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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Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.