Tough Luck for Mopar Drivers at NHRA Nationals in Las Vegas
Mopar drivers leave The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway empty handed
No.1 qualifier Coughlin was highest finishing Pro Stock Mopar entry with a quarter-final appearance
DSR Dodge Charger R/T driver Capps drives to a semi-final appearance to take fourth spot in Funny Car standings
Las Vegas (Sunday, March 30) – Mopar-powered teams and drivers are hoping the popular adage “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” holds true as they expect to leave the disappointing results behind them as they depart Las Vegas following Sunday’s SummitRacing.com National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Nationals event. Not a single Dodge entry was able to make their way past the semi-final rounds in what proved to be an unusual race day at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Pro Stock class competition was rightfully delayed for hours by NHRA officials amid safety concerns due to strong cross winds and gusts over 25 miles per hour that combined with the desert environment to blanket a layer of dust and debris over the track, proving problematic for the low-downforce factory hot rods.
Once racing resumed, No.1 qualifier Jeg Coughlin Jr. (6.697 second / 207.88 mph) drove his JEGS.com Dodge Dart to a first round win over Mark Wolfe and lane choice for the next match-up. Things didn’t go quite as planned in the quarterfinals, where it took a holeshot by Jimmy Alund (0.024 sec. reaction time) to beat Coughlin’s (0.062 sec.) Mopar which posted a 6.653-second elapsed time pass to his competitor’s 6.689-second run.
“We’re going to win a lot of races by a few thousandths, and if we get eliminated it’s probably going to be a thousandth of a second because that’s how tight things are right now,” said Coughlin who was just 0.0028 seconds short of advancing to the semifinals. “We had a good car, and we were pretty fast on Friday and pretty fast on Saturday. Coming into Sunday, we had another element of change with the car’s setup. The last 400 feet that crosswind was really trying to push it hard, and I had the wheel turned a pretty good ways, more than I anticipated. We’ll get it cleaned up and be ready for the next go.”
Seeded sixth, Allen Johnson saw hopes of defending his Vegas title and earning a third consecutive win this season disappear with the gust of wind that blew debris into the engine, diminishing the horsepower needed to make it to the next round. Johnson had a 0.070-second reaction time to Steve Kent’s 0.089 but posted a 6.782-second / 207.43 mph pass to his opponent’s 6.673 / 206.54.
“During the burnout something went through the carburetor and closed up the gap on the spark plug, so when I staged it, then dropped the clutch, it was only on seven cylinders all the way through first gear,” said Johnson about the loss of power he felt on the launch that made all the difference. “In the middle of second gear, it came back to life so I guess the plug had enough heat in it and no load so that it ran better the rest of the way down the track. There was so much dirt on track in the first round that we had no downforce and the cars just danced around on the track. The wind would then upset the car even more when you were unstable to begin with. We got bit, but we’ll load up and try again in Charlotte.”
The HEMI-powered Mopar of V.Gaines, which came into the event second in the points standing behind Johnson, saw his day come to a premature end as well with a loss in the first round to Shane Gray.
The Pro Stock event title went to Erica Enders-Stevens who doubled up on her winnings, much like Johnson had the previous year for Mopar, by also earning the victory in Saturday’s K&N Horsepower Challenge. She also takes over the points lead from Johnson who drops to third place in the standings after four national events.
After a strong runs in Funny Car qualifying, where the fifth seeded Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T set both low e.t. and top speed to lead the first three sessions, Matt Hagan couldn’t buy a break in eliminations. After earning a runner-up finish in the 2014 season opening event at Pomona, Hagan found himself on the sidelines after posting his third consecutive first-round loss when he hazed the tires in his match-up against eventual national title winner Alexis DeJoria.
With a bit more luck on his side, Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps avoided a similar fate when he saw win lights turn on in his favor despite also losing traction against a quicker Tim Wilkerson, who saw his run disqualified for a red light start.
The next round saw a strong all-Mopar match-up between Capps and Jack Beckman that went right down to the wire with a difference of just two-thousandths of a second separating them. Capps took the win with an e.t of 4.133 (311.63 mph) to edge Beckman’s 4.135 (311.27 mph), but fell short in his bid for his first final round appearance since winning the national title in Brainerd last season, with a semi-final loss to eventual title winner Robert Hight.
However, the good news is that Capps jumps up to fourth in the Funny Car standings from his previous seventh place spot to lead his DSR teammates. Tommy Johnson Jr., who faltered in the first round against teammate Beckman, is seventh in the points count, just ahead of Hagan in eighth place, and Beckman in ninth.
The next stop for the Mopar contingent is the zMAX Dragway near Charlotte, N.C., on April 11-13, for the 5th Annual NHRA Four-Wide Nationals, the fifth of 24 events on the 2014 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.