Mopar Leaves Las Vegas with Runner-Up Finish by Gaines, Coughlin Widens Points Lead;
Championship Hopes Dashed for Johnson and Hagan
· Gaines takes his Mopar to a runner-up Pro Stock finish at the 13th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals
· Pro Stock points leader Coughlin keeps championship in his sights after a semi-final appearance at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway
· Reigning Pro Stock champ Johnson sees hopes of defending his world title fade with a quarterfinal loss
· Hagan’s final shot at vying for the Funny Car Championship come to an end with a first round loss
Las Vegas (October 27, 2013) – Based on the drama that unfolded at the 13th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals this weekend, leaving Las Vegas is somewhat bittersweet for Mopar with a strong runner-up performance for one driver, a championship within reach for another, while two others saw their drives for any chance at their second world title come to an abrupt end at the penultimate playoff event in the “Countdown to the Championship”.
HEMI-powered driver V. Gaines’ runner-up finish against Shane Gray at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was his fourth final round appearance of the year; the most he has ever had in a single season. Gaines posted an elapsed time run of 6.698 seconds (207.46 miles per hour) but was defeated by Gray’s 6.699 sec. (206.89 mph) pass with quicker reaction time (0.073 to 0.032 seconds) for a hole-shot victory and first trip to the winner’s circle this season. Gaines’ strong performance through the elimination rounds moved him up one spot in the standings to seventh place.
One of the drivers that Gaines dispatched on his way to the final was the current leader in the Pro Stock championship, Jeg Coughlin Jr., in a semi-final Mopar showdown. Coughlin saw his closest competitors for the world title, Mike Edwards, Jason Line and Mopar teammate Allen Johnson, lose their match-ups within the first two rounds to help put a little more distance between them in the points tally heading into the NHRA finale in Pomona, Calif., in two weeks.
“We had a great effort this weekend,” said Coughlin who now has a 71 point lead over his second place rival Line, but was somewhat disappointed that he wasn’t able to go further. “Our JEGS.com Mopar was a top-four car every session we went down the race track. The car was still running really well but we just didn’t get away with it in the semifinals. We would have loved to have won that round obviously for championship reasons to put a little more distance between us and Jason Line. We’ll move this drama to Pomona and get out and do what we love to do which is put those win lights on and ideally hoist that championship trophy.”
On the flip side, the reigning Pro Stock champ Johnson saw his hopes of defending his world title fade with a quarterfinal loss to Gaines after a few mechanical setbacks in the pits had the team working overtime after initially setting the bar on Friday.
“Man, we had drama all weekend and we just couldn’t get going in our camp,” said Johnson who drops to fifth in the standings. “Jeggy’s [Coughlin Jr.] car was running awfully good and he had a great day. He’s going to be hard to beat for the championship and it’ll be great to see him bring home another championship for Mopar and Chrysler. That’s what it’s all about.”
“We’ve got to hold our heads up high because we worked as a team and the effort has been there every day in a really competitive field all year long,” added Johnson who still has his sights set on scoring a win at the finale in Pomona in two weeks to cap off the year. “I want to win the race and Jeggy to win the championship and that would be a good ending.”
Also disappointed to be eliminated from championship contention following a stellar turnaround season was Mopar Funny Car driver Matt Hagan. He came into the weekend second in the standings with an outside chance of catching the points leader until his first round loss in eliminations, combined with John Force’s eventual title win at Las Vegas to clinch a 16th NHRA world title, finally put that to rest.
“The Countdown hasn’t gone the way we wanted or would’ve liked it to,” said Hagan who took 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 year. “We had a very, very strong regular season and just couldn’t seem to finish strong towards the end. I think it’s easy to get greedy in the aspect of you don’t always appreciate what you’ve done sometimes but you have to stop and look back. A lot of folks would trade their season for ours.”
Currently third in the standings, Don Schumacher Racing teammate Jack Beckman was also disappointed to officially cede the championship title won for Mopar last season to a new victor. Beckman made his way to the semifinals for the seventh time this year, only to lose to eventual runner-up Courtney Force. While the championship has already been decided, Beckman has three runner-up finishes but looking to add a win and give Hagan a run for the second place spot before closing the curtain on the season in Pomona.
Ron Capps and his Dodge Charger R/T lost in the second round of eliminations while fellow Mopar teammate Johnny Gray was a first round casualty.
The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season will conclude in Pomona, Calif., at the 49th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals on Nov 7-10.