships won and lost based on just a few points over the last few years so it really makes you aware of the bonus points you earn in qualifying.”

Racers can earn up to eight points in qualifying. The points are handed out according to where they are seeded in the elimination field. The higher a racer qualifies, the more points they earn.

“Obviously it becomes a little more apparent when you’re just a few points ahead or behind someone and the championship lead can change hands,” Coughlin said. “I mean, you always come out and try to make your best run but sometimes you’re not sweating every single point, at least not this early in the year. But we’re very aware of the current situation.”

Coughlin opened with a 6.743 at 203.98 mph in his Chevrolet Cobalt. The evening session, where temperatures where a little more agreeable, produced his 6.747, which left him wishing for more.

“The car made a move when I dropped the clutch in Q1 so it wasn’t a perfect run,” the 52-time national event winner said. “But I rode it out and we were able to glean plenty of data. We were fine-tuning at that point and we must have gone a small step in the wrong direction in the second session.

“We’ll have two more shots tomorrow and I expect we’ll focus more on our race day set-up than anything else. It looks as though we’ll have a strong car on Sunday and that’s exciting. The guys are fired up about regaining the points lead; whether we do it in qualifying or on race day.”

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