NHRA PRO MOD TITLE TO GO DOWN TO WIRE
NHRA's J&A Services Pro Modified championship has whittled down to a pair of titans, and this weekend in Las Vegas, one of the two will walk away with the jackpot.
Troy Coughlin, a two-time winner in the series, leads the points headed into the NHRA Toyota Nationals, uncharted waters for the Jegs-sponsored driver who won both titles from behind.
Mike Castellana, a longtime nitrous stalwart, is challenging in his maiden season driving a supercharged entry tuned by Frank Manzo.
"I'm not surprised at all because every single year it goes down to the wire," Coughlin said. "This year is certainly no different, and we weren't expecting anything less."
Like Coughlin, Castellana is sailing uncharted waters.
A two-time champion himself, Castellana has never had to come from behind with the title on the line.
"It’s never easier when you’re coming from behind," Castellana admitted. "It’s his race to lose, so we’ll just do our best and go from there."
Castellana has led the championship chase for most of 2017 until at the end of the last event in St. Louis Coughlin passed him by with one race left to go.
"We've never had the points lead at any time in the past except for the two times when we clinched our two championships in Vegas," Coughlin said. "We've obviously had great cars the last six seasons, but we always seem to be chasing someone. Now the tables have turned.
"We know exactly what we need to do. We need to qualify in the top half of the field and go to the semifinals at the very least. Then it doesn't matter what else happens. We'd like to qualify in the top four and win to close the season in style, with the championship and another wally."
History and a tendency to do well, are two key attributes working in Coughlin's favor.
Coughlin has won Pro Mod at three of the last five years in Las Vegas. In 2012, he beat Don Walsh Jr.; then Danny Rowe in 2013 and last year when he beat Todd Tutterow.
This year he's won twice, in Bristol and St. Louis.
Castellana has two wins as well in 2017.
Castellana trailed Coughlin by 26 points heading into Las Vegas, despite the former's track record which included four final rounds in the first five races.
Castellana believes his situation of falling out of first is indicative of what the Pro Modified division has become.
"All of these cars are capable of winning and being top performers, so you just have to be on your game all the time,” Castellana surmised.