TOPEKA, Kan. (May 31) — The heat of summer has arrived on the NHRA tour and evidentially leveled the playing field of the Pro Stock class quite a bit. After four rounds of professional qualifying, the top 16 racers left vying for the Topeka title are separated by just .041 seconds, giving even more credence to the age-old saying that anyone can win.

Four-time and reigning world champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. overcame a somewhat troubled qualifying session to earn a spot on the elimination ladder with a 6.755 at 204.14 mph in his Chevrolet Cobalt. Coughlin started strong, earning the No. 1 spot in the first of four time trials, but encountered a batch of troubles after that, finally settling for the 13th slot.

“I hope all the bad luck we’ve had is over with,” Coughlin said. “We came in here with extremely high hopes after testing the car back in North Carolina. The guys had given me the latest and greatest motor out of the engine shop and it sure was flying in Q1.

“Unfortunately, it went away unexpectedly in Q2 and that was the night session when everyone had their best passes for the most part. We had a back-up piece that was a twin to the new motor that we put in there but it hurt itself during the burnout in this morning’s round so I shut her off. Luckily, we were able to fix it and she ran real strong there in the final session, although it was too hot to move up the ladder.

“I feel very relieved to be in the field after all we’ve been through.”

Coughlin draws Greg Stanfield (6.732) in the first round of eliminations, scheduled to begin around noon Sunday. The two men haven’t raced each other this year. In 2007, they raced four times with Coughlin posting a perfect 4-0 record against Stanfield.

“He qualified higher than us so that gets your attention,” Coughlin said. “But we’re all so close. It could very well come down to the driver and what kind of reaction time they have at the start. Greg’s very good at the Tree normally so we’ll have to be perfect to beat him. It should be a great first race.”

Despite qualifying in the bottom half of the field, fourth-ranked Coughlin lost no ground to the leaders in the POWERade championship standings. He remains 31 points back of the No. 1 spot.

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