Mixed Results for Mopar in Championship Battle at Texas NHRA FallNationals
· Points battle tightens in both Funny Car and Pro Stock classes following mixed results at 28th annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals
· Hagan remains in Funny Car points lead with a 51 point advantage over second place despite second round loss at Texas Motorplex
· Coughlin still second in Pro Stock standings with four more playoff events left in Countdown to Championship
· Johnson only 74 points from Pro Stock points leader despite dropping to fifth place
Ennis, Texas (Sunday, September 22, 2013) – It was a tough race day at Texas Motorplex as Mopar teams and drivers ran the gamut of highs and lows only to leave the 28th annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals no better but no worse in the battle to defend its two world titles with just four playoff events remaining in the 2013 NHRA Mello Yello Series “Countdown to the Championship”. While the results for the Mopar contingent didn’t include any final round appearances, the championship points battle tightened up in both Funny Car and Pro Stock classes to make the upcoming final four events that much more interesting.
It was a definite mix of good news and bad news in the early Pro Stock elimination rounds. The first bit of good news came from Larry Morgan’s first round upset of Mike Edwards, who had led the standings since the Charlotte Four-Wide Nationals in April. That loss combined with Jeg Coughlin Jr.’s first round win against Greg Anderson, temporarily gave the Jegs.com Mopar driver the lead in the championship standings.
That advantage was short lived however, as Coughlin lost his semifinal matchup with an elapsed time run of 6.601 seconds (210.47 mph) and a 0.066 second reaction time to Shane Gray’s 0.029 second start and a 6.620 sec. (210.01 mph) pass for a holeshot victory.
“Being ten points behind the points leader coming into the race, when Mike Edwards went out first round, that gave us an opportunity to make up some ground,” Coughlin said. “To bow out in the semis was untimely. We felt like we had a great car, and I felt great behind the wheel.”
Benefitting from Coughlin’s loss was Jason Line who defeated Gray in the final elimination round to steal the lead in the points from his previous third place position in the standings. The good news is that Coughlin is just eight points behind Line in second place heading into the third of six playoff events next week in St. Louis.
The defending winner of the FallNationals, Allen Johnson, wasn’t able to take full advantage of Edwards’ loss to gain ground in the standings after he saw his day come to a premature end with a second round loss to eventual title winner Line despite having two very strong runs and two elapsed time passes of 6.550 seconds (against Greg Stanfield) and 6.578 seconds (against Line). On a more positive note, the Mopar Express Lane Dodge Avenger didn’t lose too much ground either as Johnson is just 74 points from the new leader despite a drop down to fifth place.
“We’re leaving here with the Mopar Express Lane Dodge just about the same amount of points behind the leader as we did coming into it, just with a different leader now. The stars just haven’t aligned yet for us because we had a really good car here and I’m really disappointed with that second round loss. We’re beating all around it but we’re going to hit it in the middle in the next race. We only won three races last year in the countdown, maybe we’ll have to go for four in a row and go out with a big exciting finish.”
A strong performance was seen from the HEMI-powered Dodge of V. Gaines who won the first round battle of the Mopars by eliminating Vincent Nobile from competition and then had an outstanding second round run against No.1 qualifier Erica Enders. While Gaines had a great 0.010-second reaction time, Enders left first with a 0.008 but the Mopar driver chased her down and edged her at the finish line by just 0.0061-seconds to advance to the semifinals against Jason Line. A red light start against Line ended his hope of a final round berth, but now has him tied in sixth place with Enders-Stevens and ahead of eighth place Vincent Nobile.
In Funny Car action, Matt Hagan won his first round match up against Jeff Arend by posting an e.t. (4.081) that was even quicker than his third place qualifying effort (4.093) but saw his day go up in tire smoke against his Mopar teammate and defending world champion Jack Beckman in the second round. Despite the loss, Hagan will take his “Magneti Marelli Offered by Mopar” Dodge Charger R/T and a 51-point lead into the third playoff event of the Countdown.
“It’s like anything; you can’t get your head down,” said Hagan who has been in first place since his win at the NHRA Nationals in Englishtown, N.J. in June. “You win as a team, you lose as a team and you move forward as a team. I’m looking forward to getting to the next race. This one is behind us now and we just have to keep digging deep and working hard.”
Beckman, for his part, carried the Mopar banner through to a semifinal round loss against Cruz Pedregon, the eventual title winner at the FallNationals, cutting down his points deficit to the leader to 76 points. Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps, who started the weekend off with a second place spot in the standings, saw his day spoiled by Tony Pedregon in the first round, dropping him all the way down to sixth place and 102 points from Hagan. Johnny Gray’s Dodge Charger R/T is right behind Capps in seventh place after his second round loss to Robert Hight.