(Photos courtesy Team Jegs)

NHRA: Can Jeg Coughlin Jr. go from third career hiatus to yet another Pro Stock title?

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There’s no question Jeg Coughlin Jr. is one of the most successful drag racers in NHRA Pro Stock history, with 58 national event wins and five national NHRA championships.

But, as late broadcaster Paul Harvey used to say, now you’re going to know the rest of the story about Coughlin – and it’s a unique story indeed.

Twice during his 20-year Pro Stock career, the Ohio resident has taken a hiatus from racing to either spend more time with his family or deal with his burgeoning auto parts business.

When he returned from those layoffs, Coughlin would ultimately go on to win yet another championship each time:

* He missed most of 2006, only to return and win the championship in 2007 (his third) – and then again in 2008 (fourth).

* He sat out all of 2011, came back to finish ninth in 2012 and then went on to win his fifth championship in 2013.

jeg coughlin car shot

For the third time in his career, he took another break from racing in 2015. He missed most of the season until he was lured back to drive in a handful of races for Elite Motorsports.

Now, Coughlin is hoping to come back from his respite to win yet another championship.

So far, so good.

Coughlin comes into this weekend’s Mopar Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison, Colorado, ranked ninth in the Pro Stock standings.

This is a very important race for Coughlin, who drives the Magneti Marelli Dodge Dart. First, he wants to do well because the race is sponsored by Mopar, which is one of his primary sponsors.

“I love Denver and I’m busting with pride to represent Mopar, Dodge, and Magneti Marelli throughout the weekend,” Coughlin said. “We do our best to put them in a positive spotlight every race, but we know this one is really big for them, so it makes it vitally important for us.”
But Coughlin also knows success at Denver won’t be easy for him nor most of the other pro drivers. With the city being a mile above sea level, Pro Stock cars – as well as their Top Fuel and Funny Car counterparts – perform differently in the light oxygen than at all other NHRA tracks and events.
jeg coughlan body pic

“Denver is a tough race for a lot of reasons,” Coughlin said in an NHRA media release. “We’ve still got work to do on the performance side of things.”

Second, Coughlin hopes to further improve upon his hopes to secure a place in the upcoming six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs that begin six races from now, following the U.S. Nationals on Labor Day weekend in Indianapolis.

“We’ve got some strong races coming up with the Western Swing, Brainerd (Minn.), and Indianapolis, and we really need to be on our best behavior,” Coughlin said.

But there’s also good news heading into Denver.

“Our confidence is building in the engine shop, our confidence is building at the track,” Coughlin said. “It’s never too late for that to happen.”

Coughlin comes into this weekend ninth in the Pro Stock standings. Admittedly, he’s struggled through much of the season, as has his teammate, Erica Enders, who won the last two NHRA Pro Stock championships.

Much of the problem for both drivers has been adapting to a new fuel injection system in Pro Stock cars for 2016, so much so that if the Countdown were to start today, Enders would not qualify, as she is currently ranked one spot below the cutoff, in 11th place.

That’s why it’s important for both Coughlin and Enders to kick off the three-race “Western Swing” with strong outings in the rarified air of Denver.

“If there’s ever a time to put our best foot forward, this is it,” Coughlin said. “We’re also looking at the start of the Western Swing, a pretty vital time to prepare for the Countdown to the Championship.
“The work put in by this Elite Motorsports crew has been phenomenal to see. There’s little doubt these guys have an unparalleled passion for winning, and I can see why they won the last two championships with my teammate Erica Enders. We’re still finding our way, but everyone knows it’s time to mash the gas and make a move. We’ll be ready.”

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Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.