Richmond parity reigns supreme in Top Fuel

DINWIDDIE, Va. - The chase for the 1999 NHRA Winston Top Fuel championship provided plenty of twists and turns. By season's end, the plot thickened, as many as 10 drivers still had a mathematical chance of claiming the coveted crown. Some said...

DINWIDDIE, Va. - The chase for the 1999 NHRA Winston Top Fuel championship provided plenty of twists and turns. By season's end, the plot thickened, as many as 10 drivers still had a mathematical chance of claiming the coveted crown.

Some said it was the greatest Top Fuel points battle in NHRA history. Until now.

NHRA Top Fuel teams are proving that the drama that unfolded in 1999 was just an appetizer for the competitive season that has begun in 2000. Following the recent event in Houston, five Top Fuel winners have been crowned over the course of five races. Gary Scelzi, Tony Schumacher, Doug Kalitta, Kenny Bernstein and Larry Dixon have all celebrated victories this season.

If that trend continues at the sixth annual Moto1.net NHRA Nationals, April 27-30, at Virginia Motorsports Park near Richmond, Va., yet another Top Fuel driver will break through for his or her first victory of 2000. The $1.7 million race is the sixth of 23 events in the $45 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

The list of candidates is impressive.

Joe Amato, a five-time winner last season, and Doug Herbert, who won four times in '99, have yet to win this season. The same is true for Cory McClenathan, a two-time winner last year, including the U.S. Nationals. Based on his past success at Virginia Motorsports Park, McClenathan is atop the list of favorites. The MBNA dragster driver is the event's defending champion, as he defeated Dixon here last year in impressive fashion. The Anaheim, Calif. native, who drives for team owner Joe Gibbs, also won here in 1998 and '95.

Despite a sluggish start in 2000, which included three first round losses, a second round loss and one semifinal appearance, McClenathan's hopes are high.

"Wes (Cerny, crew chief) told me that we can go to any track now and go down it," said McClenathan, currently seventh in the Winston points standings. "I feel confident that we're going to be in the championship hunt from now on." As does Schumacher. And Scelzi. And Dixon. And Bernstein.

Schumacher, currently the points leader following a victory at Phoenix and runner-up efforts at Pomona, Calif., Gainesville, Fla. and Houston, holds the slight advantage over the competition.

He only won once last year, but still won the championship. His Dan Olson-led team knows that consistency counts.

"We went rounds last year and it got us a championship," Schumacher said.

"We're using the same strategy this year. It would have been nice to win a couple of the races where we were runner-up, but we keep adding to our points lead every weekend and that's what's important."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Doug Herbert , Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , Tony Schumacher , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi