McClenathan's win tightens Top Fuel point race COMMERCE, Ga. -- It took a little longer than they thought, but Cory McClenathan, crew chief Mike Green, the MBNA Top Fuel crew and owner Joe Gibbs gained their first win in 1999. The fallout from...
McClenathan's win tightens Top Fuel point race
COMMERCE, Ga. -- It took a little longer than they thought, but Cory McClenathan, crew chief Mike Green, the MBNA Top Fuel crew and owner Joe Gibbs gained their first win in 1999.
The fallout from McClenathan's second consecutive Pennzoil Nationals victory at Dinwiddie, Va., near Richmond, was felt in the NHRA Winston Series standings. His 23rd career title jammed the standings like a Los Angeles freeway during a morning commute. He was the fifth driver to win in Top Fuel this year and only six races have been run.
Just 21 points separate the second through fifth-place drivers in the standings. More close competition is expected during the Advance Auto Parts Southern Nationals, May 14-16, at Atlanta Dragway.
"This points race is really close," McClenathan said. following his win over Larry Dixon Monday afternoon (May 3) following a rain delay. "I didn't realize it was that close. I hadn't been paying that much attention, to be honest."
That could be expected. McClenathan, winner of six races in back-to-back seasons (1997-98), started slowly. He hadn't been to the finals until returning to Virginia although he had been to the semifinals in his two previous races. He was sixth in points.
The problem, it seemed, was in the clutch. Green scrutinized the clutch, found some things he didn't like and made some changes. "They really made a difference in the car's performance," McClenathan said.
"We had been getting tire shake about 100 feet out (from the starting line) all season, but we didn't get any in Virginia. Whatever the crew fixed, it works. Green, [technical advisor] Jim Brissette and all the MBNA crew guys did a great job.
"This was also a big win for us because it was the first time we put MBNA in the winner's circle."
McClenathan qualified second with a 4.593-second run, then beat Randy Parks in the first round and Doug Kalitta in the second before rain forced a one-day delay in the competition. By the time McClenathan went back to work, it was the semifinals and he was paired against point leader Mike Dunn, the only two-time winner in 1999. Using a quicker reaction time (.474 to .508), McClenathan beat Dunn to the finish line - 4.710 to 4.695.
In the title round against Larry Dixon, the MBNA dragster ran down the track flawlessly, stopping the clocks in 4.684 seconds at 310.05 mph while Dixon's car lost traction and he settled for a 5.383 at 223.99 mph.
The championship fight is apparently just heating up. Dunn leads with 475 points, followed by Dixon at 418, Tony Schumacher at 404, McClenathan at 399 and Doug Herbert at 397. Drivers earn 20 points for each elimination round win.
If McClenathan's theory holds, he might be able to jumble the points even more after the Southern Nationals. "I feel good about coming into a race I've won before," he said. "We won at Atlanta last year and in 1995. Anytime you come into a race where you have good records and you've won a race, you're going to feel more comfortable."
This might be the perfect time for McClenathan to put together a win streak. There is one thing he would like to remedy by Nov. 15, the day after the season ends. He wants to win the championship, especially after finishing second in final standings four times -- 1992, 1995, 1997 and 1998. The points he earns now are just as important as the ones he earns in November.
Qualifying is set for 4 and 7 p.m. Friday, noon and 4 p.m. Saturday. Sunday's eliminations begin at 11 a.m.
1999 Top Fuel Record Standing: 4th, 399 points Round Record: 10W-5L Finals: one - Richmond Wins: one - Richmond Quickest ET: 4.573, Houston Fastest Speed: 319.20 mph, Houston
Career Top Fuel Record First Season: 1991 Best Season Finish: 2nd - '92, '95, '97, '98 Races Qualified: 150 Qualifying Streak: 141 consecutive races Wins: 23 (third in all-time Top Fuel victories) Runners-up: 12 Last Win: 5/3/99 -- Richmond Last Final: 5/3/99 -- Richmond No. 1 Qualifier: 24 times Last No. 1 Qualifier: 1998, Brainerd Quickest E.T.: 4.559, 1998, Houston I Fastest Speed: 322.92, 1998, Phoenix
At Atlanta Best Finishes: Won in 1998 & 1995