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DUNN HOPES TO END DROUGHT WITH A WIN AT FRAM ROUTE 66 NATIONALS JOLIET, Ill. -- A few good rounds here and there, and Mike Dunn's Team Mopar dragster is suddenly in the Top Fuel spotlight, making multiple trips to the winner's circle.

DUNN HOPES TO END DROUGHT WITH A WIN AT FRAM ROUTE 66 NATIONALS

JOLIET, Ill. -- A few good rounds here and there, and Mike Dunn's Team Mopar dragster is suddenly in the Top Fuel spotlight, making multiple trips to the winner's circle. Dunn has been to the semi-finals four different times this season, but came away disappointed each trip.

It's been a barrier that Dunn has had a hard time breaking over the last year. He hasn't been to a final round since the 1997 Mac Tools Gatornationals. He hasn't won since the 1996 Pennzoil Nationals in Memphis, Tenn.

For a driver who's widely regarded among the best pure driver in the business by his peers, this kind of winless drought can cause some sleepless nights.

"I think I've been putting too much pressure on myself lately," Dunn said. "In the last few races I've just settled down and went back to having fun. That's kinda the approach we're taking now. I'm having a lot of fun this year, but I'd really like to win a race. I haven't won in a long time. It's definitely my longest dry spell since I've been in the sport. It'd be nice to get a win or two this season."

Dunn, 41, from Wrightsville, Pa., hopes to put an end to his current winless streak at the inaugural FRAM Route 66 Nationals, May 28-31 at the brand new state-of-the-art Route 66 Raceway. The $1.5-million race is the ninth of 22 events in the $30-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

"We're qualifying well and going rounds and that's working for us," Dunn said. "Obviously we'd like to win some races and in order to win the championship that's got to happen. If we can keep going to the semi-finals and qualifying in the top-five and can win a few races we're going to have a real good shot at the Winston championship. We're in a really good position, we just have to capitalize on it."

While Dunn has been extremely close all season, McDonald's dragster driver Cory McClenathan has been the one to beat. McClenathan has won four races, including three in a row. Still, Dunn is in striking distance, only 221 points out of first place.

"It's really tight," Dunn said. "It's even tighter than it looks on paper because Cory and his guys have been struggling a little bit lately. You make your own luck in this business and the McDonald's team has been running so good this season that Cory has forced some drivers to make mistakes against him, myself included. But he's definitely there for the taking. You've got to be able to take advantage of it when you can and hopefully we'll be able to do that in the next few races."

McClenathan isn't the only object in the way for Dunn. Other drivers are starting to make some noise, too. Joe Amato has earned victories at the Castrol Lone Star Nationals in Dallas and Mopar Parts Nationals in Englishtown, N.J. Kenny Bernstein, Jim Head, Larry Dixon and defending Winston champion Gary Scelzi are all within striking range. Dunn says at this point in the season any driver in the top-10 still has a legitimate shot at winning the championship.

"That's how tight it is right now," Dunn said. "One race can make a major difference. Our program just seems to be a little off right now. When my driving is good the car is off just a tick and when the car is good, my driving is off just a little. But yet we've still managed to be good. We just haven't got to that level where we're winning some drag races. I think if we can keep going in the same direction and fine tune our operation a little I think we'll be right there."

Dunn says his team is right on the edge. Once they get that first win, more are sure to follow.

"We've got to keep our consistency going," Dunn said. "It's really hard to win out here. But it's a numbers game. If you keep doing the things you should be doing, positive things will start to happen."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jim Head , Larry Dixon , Mike Dunn , Kenny Bernstein , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Cory McClenathan