Photos: Team JEGS

NHRA: Jeg Coughlin Jr. ready to do some home cookin’ this weekend in Ohio

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While he looks forward to all of them, there are certain races on the schedule that NHRA Pro Stock driver Jeg Coughlin Jr. has even greater anticipation for when he hits the road.

The iconic U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis is No. 1 for the five-time (2000, 2002, 2007-2008 and 2013) NHRA Pro Stock champ, and this weekend’s NHRA Summit Racing Equipment Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio, is a close second.

There’s a good reason for that: Norwalk is practically in Coughlin’s backyard, about 75 miles from Coughlin’s home north of Columbus, Ohio.

The driver of the JEGS.com Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro, which will be sponsored this weekend by Universal Parks and Resorts in Hollywood, Calif., and Orlando, Fla. (part of the NBC Universal family), is Coughlin’s adopted home track (his original home track, National Trail Raceway near Columbus, is no longer on the NHRA national event circuit).

While he has won at 24 different current or former tracks on the NHRA circuit, Coughlin has never won a Pro Stock event at Norwalk. In nine prior starts there, he has a 10-10 round record, but has never taken home a “Wally” winner’s trophy.

That’s why Coughlin is looking for a breakout weekend at his adopted home track. He comes into the weekend ranked eighth in the Pro Stock standings, having struggled of late after capturing a win in the second race of this season at Chandler, Arizona.

Photo: Team JEGS

“The Norwalk weekend would be a perfect place to see this yellow and black JEGS Camaro back on top,” Coughlin said in a media release. “The car’s been running pretty well all along, but of late we really haven’t quite been on the pace we set in the first five races of the year.

The team at Elite (Motorsports) has been working very hard to fix the little performance issues bugging us and they definitely feel like we’re back on track.”

Coughlin is one of the most successful racers in the sport. He has 81 career victories, including 62 in Pro Stock competition. The series veteran is known for being one of the toughest competitors in the class, particularly when it comes to qualifying No. 1 (he’s earned top honors 29 times in his Pro Stock career).

He was No. 1 qualifier in last year’s race at Norwalk (as well as in 2012), but fell short of the race win. He hopes to turn that around this weekend.

“We’re looking to qualify well and contend once again for the No. 1 starting spot,” Coughlin said. “And we’re very anxious to see some win lights come Sunday so we can put ourselves in position to win again.”

Coughlin is one of the top executives of JEGS High Performance, a Columbus-area company that employs over 400 and sells high-performance car parts and more. A large contingent of company workers are expected to head to Norwalk for the weekend, hoping to cheer their boss on to victory.

“Whenever we race Norwalk or back home at National Trail Raceway we always have a huge fan base rooting for us,” Coughlin said. “That makes it so special for everyone that proudly supports our brand.

It also makes it extra satisfying to perform well in front of them because these are people we see every day in the hallways at work. We’re proud to be from Ohio and represent our state all around the country, but nothing beats doing well at home.”

Coughlin began his pro racing career in 1997. Last season, he barely missed out on his sixth career Pro Stock championship (and seventh overall NHRA title), finishing runner-up to Tanner Gray.

Coughlin previously raced for himself under the JEGS banner. But now he’s part of the Elite Motorsports group, which includes two-time Pro Stock champ Erica Enders, as well as Alex Laughlin and Rodger Brogdon.

With his 62 career Pro Stock wins, Coughlin is No. 4 on the NHRA Pro Stock all-time wins list, trailing Warren Johnson (97), Greg Anderson (91) and the late Bob Glidden (85).

NOTES: After coming oh, so close last weekend in Bristol, Tennessee — No. 1 qualifier and finished runner-up to winner Bob Tasca III — John Force embarks this weekend on yet another bid to earn that elusive 150th win of his NHRA Funny Car career.

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Fernando Alonso will decide this summer whether to pursue F1 again

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Fernando Alonso said he will determine by this summer if he would consider a return to Formula One next season.

After announcing Tuesday that he will return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May with Arrow McLaren Racing SP, Alonso said “right now the Indy 500 will take all of my concentration” but left the door open for F1 in 2021.

“In my case, probably during the summer period, I’ll make a decision on 2021 if Formula One is still appealing to me,” Alonso told IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview (watch the video above). “The 2021 rules (in F1) are definitely a step forward, and hopefully things can be more mixed and not only three teams capable of winning races. So all this factors into play. I may consider that possibility.”

Alonso won consecutive Formula One championships in 2005-06 with Renault. He has 32 victories in an F1 career that started in 2001 and also includes stints at Ferrari and McLaren.

His last victory on the circuit was May 12, 2013 in Barcelona. He is winless in his most recent 110 starts, including the past 77 races with McLaren in 2015-18.

The Guardian recently reported that McLaren CEO Zak Brown said Alonso wouldn’t be returning to F1 with the team.

Alonso also told Diffey that returning to F1 from a two-season absence wouldn’t necessarily be linked to McLaren’s performance.

“I think they did well last year, and hopefully they make another step forward and close to the top three because they deserve it and are a fantastic team,” he said.

Though he is optimistic about more parity, Alonso said six-time champion Lewis Hamilton should be a favorite for the 2020 title based on preseason testing in which Mercedes turned heads with a new steering system.

“It seemed Mercedes is still quite competitive,” Alonso said. “They show enormous potential on the development side and on the progress from one year to next. Formula One is impossible to predict because many things happen in season.

“At the starting point, (Mercedes) are the favorites. When you have Lewis in the car and Mercedes with the potential they have, they have to be No. 1 probably.”