February 21, 2013 , Phoenix, Ariz. – After a strong showing by Mopar entries at the opening event of the 2013 National Hot Rod Association Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season last Sunday, which included a title win after three Dodge entries battled their way to the final elimination rounds at the Winternationals, teams and drivers are anxious for a repeat performance at the Arizona Nationals at Firebird International Raceway near Phoenix this weekend.
Vincent Nobile posted the first victory of the season after a final round face-off against fellow HEMI®-powered teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. in Pro Stock, to put the pair 1-2 in the Pro Stock standings. The Dodge Avenger of V. Gaines is close behind in third spot on the basis of a strong qualifying performance that saw him equal his best start as no. 2 qualifier, and a second round win against Allen Johnson. Johnson’s Pro1 isn’t too far behind sitting fifth in the standing, putting all four full-time Mopars in the top-5 in points heading into qualifying at Phoenix.
All four also have experience winning at Firebird International Raceway. Nobile beat Johnson in final eliminations to earn a title win in 2011, while Johnson’s last win at Phoenix was in 2005. Gaines’s victory in 2008 ended a seven-year winless streak for him, while Coughlin is hoping to take home a third title win from the event to build on his runner-up performance to start the 2013 season.
“The last six runs we made in Pomona, the two during Saturday qualifying and four we made on race day, gave us so much confidence and that feeling is leading us into Phoenix with a lot of positive attitudes,” Coughlin said. “The only thing we could have done better was win the race so we’ll try to take that final step this weekend. Phoenix would be a great place to put the JEGS.com/Mopar Dodge Avenger in the winner’s circle.”
“I love coming to this race because I love the area, and while the facility is older, the track surface is good and we’ve had both success and some disappointments here,” said Johnson who finds running at Firebird has always been bittersweet. “We’ve celebrated a win here and it’s also where my dad (Roy) suffered a heart attack (in 2009) but was saved, so we have some history here and I hope to add one more good memory.”
While Don Schumacher Racing’s Ron Capps lost his final elimination Funny Car match-up to Courtney Force in the season opener, his confidence is high due to his past performance at the popular desert track, which includes two wins in five final round appearances and two No. 1 qualifying positions. Capps sits second in the standings with his Don Schumacher Racing teammate Johnny Gray right behind him in third spot.
Matt Hagan is happy with his solid qualifying effort and quarterfinal finish in the Mopar Dodge Charger R/T last week but is looking to build on his seventh place spot in the top-10 standings. Meanwhile, defending NHRA Funny Car Champ Jack Beckman, ninth on the scoring sheets, would love to become a four-time winner at Phoenix.
“I’ve had great luck at Phoenix, and I don’t know why,” said Beckman of the three wins he’s posted there in the last five years. “Three of my 15 Funny Car trophies came at Firebird. I don’t think I drive any better there, I don’t think our tune-ups are better there. But it is a cool feeling where you’re familiar with the winner’s circle.”
The Arizona Nationals will be broadcast on ESPN2 and ESPN2HD with 90 minutes of qualifying coverage airing on Sunday, Feb. 24 at 1 a.m. (ET) and again at 8 a.m. (ET). Three hours and 30 minutes of final elimination coverage will be presented Sunday evening starting at 8 p.m. (ET).