It’s been a tour-de-force type year through five Pro Stock races for Bo Butner and the rest of the class has certainly taken notice.
Butner has won four of the five events in 2019 heading to this weekend’s Route 66 NHRA Nationals in Chicago, and the rest of the standout drivers are ready for someone – anyone – to be in the winner’s circle by the end of the weekend.
“I told Bo the other day it’s got to be my turn again,” Jeg Coughlin Jr. said with a laugh. “We’ve had a bit of feast-or-famine year so far. We got that win in Phoenix early on and we certainly felt like we did coming out of here last year but then we had a couple of untimely early-round losses and came back down to earth.”
Coughlin is the defending event winner in Chicago, so he’s certainly got that going for him, but the stark reality is Butner – and to some extent, KB Racing – are at least a step or two ahead of the competition nearing the end of the first third of the 18-race Pro Stock season.
Butner and KB Racing looked even better coming out of the six-week break after Butner and Greg Anderson met in an all-KB Racing final round. Butner went 6.599 at 209.01 mph to beat Anderson and continue his remarkable roll, while Jason Line finished the trifecta by qualifying No. 1.
“We’re a few races into the regular season, and as it stands, we have a good enough car to win the championship – but to have a real shot at it at the end, you really have to be as good as we were in Richmond every day,” said Butner, the 2017 world champ. “Pro Stock is tough, and there are a lot of other racers who are going to win this year. But so far, we’re right there with them. It’s fun to go racing right now, and we’ll be busy in Chicago. I like our chances.”
Which brings up the question: Can anyone stop him this weekend at Route 66 Raceway?
Alex Laughlin has been consistent, sitting second in points, while Matt Hartford, the only other non-KB Racing driver in the top five, has a pair of final-round appearances. Outside the top five, drivers like Erica Enders, Coughlin, Deric Kramer and Chris McGaha are certainly capable of winning, and Enders especially seems like a win waiting to happen.
Things haven’t totally clicked for that Elite Motorsports team yet in 2019, which means a lot of pent up frustration could be let out in Chicago. Considering Enders’ first career win came at the track – becoming the first female Pro Stock winner in the process – her 2019 turnaround there certainly fits the storyline.
“I just want to get back to where I’m bulletproof and confident in myself and my equipment,” Enders said. “I hate the lack of performance from me this year and that’s something I have to get under wraps. As a whole, we just have to race like we know how to race. That’s our goal for Chicago and I’m confident we can do it.”
Speaking of storylines, there’s plenty for Coughlin, who won the race last year, has the JEGS All-Star Race going on this year and has a tremendous track record at Route 66 Raceway by way of six wins. That’s the most in class history in Chicago, which is more than enough momentum for him to stop Butner’s torrid start.
“We did have a good run in Virginia and the car right now is absolutely fantastic,” Coughlin said. “The crew is working hard and Rickie (Jones, crew chief) and the rest of the crew chiefs at Elite are way further ahead with the Rick Jones chassis than we were a year ago so I feel strongly we can challenge for the No. 1 qualifying spot and a win this weekend.”
To do so, he’ll likely have to go through Butner or someone on the KB Racing team. That’s been a common theme and something he’s been successful at over the years, but Butner has been on an incredible pace this year. A string like that eventually has to end, especially in a class that will have a stout 19 cars this weekend, but Butner has pounced on every possible opening this year.
Can someone else do the same in Chicago?
“After getting to the final in Richmond and walking away empty handed, I’m ready for a re-run,” Anderson said. “We did a good job as a team at the last race, so I think that’s going to set us up for some very good racing these next few weeks. I feel like (my car) just keeps getting better. We have to close the deal on raceday, that’s all there is to it.”