Richmond: Series round 22 preview

TOP FUEL RACER McCLENATHAN STILL IN COUNTDOWN TITLE HUNT AS FULL THROTTLE SERIES HEADS TO VIRGINIA DINWIDDIE, Va. -- Now that veteran driver Cory McClenathan is in the hunt for a world championship title, he's not changing anything about his ...

TOP FUEL RACER McCLENATHAN STILL IN COUNTDOWN TITLE HUNT AS FULL THROTTLE SERIES HEADS TO VIRGINIA

DINWIDDIE, Va. -- Now that veteran driver Cory McClenathan is in the hunt for a world championship title, he's not changing anything about his approach to race weekends.

McClenathan has experience in championship battles. He's finished second four times during his great career. He's finished third three other times, including last season.

After winning the first playoff race in Charlotte and finishing in the quarterfinals at both Dallas and Memphis, McClenathan is certainly capable of hoisting the trophy at the NHRA awards ceremony.

He knows from experience that patience and consistency are the two necessary ingredients as NHRA professional category teams make the stretch run to glory in the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series.

McClenathan will continue his quest to win that elusive first world championship crown with a strong showing at the fourth annual NHRA Virginia Nationals at Virginia Motorsports Park near Richmond, Va. The race is the 22nd of 24 events in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series and the fourth of six races in the Countdown to 1, NHRA's championship playoffs. Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel); Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car); and Dave Connolly (Pro Stock) are the defending winners of the race, which will be televised on ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD.

McClenathan, who sits third in the point standings following the recent event in Memphis, has had great success at VMP over the years. He is the winningest Top Fuel driver at the track with four victories, his last coming in 2006. He was runner-up there in 1997.

"As soon as we rolled in there the first year in Richmond, we've done well ever since," McClenathan said. "I go in there very comfortable. I go in there thinking we're going to go rounds on Sunday. I don't go in there thinking we're going to win every single race, but obviously I'm very comfortable going in there and I can't wait to get there this time because right now every point matters and we need them."

He says his FRAM Tough Guard team will head to Virginia with a familiar strategy.

"Our goal is the same as always," McClenathan explained. "Go in there, get qualified well on Friday afternoon, try to run good Friday night, and pick up some of those extra qualifying points that they're now offering [three, two and one points for the top three qualifiers in each qualifying round] to give us a little cushion points-wise before eliminations on Sunday."

He says his team, made up entirely of a crew with the majority of their experience tuning Funny Cars, has bonded and done an awesome job this season tuning a Top Fuel dragster. He says the team will be focused on making the dragster as consistent as possible and not worry about counting points.

"[Crew chiefs] Phil [Shuler] and Todd [Okuhara] and the FRAM Tough Guard boys will do exactly what they're supposed to, which is forget about the points deal and go in there and get qualified well and work on it for Sunday," McClenathan said. "We've attacked every single race that way this year, and I don't want to change things. It's just about going in there and taking one round at a time on Sunday and, if all goes well, we'll go the semis or to the final, keep on earning points, and make the last (few) races of the playoffs very exciting."

In addition to McClenathan, the other favorites in Top Fuel are six-time and defending world champ Schumacher, who won this race last year as he marched to the season title. Schumacher, the current points leader, has won five times this season in his U.S. Army dragster and recently won a playoff race in Dallas and was runner-up at the Memphis playoff stop. Larry Dixon, who is second in the point standings in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster, has also won five times this season and sits poised to make a run for his third championship crown.

Defending race winner and world champ Pedregon didn't qualify for the Countdown to 1 playoffs this year, but he will be at the event working hard to defend his race win. His brother, Tony Pedregon, has been near the front of the pack all season in his Quaker State Chevy Impala and has won three races and is currently third in the standings. Points leader Ashley Force Hood holds a three-point lead over teammate Robert Hight. Don Schumacher Racing's Jack Beckman and Ron Capps are also major contenders for the race win and the championship.

In Pro Stock, Mike Edwards has come on strong in the playoffs and took over the points lead with a win at Charlotte and strong showings in Dallas and Memphis. For the moment, he is ahead of three-time world champ Greg Anderson, who recently won at Dallas, and Jason Line, the Memphis winner. Others to watch in the 200-mph category include past VMP winners Jeg Coughlin and Greeneville, Tenn.'s Allen Johnson.

SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying sessions for the NHRA Virginia Nationals, are scheduled for 1:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 9 and noon and 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 10. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 11.

TICKETS: Tickets are available for the NHRA Virginia Nationals by calling (804) 862-3174, or via the Web at www.ticketmaster.com.

ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise two hours of qualifying coverage at 10:30 p.m. (ET) on Saturday, Oct. 10. On Sunday, Oct. 11, ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will feature NHRA Race Day, a 30-minute pre-race show, at 11 a.m. (ET), and three hours of eliminations coverage at 7 p.m. (ET).

LUCAS OIL SERIES: The NHRA Virginia Nationals also will feature competition in four categories in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series, where the future stars of the NHRA Full Throttle Series earn their racing stripes. Lucas Oil Series qualifying begins at 8:15 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 9. Lucas Oil Series eliminations begin at 8:15 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 10.

-credit: nhra

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Tony Pedregon , Ron Capps , Tony Schumacher , Greg Anderson , Cruz Pedregon , Cory McClenathan , Jack Beckman , Ashley Force , Allen Johnson , Jason Line , Don Schumacher , Dave Connolly , Mike Edwards