JOLIET, Il. — Some of the biggest news of the Lucas Oil Route 66 Nationals weekend involved a driver who wasn’t even in the field.
Five-time Pro Stock champion Jeg Coughlin will return to the sport for a minimum three-race stint for defending Pro Stock championship team Elite Motorsports, where he’ll team up with defending Pro Stock champ Erica Enders.
“Jeg and I have been friends for years, and this is something we’ve talked about from time to time,” team owner Richard Freeman said. “The situation presented itself where he could jump in Erica’s backup car and have some fun with us on the Western Swing and at Indy, so I called him up to see if he’d be interested. He was, and we’re planning on winning some races together.”
Coughlin will compete at NHRA national events at Sonoma (Calif., July 31-Aug. 2), Seattle (Aug. 7-9) and the biggest race of the season, the 61st annual U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis (Sept. 2-7).
“I’m excited and honored that Richard and his guys thought of me,” Coughlin said of Freeman. “This program needs no introduction. Erica showed everyone in the class what that car and team are capable of last year and to follow in her footsteps will be a tough chore, but it’s a challenge I accept with a big smile.
“It’s going to be a unique situation for me where I’m sort of just a hired driver with no stake in the operation other than my passion and will to win. I’m certainly cognizant of my supporting role to what the team is trying to accomplish again this year, and I’ll do all I can to help them reach their goals.”
Coughlin chose to sit out this season – the second time he’s done so in the last five years – for business and family reasons.
But the lure to drive a second car for Elite in those three races was too great for Coughlin to turn down.
This is the second time Coughlin and Freeman have teamed up. Back in 2006, Coughlin drove a Competition Eliminator car for Elite Motorsports in the U.S. Nationals.
“Richard and I have been buddies forever and it was fun to drive his car back in ’06,” Coughlin said. “Ever since then we always joked around about racing together again, and when this deal came along I guess all the pieces just fell into place for us to go ahead and do it again.”
With Elite power, Coughlin has a good shot at earning his 75th career NHRA win (58 in Pro Stock, 16 in Sportsman competition).
“Jeg will have the same equipment and horsepower that Erica has, and the crew will prepare that car exactly that same as they did earlier this year when Erica won some races with it,” Freeman said. “We want to give him every opportunity to win. If I have it my way, it’ll be Erica and Jeg in the final round at every race.”
The focus of the Detroit Monster Energy Supercross round was on the mid-pack battle while Aaron Plessinger pulled away from the field, but when he crashed after hooking his foot in the dirt, the results once more looked like we’ve come to expect, with Chase Sexton, Cooper Webb and Eli Tomac sharing the podium for the fifth time in 10 rounds.
For Sexton, Plessinger’s late-race crash was a vindication of sorts. Several times already this season, Sexton has crashed while battling for the lead and the points that has cost him keeps him sporting the red plate. He lost points in Detroit for a different reason, however.
Sexton was allowed to keep the win, but was penalized seven points for jumping in a red cross section of the course. As a result, he dropped four points to Webb and two to Tomac. Sexton is now 17 points behind Webb in the championship hunt.
One week after snatching the red plate from Tomac for the first time in 2023, Webb stretched his advantage by two. With his second-place finish, Webb holds a three-point lead over Tomac, which essentially means both riders control their fate in the coming weeks. Webb continues to have a sweep of the top five this season with his sixth consecutive podium.
Coming off his worst finish of the season, Tomac rebounded to finish third. His eighth-place result last week was partially attributed to a stiff neck that hindered him in traffic and he still suffered some of those same effects in Detroit. Before Plessinger’s crash, he was destined to be the only rider in the three-man title scrum to finish off the podium in Detroit.
It is surprising what one position can do for one’s confidence.
Justin Barcia scored his fourth top-five of the season. He was part of the exciting four-man battle that dominated the middle stages of the race before Sexton and Webb gained a little separation. Finishing less than three seconds behind Tomac, he kept that rider honest for the entire race.
Coming off his first win of the season, Ken Roczen finished fifth. It was his seventh top-five of the season and it elevated him to fifth in the standings.
Hunter Lawrence tied his brother Jett Lawrence with 10 wins each after another dominating ride in the Detroit Supercross race and the results in the points continue to widen. With his fifth win in six rounds and a worst finish of third, Lawrence now has a 35-point advantage over Nate Thrasher with four rounds remaining. Finishes of 14th or better in the final four mains will give him his first 250 championship.
Jett will have an opportunity to retake his wins’ lead as Supercross heads west for the next two rounds in Seattle and Glendale, Arizona.
Nate Thrasher earned his third second-place finish of the season with a gap of 7.6 seconds to Lawrence. He won the overall in Arlington earlier this season, but a 15th-place finish in the opening round in Houston and 10th in Daytona hurts his championship chances.
Haiden Deegan scored his second podium and fourth top-five in six rounds of his young career. On his way to that finish, he rode aggressively against his teammate Jordon Smith in the heat race. Fans are getting a glimpse of what his on-track personality might be.
Jeremy Martin continues to be the model of consistency. He has not finished worse than sixth or better than fourth in six rounds now and that has allowed him to close to within two points of third in the 250 East championship standings.
Max Anstie entered the race weekend second in the points, but a hard crash in heavy traffic early in the main forced him to retire after two laps. Earning only one point for the round, he plummeted to fifth in the standings.
The news was worse for Smith, who was dropped out of the top nine in his heat after the altercation with Deegan and failed to advance through the LCQ. In the last chance race, he stalled his engine and had to mount a determined charge. He got only as high as seventh in that race after crashing while attempting to make a pass on fourth-place Jack Chambers.