He may have lost at “The Big Go,” but that won’t stop Jeg Coughlin Jr. as he begins his quest for a sixth career NHRA Pro Stock championship this weekend.
Coughlin just barely missed winning the U.S. Nationals in the final round last Monday, Sept. 3, falling to Tanner Gray in a very close finish.
Gray got a quicker jump at the start line and covered the quarter-mile in 6.641 seconds at a slightly faster 208.42 mph, to Coughlin’s 6.639 seconds at 206.80 mph.
But there was still some consolation to be found for Coughlin and his Jeg’s team: they solidified a fourth-place starting spot in the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs, which begin this weekend with the Dodge NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pennsylvania.
Coughlin, driver of the Jegs.com/Elite Performance Chevrolet Camaro, begins the playoffs just 40 points behind Gray, who leads the 10 playoff drivers in the Pro Stock category.
Coughlin rolled past No. 7 qualifier Alex Laughlin, four-time NHRA Pro Stock champ Greg Anderson and defending series champ Bo Butner to reach his fourth final round of the season (in the first 18 races).
Even though he lost by only a few feet to Gray, Coughlin managed to improve from fifth to fourth place with that runner-up run heading into the playoffs.
“I’m so impressed with this Elite Motorsports team,” Coughlin said. “To go from 11th in the points 10 races ago all the way up to No. 4 against this talented field of drivers speaks volumes about the fight in this team.
“I’m very proud of the guys and the momentum we’ve gained.”
With the way he’s climbed up the rankings in the last 10 races, as well as being a five-time Pro Stock season champion (2000, 2002, 2007, 2008 and 2013; he also won the Sportsman Super Gas title in 1992), Coughlin can easily be considered one of the top challengers for the Pro Stock championship this season.
And while losing Indy hurt, it also can provide motivation going forward into the playoffs.
“Losing the ‘Big Go’ is probably gonna sting a little longer than a normal race,” said Coughlin, who comes into this weekend looking for his fourth Pro Stock win of 2018, having previously won this season at Chicago, Bristol and Sonoma. “But the gains we made on the pack under game day conditions certainly has us dreaming big about the playoffs.
“We’re ready to kick things off strong at a Maple Grove, a track I really enjoy. There are so many great cars top to bottom and every run will feel like a final round for the next six events, which we love. It’s going to be very exciting.”
NOTES: While the Dodge NHRA Nationals are slated to run from Thursday through Sunday, NHRA officials and teams are keeping a close eye on the weather. Hurricane Florence could potentially impact the area with heavy rain, particularly on Friday through Sunday.
For now, the race is on. We here at NBC Sports’ MotorSportsTalk will keep you advised if things change weather-wise as the week progresses.