Final Qualifying at Pomona Sets Up Team Mopar for a Dramatic Finish in Battle for NHRA Pro Stock Championship
· Final qualifying for 49th annual Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals sets up interesting scenarios in final showdown for the Pro Stock championship
· Coughlin has 70 point lead in hunt for his fifth Pro Stock championship but faces Mopar teammate Vincent Nobile in first round
· Johnson is defending title winner at NHRA Finals at Pomona and not ready to give up on championship hopes
· Hagan qualifies second and sets track speed record in final session
· Six Dodge Chargers qualified for Funny Car eliminations in final event of the season
Pomona, Calif. (Nov 9, 2013) – The field is set following final qualifying at the 49th annual Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals, and while each Mopar driver is looking at one last shot at winning a Wally on race day, there is one big prize that has yet to be determined — the NHRA Pro Stock World Championship.
Pro Stock points leader and JEGS.com/Mopar Dodge Avenger driver Jeg Coughlin Jr. ended the very first race of the 2013 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season with a final-round showdown at Pomona against J&J Racing teammate Vincent Nobile. In eliminations on Sunday at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, on the last day of the season in the 24th race, Coughlin will once again meet Nobile, this time in the opening round — with a win possibly clinching the 2013 championship for Coughlin.
Coughlin, No. 2 on the starting ladder heading into the final two qualifying sessions on Saturday, improved his numbers with a 6.545-second elapsed time at 211.43 mph, earning one bonus point, but was still bumped down one spot to No. 3. In his final qualifying pass of the 2013 season, the four-time Pro Stock champion recorded a 6.548/211.10 mark, good for the No. 4 spot and another qualifying bonus point.
Qualifying behind No.1 qualifier Mike Edwards and Jason Line was Rickie Jones, whose presence amid the top-five mixed the ladder significantly enough to set up scenarios in which the three J&J Racing Mopars would now face each other within the first two rounds.
Heading into Sunday, Coughlin and Nobile (the No. 13 qualifier with a best run of 6.583/210.37) have squared off six times during the 2013 season. Coughlin holds a 2-4 record, including a final-round loss in that February matchup in Pomona at the NHRA Winternationals. With a 70 point lead over both Edwards and Line, who are tied in second place following qualifying, a win over Nobile in the all-Mopar matchup would essentially lockup a fifth Pro Stock championship for Coughlin, and back-to-back titles for the Mopar brand.
“We’re looking to get out and put down a really good run and turn the win light on,” said Coughlin, who has four 2013 title wins in eight final round appearances. “We were third-best in both sessions today and look to have a great car going into gameday tomorrow. We’ve got a lot of racing to do, but I love racing here at Pomona so I say bring it on. We’d love to perform well tomorrow, and let the rest take care of itself.”
Allen Johnson, the 2012 Pro Stock champ, isn’t ready just yet to cede the championship to Coughlin, his J&J Racing teammate. The Mopar Express Lane Dodge Avenger driver was No. 4 after his first three qualifying attempts, posting a 6.550/211.73 in his first run on Saturday. AJ wrapped up qualifying with a 6.553/211.46 to start from the No. 5 spot and will go head-to-head with Rodger Brogdon to begin what he hopes is a miracle Sunday finish. Johnson won the Pomona finale last season to wrap up his championship season but would need a number of scenarios to fall into place to claim back-to-back championships.
“Rickie Jones slid in there and moved it around there to where we didn’t like it much,” said Johnson who, while 98 points behind, still has the mathematical possibility of retaining his crown given the right scenario. “That just stirred up the drama a little. We had it perfect with me and Jeg on opposite sides of the ladder before he [Jones] did that, but now we’ve got to deal with it and we’ll all do our best. You go out on race day and do your best as a driver and as a team and not pay attention to who you are racing. Hopefully it’ll work out the way it’s supposed to.”
HEMI-powered Dodge Avenger driver and Pro Stock veteran V. Gaines (6.552/212.16), fresh off a final round appearance at the recent NHRA Vegas race, will start sixth and draw Greg Anderson as his opening foe, while Dodge Avenger driver Matt Hartford (No. 14, 6.589/210.64) lines up versus Jones.
A field full of Mopar HEMI-powered Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car drivers — a total of six — will be in the hunt for the NHRA Finals event win on Sunday. Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) pilot Matt Hagan led the Dodge pack heading into Saturday at No. 4, with a best run of 4.043/319.52 in his Magneti Marelli Quality Auto Parts Offered by Mopar Dodge Charger R/T. Hagan recorded a solid 4.061/315.05 in the first session on Saturday, then put a bow on qualifying by unleashing his best run of the weekend, a 4.014/320.20 pass that lifted the 2011 Funny Car champ to the No. 2 spot and a first-round fight with Alexis DeJoria.
“It was a phenomenal day and weekend for this whole camp, with the boys working on this Magneti Marelli machine killing it this weekend,” said Hagan, who has taken the “Magneti Marelli Offered by Mopar” Dodge Charger R/T to four title wins, eight final round appearances and five No.1 qualifier positions in 2013 after missing the playoffs last season. “We have a lot to be proud of this year. It definitely makes me excited about next year. The potential that this team has, what we have already proven, what we have already shown that we can do, it’s just going to grow and get better from here.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t do as well in the Countdown as we needed to win the championship, but we can still finish really strong and turn on some win lights tomorrow and secure this second place,” said Hagan who set track speed record on his final qualifying pass. “There’s no reason this team can’t do that the way this Mopar is running this weekend and how everybody is working together. There’s no doubt in my mind that we can do it.”
Native Californian Jeff Arend posted his Dodge Charger R/T eighth thanks to a 4.067/311.85 mark, with Tim Wilkerson on tap in the first round. DSR driver Johnny Gray (No. 10, 4.077/311.20) gets a first-round fight with Chad Head, his Mopar-powered teammate and the 2012 Funny Car champ, Jack Beckman (No. 11, 4.077/309.20), will match up with Cruz Pedregon in round one, and the fourth member of the DSR quartet, Ron Capps (No. 12, 4.103/312.71), will need to get past Robert Hight to advance to the quarterfinals. Rounding out the Mopar Dodge contingent is Gary Densham (No. 13, 4.118/301.81), with Del Worsham his opening-round foe.