This weekend’s race validated Coughlin’s impressive run three weeks ago in Chicago where he qualified No. 1, set the national record for his class, and won the race to assume the point lead in a national series for the first time in his 22-year career.
“We just keep on clicking right along,” Coughlin said in the zMax winner’s circle. “My guys deserve so much credit. Bryan Metzenheim, Mike Rees, and Clint Allerton worked so hard to give me a racecar that was very quick and went straight down the track every run. It’s been as close to perfect as a racecar can be, especially over the last two events.”
After qualifying No. 2 at this weekend’s inaugural Nitto Tire All Star Nationals with a 6.386 at 229.79 mph in his instantly recognizable yellow-and-black JEGS.com Pontiac GXP, Coughlin was able to take the race and beat the two men challenging him the most in the standings — Budano and Chris Rini.
After first dismissing Rick Blaisdell with 6.454 at 221.09 mph in Round 1, a race which ended with Blaisdell wrecking his Chevrolet Corvette when a blown head gasket got oil on his rear tires, Coughlin was primed for a second-round date with third-place points earner Rini.
Although Rini got off to a quick start, Coughlin was quick to catch and pass his opponent, running a 6.389 at 221.78 mph to Rini’s 6.463 at 218.16 mph.
“That was a big round because Chris is right there in position to make a lot of trouble for us,” Coughlin said. “He’s still very much alive in the chase, and moving forward we won’t be looking past him by any means, so it was very nice to get that win today.”
Up next was Rick Fleck, whom Coughlin had to race in the heat of the day. Although neither driver posted heroic numbers, it was Coughlin using the advantage of lane choice to take a slippery one, winning with a 6.463 at 220.73 mph to Fleck’s 6.625 at 208.78 mph.
The final featured the best match-up of the season to date with the top two teams in the premier category squaring off. In the end, it was Coughlin who managed to come up with the big run, earning a .050- to .080-second reaction time advantage at the starting line and staying out front all the way down the strip to win with a 6.433 at 220.76 mph to Budano’s 6.438 at 222.11 mph.
Coughlin posted the quickest elapsed time of every round and had top speed of every session except the final round.
“I told Vinny how special it was to beat him,” Coughlin said. “He’s been the man in this class for a long time, very well deserved, and it means a lot to beat him. You have a definite sense of accomplishment. Vinny and I are friends and I think we really bring out the best in each other when we race. It’s always a thrill.”
Coughlin is now 240 points ahead of Budano in the standings with just two races left on the schedule, August 28-30 in Milan Mich., and October 15-18 in Memphis, Tenn. His point lead equates to two and a half rounds of competition with eight rounds left.
“It’s not even close to being comfortable yet,” Coughlin said. “Any stumble and Vinny will be right there to take advantage, you can count on that. Plus, if Vinny and me both went out early at one of these last two races and Chris Rini makes a move, then he’s going to be right there also. It’s setting up to be a really exciting finish.”
Noel Felton, 6.607 at 213.91 def. Vincent Demieri DNS
Chris Rini, 18.367 at 44.88 def. Mike Stavrinos (foul)
Richard Fleck, 6.748 at 204.45 def. John Prime, 6.752 at 211.23
Jeff Lutz, (foul) def. Bob Vorderer DNS
Troy Coughlin, 6.454 at 221.09 def. Rick Blaisdell, 8.930 at 108.61
Vinny Budano, 14.620 at 58.93 def. Coby Rabon DNS
Fleck, 7.121 at 203.06 def. Lutz, 7.093 at 202.03
Budano, 6.394 at 223.58 def. Felton, 6.611 at 214.11
Coughlin, 6.389 at 221.78 def. Rini, 6.463 at 218.16
Budano, 21.191 at 38.20 def. unopposed
Coughlin, 6.463 at 220.73 def. Fleck, 6.625 at 208.78
Coughlin, 6.433 at 220.76 def. Budano, 6.438 at 222.11
Scott “Woody” Woodruff
JEGS, Director of Media & Motorsports
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