LAS VEGAS (Oct. 28) — Jeg Coughlin Jr. raced to the final round of the seventh annual ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals Sunday before ending the weekend as runner-up to fellow three-time series champion Greg Anderson. The strong showing lifted the 50-time national event winner to second place in the POWERade points standings with one race left on the schedule. Coughlin is just 34 points behind Anderson.

After surviving a Murder’s Row of competitors just to reach his 59th career Pro Stock final, Coughlin gave Anderson all he could in an attempt to win the race. He left the starting line with a quick .013-second reaction time to Anderson’s .021-second start, but he was soon caught and passed, losing at the top-end by a margin of 6.731 to 6.771.

“Hat’s off to Greg and that team, they ran a great race there,” Coughlin said. “We said coming in that we probably needed to win the race to stay in the title hunt but as it turns out we came up one round win short of that goal and yet we’re still very much alive.

“As we predicted, the championship will probably come down to the very end and it’s exciting to be right in the middle of it all. Greg’s got a little lead on us so it’s on us to out-perform him in Pomona. I feel confident this team will be up to the challenge, especially after turning the corner like this here in Las Vegas.”

Coughlin reached the final with a semifinal win over Greg Stanfield. With a final-round berth on the line, the 50-time national event winner blasted off the launch pad with a .014-second reaction time, two hundredths ahead of Stanfield’s launch, and went on to win with a 6.779 at 203.89 mph to Stanfield’s 6.785 to 203.65 mph.

“Just a textbook race there,” he said. “The car ran as good as it had all weekend, thanks to Roy [Simmons, crew chief] and Pops [Jeg Coughlin Sr.] and the rest of the guys.”

Facing teammate Dave Connolly in the quarterfinals, Coughlin had an incredibly hard race on his hands. Entering the race as the POWERade points leader, Connolly had won the last five national events in a row and had a running total of 21 consecutive elimination-round wins.

Showing cool confidence that rivals anyone in the series, Coughlin shot off the line with a near-perfect reaction time of .006 second, well ahead of Connolly’s .033-second start. The margin was more than enough to hold off his young rival as he went on to win with a 6.775 at 203.80 mph to Connolly’s quicker but losing 6.773.

“We finally got the car to launch without moving hard to the right,” Coughlin said. “It actually went left a little bit. Obviously, that was a huge win for the team. These guys have all been working so hard on getting this car to listen to us and they delivered big-time right there. That might be one of those rounds you can point to later as ‘the one.’

“It was tough to race Dave there because we’re teammates and I know how bad he wanted it but he’s not out of this deal by any means.”

Starting the day without the advantage of lane choice, Coughlin had a tough draw in Round 1, facing fellow Countdown to One competitor Allen Johnson. As the Nos. 8 and 9 qualifiers, the duo was the first pair to hit the track with Johnson taking the favored left-hand lane.

When the Tree dropped, the pair left with identical reaction times. Coughlin’s Cobalt swerved wildly for a second, a move that would have forced most racers to surrender, but the three-time champ stayed with it, quickly reigning in his machine. By the 330-foot timer he was ahead, and he went on to score a monster upset win by a margin of 6.822 at 203.71 mph to A.J.’s 6.870 at 202.58 mph.

Coughlin won’t have long to wait to see how the season turns out. The 43rd annual Auto Club of Southern California NHRA Finals begins Thursday.

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