New Cavalier could be key to Coughlin's title defense
By Rob Geiger, NHRA.com
At this point in the season last year Pro Stock driver Jeg Coughlin was on top of the world, and more importantly, the Winston championship points standings. His powerful Jeg's Mail Order Oldsmobile Cutlass was shredding the competition, having won the last three national events including the first two races of the Y2K season.
Coughlin eventually rode his fast start to his first Winston championship. He won 10 races in all and never trailed in the points, clinching the 2000 title with three races to spare.
But like the rest of his peers in the competitive class, the Jegster didn't have much time to contemplate the season when the winter break rolled around. A change in the rules called for new body styles across the board and Coughlin joined the long line of drivers waiting for new cars to be made and delivered.
It's a decision Jeggy doesn't regret; despite the reality that he's won just two rounds of racing so far -- a 75 percent drop from last year. Adding to the aggravation is the fact Coughlin has bowed out at the hands of five-time Winston champion, current points leader, and chief rival Warren Johnson at both races.
"We had cars that were capable of winning in Pomona and Phoenix," Coughlin said. "We just flubbed it up ourselves. It takes quite a bit of harmony to run a Pro Stock team. That's been our strong point in the past, especially last year. It isn't there yet. It's tough to elaborate on; we just haven't had our act together.
"The new cars are better without a doubt but I don't think we would be in a different place now if we had rushed to get them on the track."
Coughlin is currently in eighth place in the points and brother Troy is tied for the 15th spot. Jeg is 87 points, or the equivalent of over four rounds of competition, behind Johnson.
"W.J. always has his act together," Coughlin said. "He should. He's been racing for a quarter of a century. I count on Warren being at 100 percent at all times. Now we're looking to right our path immediately. When we do we should have no problem beating the best of them."
"My hat's off to Jerry Bickel and his crew," Coughlin said. "They did a great job with these cars and they did have them to us in time to race Pomona if we had needed to race them there. But we wanted to refine and enhance some things on the cars. There are actually several hundred things on our checklist that we go over with every new car. The main thing is to make them as safe as possible while also making them as competitive as can be. I felt totally confident in these cars when we left for Florida."
The group arrived in the Sunshine State on the heels of a divisional race so the track at Gainesville Raceway was in good condition. They elected to run down the right side of the track and immediately realized the potential of the new cars during their first pass.
"I went 6.93 at 199 mph right out of the trailer," Coughlin said. "Not bad for the first blast. That was in the unfavored right lane with about 2,300 feet of air. Typically, if you can get down that lane at all you're happy. We did it several times in a brand new car.
"The new cars are better. We tried five or six different set-ups, making adjustments to the suspension, moving weight around, trying some different things with the clutch. We hit on some great warm weather set-ups. My dad and (crew chief) Gary (Pearman) were extremely happy with how the cars reacted.
"Dick (Maskin) gave us some good power and we ended up running a string of 6.91s at 200 mph. Plain and simple, the Cavaliers will be better for us."
A new start
"I hope the new cars are a big lift for the team," Coughlin said. "Dick has some new power for us and the Gators feel like a fresh start. We have a great relationship with Mac Tools and I'd love to put one of these Jeg's Mail Order Cavaliers in the winner's circle of their race.
"We're going to win a bunch of races with these cars. I'm more confident now than I've been in awhile and that's saying a lot because we're always very confident in what we're doing. There are 22 races left and it's going to be a long journey. We're all very excited about getting back on track and competing like we have in the past."
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