READING, Pa. (Aug. 11) — Defending world champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. locked up a spot in the 2008 Countdown to 1 playoffs Sunday at the NHRA’s last stop in Minnesota. Armed with the knowledge he’ll be one of the 10 racers eligible to compete for this year’s crown, Coughlin turns his attention to Maple Grove Raceway and this weekend’s 24th annual Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals with less pressure weighing on his race team.

“I think the coolest deal is we can come into Reading and just have a good time,” Coughlin said. “We’re still serious about our racing, but having clinched a spot in the playoffs we can take a breath and relax for a few days. People always seem to perform at their best when they’re having fun, and we’re about as excited as you can be to have earned our spot in the playoffs a few races early.”

The six-race Countdown to 1 playoffs begin Sept. 11-14 in Charlotte at the new zMax Dragway. Coughlin is currently fourth in the world rankings but could move up a spot or two with a strong weekend at Maple Grove, a track where he’s won in the past (1999).

“We’ve been building some momentum, which is exactly what you want when the Countdown starts,” the 52-time national event winner said. “The way we’re going to approach this portion of the schedule is to say we’ve got a month to prepare for the most important stretch of races of the year so we need to take advantage of this time.

“We need to clean up the performance of our car a little bit, get back to qualifying in the top three or four every race, and find some magic on race day. That’s really what it will take to repeat as champions.”

A veteran of racing in Pennsylvania’s Dutch Country, native Ohioan Coughlin knows what to expect at Maple Grove Raceway.

“This is a track where the conditions can yield a national record,” he said. “Or, it could be 100 degrees and as challenging as it gets. The only thing you can count on is the fans will be great. The stands will be packed all day.

“Maple Grove has been there almost as long as the sport of drag racing has existed. It’s a neat place to race and being back east always brings a level of comfort. We’re ready to have some fun and the best way to do that is to win.”

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