Photo courtesy Jeg Coughlin Jr.

NHRA: Jeg Coughlin Jr. still has business left to handle in season finale

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With second-year driver Tanner Gray having all but locked up the NHRA Pro Stock championship, one might think five-time Pro Stock champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. might not have much left to race for in this weekend’s season-ending Auto Club Finals in Pomona, California.

Coughlin, who was Pro Stock champion in 2000, 2002, 2007, 2008 and 2013, as well as was runner-up in 1998 and 1999, says that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Gray holds a commanding 140-point lead over second-ranked Coughlin in the Pro Stock rankings (teammate and two-time champ Erica Enders is right behind in third place, 149 points back).

With a maximum of 191 points available to be won in the season finale at Auto Club Raceway, Gray would have to lose in the first round of eliminations, while Coughlin would need to qualify No. 1, win the race and set at least one of two speed or elapsed time national records to even have a shot at overtaking Gray for the Pro Stock crown.

But instead of worrying about “ifs,” Coughlin is going to go out this weekend doing what he’s done his entire career: not worry about the driver in the other lane, not worry about points and just be concerned with doing the best possible job he can do.

And if Gray wins the championship, so be it, and Coughlin will go over and congratulate the young driver for an outstanding 2018 season.

“Pomona is going to be an important race for us as a team,” Coughlin said in a Jegs.com media release. “It’s a big positioning race for us to figure out really who will finish two through seven. It’s very open right now.

“Not only do we want to qualify well and win four rounds on Sunday, we would like to finish as high as No. 2 in the points standings. But even though we’re there going in, it’s going to be a fight to stay there. We are just going to focus on that.”

Coughlin has three wins and two runner-ups in the first 23 races of the 24-race NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

He’s also qualified No. 1 three separate times during the first five races of the six-race NHRA Countdown to the Championship playoffs (and has qualified No. 1 five times overall this season).

Coughlin and the fabled Pomona track have a long and successful history, with the Ohio native having won there six times in his Pro Stock career, including four times in the season-ending race (1999, 2001, 2005 and 2007).

“It’s Pomona, the final race of the season, and emotions are high,” Coughlin said. “I’m excited on many levels and for many reasons.

“There’s just a lot of neat stuff going on and we still have some ambitions of our own at a track where we’ve had great successes in the past. It’s going to be a big race for us as a team as we try to continue some great momentum and end the year in style.”

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Don’t know the Rolex 24? You should. Here’s why.

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Hello, America. It’s time to go racing again.

Yes, Supercross is now three weeks into its season, and the Chili Bowl Nationals is now effectively the Christopher Bell Invitational after the young NASCAR star won his 3rd consecutive Golden Driller last weekend.

But the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway is the first marquee event on the American racing calendar – an event that just happens to have international prestige.

It’s also the start of Daytona Speedweeks, which culminates with NASCAR’s Daytona 500 on Feb. 17. But this is no mere opening act just warming up the crowd for the headliner.

In case you’re new to this event, here are a few reasons why it stands out:

Twice around the clock: Are you the kind of person that appreciates a challenge? Well, challenges don’t get much bigger in motorsports than a 24-hour endurance race where drivers, crews, machines, and strategies must work together flawlessly. For those behind the wheel in the Rolex 24, the obstacles are numerous: Punishing G-forces, extreme mental focus, lack of sleep, and staying on top of hydration and nutrition.

Star power: Speaking of those behind the wheel, the Rolex 24 traditionally draws top drivers from other disciplines such as IndyCar, Formula 1 and NASCAR to join sports car regulars from North America and around the world. As a result, the winners’ list is a Who’s Who of Motorsports.

This year’s field includes a clutch of NTT IndyCar Series drivers, highlighted by 5-time series champion and past Rolex 24 winner Scott Dixon. But pre-race buzz has centered on two particular interlopers: Alex Zanardi, the former CART champion making his first North American start since losing his legs in a 2001 crash, and Fernando Alonso, the two-time F1 champion looking to add another endurance triumph alongside his win with Toyota in last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Cool cars: If you’re a gearhead, the Rolex 24 is a 200-mile-per-hour candy store. Across the four separate classes of competition, 13 of the world’s premier car manufacturers are represented.

The majority of those manufacturers are found in the Grand Touring classes that feature vehicles based on road-going production models. Chevy and Ford’s eternal rivalry rages on in the factory-backed GT Le Mans, but the class also boasts efforts from BMW, Porsche, and Ferrari. It’s even more diverse in the pro-am GT Daytona, where Porsche is joined by Audi, Lamborghini, Lexus and Mercedes.

As for the exotic, purpose-built Daytona Prototypes, they are powered by engines from Cadillac, Acura, Mazda and Nissan.

Nifty fifty: This year’s Rolex 24 begins the 50th anniversary season for IMSA, the sanctioning body for North American sports car racing. A select group of teams will mark the occasion at the Rolex 24 by running historic IMSA paint schemes on their machines. You may not be familiar with these looks, but it’s worth discovering the history behind them.

Here’s an example. The Starworks Motorsports team (GT Daytona) will carry a scheme based on Audi of America’s 90 Quattro from the 1989 IMSA GTO season. Boasting sports car legends Hurley Haywood and Hans-Joachim Stuck in the driver lineup, the 90 Quattro captured 7 GTO wins that season.

Audi’s performance led one competitor to create a “no passing” sticker with Stuck’s face on it. Stuck’s response: A doll fixed to his car’s rear window that dropped its pants to moon anyone Stuck put behind him.

Status symbol: Last but not least, the Rolex 24 has a unique prize – a trophy you can wear.

Winners get a standard cup, but what they’re really after are the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona watches, which include a special engraving to commemorate their victory. A standard version of this watch retails for tens of thousands of dollars, but you can’t put a price on the ones awarded at the Rolex 24.

This year’s grand marshal, 5-time Rolex 24 winner Scott Pruett, sums it up as “the ultimate reward.”

“To be presented a watch engraved with the word ‘Winner’ after 24 hours of intense racing is a moment that lives with you forever,” he added. “Your Rolex is a constant reminder of the perseverance and hard work that goes into succeeding at the highest level.”