DELAWARE, Ohio (Aug. 20) — In three previous years of playoff-style drag racing, Jeg Coughlin Jr. has walked away with the Full Throttle world championship twice. On the eve of the 2010 Countdown to the Championship, which begins Sept. 2-6 with the 56th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, the 40-year-old from Delaware, Ohio, once again finds himself in title contention.

Although he’s seeded third entering the playoffs, Coughlin is undeniably the hottest driver on tour. He’s raced his 1,500-horsepower Chevrolet Cobalt to two victories and a runner-up result in the last three national events to push his season total of wins to four, second only to early-season juggernaut Mike Edwards, who racked up eight wins by June but has collected just four individual round wins since.

“It’s been a great summer,” Coughlin said. “We fought the car early in the year but once we got it figured out we’ve been cruising. The guys at Victor Cagnazzi Racing are champions in every sense of the word. They never got down when the results weren’t there, they just worked harder. Now we’re on a roll at the most critical time of the season.”

In an effort to inject some excitement into the series’ stretch run, drag racing’s sanctioning body, the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA), took a page from the competition in NASCAR and devised a six-race run of races that essentially decides the champion. Only the top 10 drivers from the “regular season” — the first 17 races of the year — are eligible, and when the Countdown starts they are separated from 1-10 by 10 points each.

Racers accumulate championship points by winning rounds and advancing at each race in a 16-car, single-elimination bracket. Each round win is worth 20 points.

“We’re closer to the lead right now then we’ve been all season,” Coughlin said. “That’s exciting.

“The Countdown is starting and that means the pressure goes through the roof. You spend the first 17 races trying to get in. Now we’re in so it’s time to prove we belong because we’ve proven we’re one of the 10 best teams in the sport this year.

“You basically have six races to get it done. Six races means there are only 24 possible rounds of action left on the table. The margin for error is gone.”

Coughlin has experienced a lot in his three years of playoff racing. In 2007, the first year under the format, a strong finish in the final two races lifted him to his third world title despite the fact he never led the points until the last day of the year.

A year later, Coughlin zoomed to the forefront as soon as the playoffs started and actually clinched the crown with a race to spare.

Conversely, last season had Coughlin entering the Countdown with a huge lead that was lost when the points were reset. Inexplicably, his team stumbled in the playoffs and he wound up a disappointing sixth.

“We learned a lot last year and our preparation was different this time through,” Coughlin said. “The reality is we have five, six, maybe even seven teams all capable of winning this thing. Your eye is always on the championship and anything less than that result is a letdown but when you see how good the other teams are you realize it’s just the way the game is played at this level. The downticks along the way make the championships all the better.

“Our goal is clear — we want to win another title. I think we have a really good chance at making it happen.”


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