Pomona: Fuel preview

POMONA, Calif. - Veteran Top Fuel driver Cory McClenathan claimed one of the most important victories of his career recently at Houston Raceway Park. Then, to prove his effort wasn't a fluke, he won again at the rain-delayed event at the...

POMONA, Calif. - Veteran Top Fuel driver Cory McClenathan claimed one of the most important victories of his career recently at Houston Raceway Park. Then, to prove his effort wasn't a fluke, he won again at the rain-delayed event at the Texas Motorplex. The wins couldn't have come at a better time for McClenathan, who last won at the '99 U.S. Nationals. McClenathan, a native of Anaheim, Calif., was in the slump of slumps. The 26-time winner's only bright spot to a dreadful season that featured its share of early round losses was a victory in the lucrative Winston Showdown, NHRA's all-star event. Other than that one moment, McClenathan would just as soon forget about the rest of what 2000 had to offer. The nightmare season reached its peak three weeks ago when longtime team owner Joe Gibbs announced he would not field an NHRA team in 2001. "Once you're in a slump for so long you start to point fingers at different things," said McClenathan, who hopes to end the season with his third straight victory and second ever at the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals, Nov. 9-12 at Pomona Raceway. "If you're not winning, the confidence of the driver tends to fall down," McClenathan added. "After Houston and Dallas my confidence is building because every time I got into the car it did what it was supposed to do." A new Murf McKinney car, that is. McClenathan says part of his season-long troubles may have been due in part to an ill-handling racecar. "About the last thing we thought of was the racecar," he said. "Once we got the new car, everything changed. The car is tunable and it does exactly what you want it to do. The other car was undriveable. We're finally in a position where everything is coming together." McClenathan, who is now looking for a new team for the 2001 season with sponsor MBNA, says the event in Pomona will provide a good measuring stick for what could have been. If they dominate like they did in Houston and Dallas, clocking consecutive low 4.50-second times on many runs, he'll know that things may have been different if they changed cars 15 races ago. "We're really excited about Pomona," said McClenathan, currently seventh in the Winston point standings. "We want to see if we can go out and do it again. It's our last chance this year and we want to go out strong. I think if the car performs like it's supposed to, we could win again."

DUNN GOES FOR HOMER: Mike Dunn made an impressive debut in the Yankee dragster recently at Houston Raceway Park, claiming top qualifying honors, then posted a season-best run of 4.529 seconds in the rain-delayed event in Dallas. In both events he lost in early rounds. This week at Pomona Raceway he'll try to save some horsepower for later elimination rounds.

Dunn, from Wrightsville, Pa., won both the NHRA Winternationals and Finals at Pomona in 1999. He sat out much of the 2000 season while team owner Darrell Gwynn searched for sponsorship dollars. In late August Gwynn formed a parternship with George and Hank Steinbrenner that will provide sponsorship support for Gwynn's team over the next three years.

"That was a great start for the Yankee dragster team at Houston," said Dunn, a 20-time NHRA winner. "To come out on the first run and post a 4.53 is very rewarding. It was a total team effort and just an amazing feeling. We've got a fast car but we're still figuring out our race day tuneup. Consistency is what it takes to win the Winston championship, and I think we can find that."

BATTLE FOR SECOND IN FUNNY CAR: With a record 10th NHRA Winston Funny Car chamionship in hand, Yorba Linda's John Force will focus on adding to his record victory total at Pomona Raceway, currently holding strong at 90 event titles.

Meanwhile, Ron Capps, Jerry Toliver and Tony Pedregon will battle for second place in the Winston Top 10. Less than 110 points separate the three drivers, who occupy positions 2-4.

Capps, driver of the U.S. Tobacco Chevy Camaro, has one victory in seven finals, while defending event winner Toliver, who pilots the WWF Racing Pontiac Firebird, has three victories in four finals this season. Pedregon, a two-time winner and victor at the season-opening Winternationals at Pomona, drives the Castrol Syntec Ford Mustang.

SCHUMACHER TO RETURN: After a failed attempt at returning to Top Fuel competition two weeks ago in Houston, Tony Schumacher will try to climb back into his U.S. Army dragster at the Auto Club NHRA Finals.

Schumacher, the defending NHRA Winston champion, continues to recover from injuries sustained during a high-speed crash on Oct. 7 at Memphis (Tenn.) Motorsports Park.

"I think Pomona looks good," said Schumacher, currently second in the Winston point standings. "If I get in the car and I'm not sure I'm ready, I'll get out."

TOP ROOKIE: First-year Top Fuel racer Don Lampus posted career-best numbers in Houston, clocking a 4.580-second elapsed time, with a speed of 320.36 mph.

Those numbers were very important for Lampus, a contender for the NHRA Winston Rookie of the Year prize. Should the Garland, Texas driver win the prestigious award on Nov. 13 at Universal Amphitheater, he will earn $20,000 and join past winners Scotty Cannon, Matt Hines, Jeg Coughlin, Gary Scelzi and Larry Dixon as recent winners of the distinguished award.

"With that run we stepped into a new category of cars," said Lampus, whose ExpressAuto.com dragster is now tuned by crew chief Wayne Dupuy. "It's pretty amazing stuff. There are only a handful of cars running 4.50s at 320 mph."

The one thing he's missing from a perfect season is a victory.

"It would be awesome if we could finish strong and get a win," said Lampus, a former off-road champion. "It would be the perfect ending to a fantastic rookie season."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Matt Hines , Jeg Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Mike Dunn , Tony Pedregon , Ron Capps , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Gary Scelzi , Scotty Cannon , Cory McClenathan , Darrell Gwynn , Don Lampus , Jerry Toliver