ATLANTA (May 12) To visit the defending Top Fuel and Funny Car champions of the 19th Annual Advance Auto Parts Nationals one will only need to travel about 10 feet from one side of Team Gibbs' pit to the other. Thanks to a clean sweep in 1998 by...
ATLANTA (May 12) To visit the defending Top Fuel and Funny Car champions of the 19th Annual Advance Auto Parts Nationals one will only need to travel about 10 feet from one side of Team Gibbs' pit to the other. Thanks to a clean sweep in 1998 by Gumout-sponsored teammates Cory McClenathan and Cruz Pedregon, the garage area of team owner Joe Gibbs' powerful entries will be the center of the drag racing world Thursday through Sunday.
"I wouldn't want it any other way," McClenathan said. "Cruz and I both have had real good luck at this track and last year in Atlanta was definitely a highlight for everyone in the organization. We've already talked about how great it would be to do it again. That's definitely our goal heading in."
Aside from their respective wins in 1998, McClenathan and Pedregon have several other reasons to be enthusiastic about their return to Atlanta Dragway. Here's a brief look at each driver's history at the track and their plans for 1999.
McClenathan, who drives drove the MBNA Top Fuel dragster, has a win in 1995 to go with his '98 crown. He also holds the track's Top Fuel speed mark of 318.02 mph. He is coming off his first win of the 1999 season at the Pennzoil Nationals in Virginia and has jumped to fourth place in the Winston points standings, which is his best mark of the year.
"If we can go to Atlanta and get another win then it would say so much about this car," McClenathan said. "As close as this points race is shaping up to be, consistency is what will decide a championship. Right now our car is running extremely well and if we can stay in the groove we're in then I really like our chances.
"The win in Virginia was awesome for us. It was big to win one for Gumout at a Pennzoil race. It's the Gumout folks first win with us and I know they were excited. It also took a lot of pressure off of the crew. They realized that their hard work was going towards something good and they saw that we're right back in the fight for the championship.
"We really got into the thick of things as far as the points race goes. No one is streaking out front and it's making it awfully exciting for everyone. It's been a long time since the points chase was this close and I know the drivers and the fans are loving it."
Across the pit, teammate Pedregon is dreaming of an exact repeat of last year's race when he set the track's elapsed time mark (4.889 seconds), carded the track's fastest speed (318.58 mph), grabbed the No. 1 qualifying spot and beat John Force in the finals.
"That was definitely a weekend I'll remember for a long time," Pedregon said. "If we can just pick up where we left off that would be okay with me. Actually, we're very optimistic that we can continue running well in Atlanta. I feel like we're closer to where we need to be with the car right now then we were a year ago coming into this race.
"We've been creeping closer to a win every race. In the last three events we've reached the semifinals, which is just a tick away from the finals and a chance for a win.
"Beating John (Force) in the finals would be real sweet. I'd actually like to knock him off earlier than that so that he doesn't earn too many points. I guess if I could script it, I'd beat John in the semis and my brother Tony in the finals. That would be the ultimate weekend.
"The rest of the cars in the class need to take dead aim at those Castrol guys. We all have work hard to beat them early and often to give everyone else a chance to catch up. They've shown that they're not completely invincible and I think it's way too early to concede the points title to them. The trick is to beat them when they give even the slightest opening and to never give away a race to them. We have to make them work every round."
Pedregon's Interstate Batteries Pontiac Firebird currently has his team in third place in the Winston championship points standings just behind Tony and Force.