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NHRA: Coughlin Looking to Repeat at Matco Tools Supernationals

29 October 1998

BAYTOWN, Texas -- For the first time in Jeg Coughlin's short Pro Stock career, he'll be heading to an event as the defending Pro Stock winner. And if Coughlin has his way, he'll leave Houston Raceway Park with another trophy for his mantle.

Coughlin, from Columbus, Ohio, claimed his first Pro Stock victory at Houston late last season in only his second professional start. Indeed, it was the beginning of a very good thing.

Coughlin, driving his Dick Maskin-tuned Jeg's Mail Order Oldsmobile Cutlass, has continued his winning ways in 1998. A three-time winner in six final round appearances, the former NHRA sportsman category multi-class winner sits second in the Winston Pro Stock standings, behind Warren Johnson, who recently clinched his fourth Winston championship by winning the Parts America Nationals.

With the championship picture complete, Coughlin will try to hold his position in the point standings and add another victory at the second annual Matco Tools Supernationals, Oct. 29-Nov. 1 at Houston Raceway Park. The $1.7-million race is the 21st of 22 events in the $30-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

"Anytime you can return to a place where you've won before the confidence seems to be in your favor," Coughlin said. "I think we have a lot of momentum right now, we're running strong and I look forward to Houston and trying to hold on to our title there."

Coughlin says he wasn't too surprised that he earned his first professional victory so soon.

"At the time we were just getting ready for 1998 and had the opportunity to run a few races at the end of the year," Coughlin said. "We felt like we could be competitive right out of the gate and I was fortunate to adapt to driving the car very quickly. We were the fastest car every round, but we also got some good breaks that day. Our expectations were to win the race. Sure, we were trying to gain some seat time in preparation for the next season, but we were also looking for that first trophy, too."

He says the win provided a huge momentum boost for this season.

"It was extremely big for us," Coughlin said. "It brought the entire team to a really competitive and confident level. Once you're a winner, you know you can do it. The hard part and fun part is just trying to repeat and prove that the last time wasn't a fluke. The last three races in 1997 really sent us into 1998 with even greater expectations than we previously had and it has pretty much carried on through the season. With the exception of a couple of DNQ's early and a tough three race stretch in the middle of the season, we've been right there in the thick of things at every race."

That in itself is a chore considering the depth of field in Pro Stock. The category has seen eight different winners and as many as 40 cars attempting to qualify for 16 spots at every event.

"It's a battle just to qualify because Pro Stock is so tough," he said. "It's almost like two races out here anymore. You have a race just to qualify. If you do that, then you can start thinking about eliminations. No other eliminator can compare to the kind of parity we have in Pro Stock. Heck, we feel like there's really no other form of motorsports that's as close as Pro Stock is right now."

Coughlin's efforts this season have placed him in elite company. Along with Doug Kalitta, Richie Stevens, Larry Kopp and Antron Brown, just to name a few, Coughlin is among the leaders for the 1998 NHRA Winston Rookie of the Year award.

"We're just honored to be a part of the Rookie of the Year process and to be one of many nominees for the award this season," Coughlin said. "There's been so many great drivers win that award in the past. To be in the same company with those guys would be an added bonus to the great season we've had so far.