Photos courtesy JEGS Performance

NHRA surprise: Jeg Coughlin Jr. to semi-retire after 2020 season

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One of the most successful drivers in NHRA history, Jeg Coughlin Jr., shocked the sport Saturday during the opening race weekend on the 2020 schedule, revealing this will be his final season of full-time competition.

The news broke at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California, site of this weekend’s Lucas Oil Winternationals, that Coughlin will be stepping away after the season finale, also at Pomona, in early November.

Coughlin has amassed 82 national events wins (63 in Pro Stock) in his NHRA career, as well as five Pro Stock championships (2000, 2002, 2007, 2008 and 2013) and one Super Gas crown (1992),

The Delaware, Ohio native has dubbed the upcoming farewell season as his “Breaking Barriers Tour,” in reference to the many drag racing achievements in his career.

“Since 1997, I’ve been able to live out my biggest childhood dream by racing with my family and following my Dad and older brother Troy into the professional ranks and racing a Pro Stock car,” Coughlin said in a media release. “We’ve been able to win six championships, five in Pro Stock, and 82 national events in a variety of classes. It’s been a remarkable run.

“It certainly hasn’t been an individual effort. It’s taken so many talented crewmen and crew chiefs, engine builders and chassis experts, my incredible family, everyone at JEGS, and all the other companies that have partnered with us through the years. I couldn’t have asked for a better scenario.”

The 1998 Pro Stock Rookie of the Year said that even though he will be stepping away from full-time competition in Pro Stock, he is not completely retiring from the sport. He still plans on racing part-time at the NHRA Sportsman level going forward in 2021 and beyond. He also doesn’t rule out an occasional race back in Pro Stock, according to the media release.

Coughlin will continue to race this season with Elite Motorsports, driving the JEGS.com Chevrolet Camaro, alongside teammate and defending Pro Stock champ Erica Enders. Coughlin finished runner-up to Enders in last year’s Pro Stock championship battle as Enders captured her third championship in the class.

This is a very meaningful season for Coughlin, who will perform his swan song in the 50th year of NHRA’s Pro Stock class, as well as the 60th anniversary year for the Coughlin family and its JEGS Performance Parts company.

Jeg Coughlin Jr.’s championship cars through the years. Image courtesy JEGS Performance.

“This is the 50th year of Pro Stock and the NHRA has some neat things planned to celebrate that milestone,” Coughlin said. “Our company is celebrating its 60th year in business, so we’ll be able to promote that occasion with our race program. Plus, I’m turning 50 so it seems like a bunch of things fell into place to continue into 2020.

“The support of the fans also has driven me for many years. People stopping by and sharing stories or even just hollering the famed ‘JEGGGSSS’ when we roll through the pits is so cool. We’re lucky to have so many supporters.”

Coughlin has been one of the most versatile drag racers in the sport. He’s the only driver to win a national event in seven different classes — including four in one season — and the only professional to win from all 16 qualifying positions.

“We’ve definitely had some fun,” Coughlin said. “And my passion to continue is still there. I’m not hanging up my helmet by any means. It’s just that as we age our priorities shift and other things move to the forefront. It’s been an incredible ride and it’s not an ending, just pulling back a touch.”

Coughlin said no decision has been made on who will replace him in the team’s signature yellow-and-black JEGS-sponsored Camaro next season, but a strong candidate is Jegs’ nephew Troy Coughlin Jr., son of Jeg’s brother Troy Sr.

“I’ve had countless conversations and races alongside Troy Jr. as he was growing up,” Jeg said. “He’s always wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps in Pro Stock, and we had a great time in our pre-season testing together. In fact, I made three runs total and he made 21. If the stars align and Pro Stock is indeed his future he would do a remarkable job.”

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Max Verstappen shows speed in Austria; Lewis Hamilton lacking pace

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SPIELBERG, Austria — Red Bull driver Max Verstappen posted the fastest time Friday, and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton lacked pace in the second practice session for the Styrian Grand Prix.

Verstappen was 0.043 seconds quicker than Valtteri Bottas – Hamilton’s teammate at Mercedes – and 0.217 ahead of Racing Point driver Sergio Perez.

“The car already feels better than last week, the balance is a lot nicer and we have made a good step,” said Verstappen, who did not finish last Sunday’s season-opening Austrian GP after starting from second.

“It is too early to say how we are looking against Mercedes, but we are quite happy. We have tried a few different directions to understand the car a bit more and we are heading the right way.”

Hamilton was only sixth fastest, about 0.7 seconds slower than Verstappen. Hamilton spent a chunk of time in the garage while his team worked on his car.

“It was quite far off, so there’s a lot of work to do in the background to figure it out,” he said. “Others out there are quick and Valtteri’s obviously got good pace.”

Despite adding a new front wing to its car, struggling Ferrari had a dismal afternoon.

Charles Leclerc was only ninth quickest and 1 second slower than Verstappen, while teammate Sebastian Vettel lagged about 2 seconds behind Verstappen in 16th.

Daniel Ricciardo lost control of his Renault car early into the second session, swerving left off the track and thudding backward into a protective tire wall. He climbed out unharmed, other than a slight limp, but the left rear tire was mangled and the car was lifted off the track by a crane.

Alexander Albon spun twice, the Red Bull driver’s second spin taking him right off the track and into gravel.

Earlier, Perez was fastest in the first practice ahead of Verstappen and Bottas, with Hamilton fourth quickest and Vettel only 10th in sunny conditions.

That session was briefly interrupted when Nicholas Latifi’s Williams car pulled over to the side with a gearbox issue.

The incident brought out yellow flags, forcing drivers to slow down. But McLaren driver Lando Norris overtook Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri and got a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

Norris, 20, finished third at the Austrian GP last weekend, becoming the youngest British driver in F1 history to get on the podium and third youngest in F1.

The upcoming race is changing names from last week but is at the same track. It is surrounded by the Styrian mountains.

A third and final practice will be held on Saturday morning before qualifying in the afternoon, with heavy rain and storms in the forecast.

If third practice and qualifying are washed out, drivers take their grid positions from where they placed in second practice.

“It would definitely suck if we didn’t get to qualify,” said Hamilton, who started fifth and finished fourth last weekend. “It would make it challenging.”

However, qualifying also could be moved to Sunday morning.

“I don’t expect to be on pole position with this (practice) lap,” Verstappen said.