High Stakes at Las Vegas for Mopar in NHRA Championship Battle
· Johnson provisional No.1 in Pro Stock qualifying at 13th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals, the second to last event of the season
· Coughlin still atop the Pro Stock standings ahead of Mike Edwards; Johnson is in fourth place, but within 69 points of the leader
· Johnson looking to defend championship and hoping to set up a Mopar showdown against teammate Coughlin
· Beckman is top Mopar with second place run in Funny Car qualifying; Hagan is fourth
· Hagan is second in Funny Car championship standings behind the leader John Force; Defending champ, Beckman is third
Las Vegas (October 25, 2013) – The stakes are high for Mopar drivers at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend with only two NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series nationals events and eight elimination rounds remaining to defend two world titles. Leading the Pro Stock battle for Mopar is Jeg Coughlin Jr. who took over top spot with his win at the last event at Reading, Pa., along with defending champion Allen Johnson who is just 73 points behind him in fourth place heading into qualifying for the 13th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals. Also setting his sights on a championship drive in this fifth of six playoff events in the NHRA “Countdown to the Championship”, Don Schumacher Racing’s Matt Hagan and his “Magneti Marelli Offered by Mopar” Funny Car are trying to run down the 15-time world champ John Force and his 65 point advantage from second place in the standings.
Looking for his fourth straight win at Las Vegas, Johnson raised the odds in his favor by going straight to the top of time sheets in the first two Pro Stock qualifying sessions. His first pass aboard the Mopar Express Lane Dodge saw an elapsed time run of 6.654 seconds (207.46 mph) to earn three valuable bonus points. Jason Line, Mike Edwards, and current Pro Stock points leader Coughlin at the wheel of the Jegs.com Mopar all posted identical 6.658-second runs differentiated only by their speeds [207.37, 207.34 and 206.92 mph] for their second through fourth place positions respectively.
Johnson topped the second session as well with a 6.651 sec (206.99 mph) and had his teammate Coughlin right on his heels with the second quickest run 6.655 sec. (207.11 mph). Edwards and Line were third and fourth with Vincent Nobile rounding out the top-five by posting 6.663 second runs in both sessions.
Johnson finds himself in a different position than he was at this event last season when he was the one being chased as the championship leader. The defense of his title has been more difficult amongst very close competition all season long, especially from his teammate lately, as evidenced by their showdown in the final elimination at the previous event. But while the Mopar Express Lane Dodge pilot knows he has his work cut out for him from his fourth place spot in the points, he is on a mission and not leaving anything to chance.
“We feel like we have to win both races and have the fastest car for all eight rounds of qualifying to have a shot at it and so far we’re sticking to that plan,” said Johnson who won the final two national titles of the 2012 season to win his first championship with Mopar. “Hopefully we’ll do the same thing we did last year to defend our championship in this final stretch. We lost three really close races leading up to this weekend for a combined total of just 12 inches and if we hadn’t we’d probably be tied or even in the lead in the points right now.”
“That’s incredibly close racing so we’ve got it on kill to get every little point available and the mentality is that we have to go for it on every single run,” Johnson added. “We have the Mopar to do it. We have the HEMI power to do it. We have the team to do it. We want to give the yellow Mopar a battle right to the end. It’s going to come right down to the wire if I’ve got my way about it and wouldn’t it be great to have two Mopars in the last round of the year battling for the championship?”
“There’s little question in my mind that the championship will come down to the last day of the year in Pomona,” said Coughlin who adds two bonus points to his total for his second place run. “That seems to be the way they script it every season and certainly that makes it exciting for all of us, fans and racers alike.”
“I don’t think the title will be decided one way or the other in Vegas but we may leave town with a much clearer picture,” adds the four-time Pro Stock champion. “You have to remember, the three guys behind us in the points are all past NHRA champions. It’s going to be a thrill ride.”
In Funny Car action, defending world champion Jack Beckman put his Don Schumacher Racing Dodge Charger R/T second in qualifying after two sessions with a best run of 4.052 seconds (315.56 mph) and just missed out on the provisional No.1 qualifier position taken by Courtney Force with an equivalent elapsed time but quicker speed of 318.24 mph.
Beckman added two bonus points to his third place standing in the championship battle behind his teammate Hagan who had a best qualifying pass of 4.078 sec (313.00 mph) to give him a provisional fourth place qualifying spot. Both are chasing the elder Force, who earned three bonus points of his own for posting the quickest run in the first session, and ended up sixth overall after Friday’s qualifying sessions.
Fellow DSR driver Ron Capps and Johnny Gray were seventh and 13th respectively.