Already second in points, Coughlin's comeback ahead of schedule
CHANDLER, AZ – Five-time world champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. wasted little time in re-establishing himself as a top contender in the NHRA Pro Stock class with a surprising runner-up finish at last Sunday's season-opening event in Pomona, Calif. Now the 67-time national event winner turns his attention to Firebird International Raceway and this weekend's 28th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals.
"We had a big day in Pomona, for sure," Coughlin said. "It's given the guys reason to smile and it put a little pep in everyone's step. At the same time, as all the veterans on this race team know, we've got a long way to go, so we'll enjoy the next few days then get over to Phoenix and see if we can't make some more memories."
While it's not a shock to see Coughlin at the top of the rankings, it is astonishing to see such early success given the fact his team didn't exist at this time one year ago. Coughlin didn't race professionally in 2011 and didn't even entertain a return to the pro ranks until late in the spring. That's when he partnered with Mopar to field the JEGS.com / Mopar Dodge Avenger.
"It's just over seven months since we got together with Mopar," Coughlin said. "We've sure come a long way since then. With Roy (Simmons) and Nick (Ferri) building these incredible HEMI engines and Tomi Laine (crew chief) and the boys getting this brand new car figured out, it's remarkable to have made the finals in our first race.
"We didn't qualify well (in Pomona) and we entered race day as the No. 14 qualifier so we probably weren't on many people's radar screens. We stepped up our performance and got some time at the Christmas Tree against Ronnie Humphrey in Round 1, we caught a break against Vincent Nobile in Round 2 when they slowed down for some reason, Mike Edwards went red in the semis and just like that we're through to the finals.
"We needed that race day data. That was huge. Without being greedy, we see areas where we can improve for Phoenix. Stuff like gearing and suspension, those are fixes that can be made right now. And we're awfully encouraged by the first few HEMI motors the guys made. How often is the first incarnation of anything so good? The plan is to continue this progress at Firebird and see what happens."
The 28h annual NHRA Arizona Nationals begins Friday with Pro Stock qualifying sessions scheduled for 1:30 and 4 p.m. Qualifying continues at 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday with eliminations slated for an 11 a.m. start on Sunday. ESPN2 will carry all of the action.