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MCCLENATHAN LOOKING TO MAKE CHAMPIONSHIP MOVE AT MOTORPLEX ENNIS, Texas -- Hopefully, the third time will be the charm. At least that's what Cory McClenathan is thinking heading into the final three NHRA Winston Drag Racing...

MCCLENATHAN LOOKING TO MAKE CHAMPIONSHIP MOVE AT MOTORPLEX

ENNIS, Texas -- Hopefully, the third time will be the charm.

At least that's what Cory McClenathan is thinking heading into the final three NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series events for 1998. For the Anaheim, Calif. driver, this is all too familiar ground. With only 12 rounds to go before a new NHRA Winston Top Fuel champion is crowned , McClenathan is stuck right in the middle of a place he's been three other times in his career -- in contention.

However, in 1992, 1995 and 1997 McClenathan had to settle for second place. In those seasons, it wasn't meant to be. He would have to patiently wait for another chance to win his first Winston championship.

As this season winds down, McClenathan's patience is growing thin. After leading the points race from March to September, McClenathan's lead was snatched by defending champion Gary Scelzi at the Pioneer Keystone Nationals. However, following a late night at the rain-delayed Parts America Nationals in Topeka, McClenathan regained the lead, a mere 11 points over Scelzi.

"Not only do I have to look ahead of me, but I also have to look over my shoulder, too," McClenathan said. "I would think this is the closest Winston championship chase of all time. I've had so much fan mail and the interest from the fans at the track has been very exciting. It's the closest thing I've ever been in as far as a points battle, and I've been around for a while."

McClenathan will try to increase his lead in the Winston standings with a strong run at the 13th annual Revell Nationals presented by HiLo/O'Reilly Auto Parts, Oct. 22-25 at the famed Texas Motorplex.

And a strong run is possible. McClenathan is the two-time defending winner of the event and last October he took advantage of the Motorplex's fast surface to record the first 320 mph speed in NHRA history.

"It seems to be one of those tracks where you can use all the power you have and that really helps us a lot," McClenathan said. "For some reason it seems like when we go there things fall together for us. We look forward to going to places where we have a winning record, that's just the nature of the business. We used to have horrible luck there, but for some reason, that's not the case anymore."

He says the 321.77 mph run will always be one of his best drag racing memories.

"It was one of those deals where we weren't trying to do, it just happened," McClenathan said. "We ran 319 the run before and Mike felt like we really had a lot more there. We thought, 'If it happens, it happens,' and it did. It's great to be a barrier-breaker, especially when a lot of people were trying hard to do it. And now that run is a part of the history of our sport and will be there forever."

After posting five victories at a torrid pace in the first 12 races, McClenathan has only earned one victory in the last seven events. At three of those events, he suffered early round exits.

"We've been going through a hard-luck period," McClenathan admitted. "What's even more frustrating is that we have a strong car but nothing seems to be coming our way lately. But as everyone knows in drag racing, anything can happen in 12 rounds."

In fact, the way he figures, the championship may not be decided until the season's final round.

"If I had my choice I wouldn't want it to end in Pomona, but I think that's going to happen," McClenathan said. "It's going to be one of those nail-biting deals. Ten years ago I dreamed of just being in this position, with a chance of winning the Winston championship. Now, I think because I've been here more than a couple of times, not only am I used to it, but I feel like maybe I'm in a little better position than some of the other guys because the pressure isn't bothering me.

"We've never had this many contenders at the end of the deal. Right now I wouldn't want to be the guy out there guessing who's going to win."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Gary Scelzi , Cory McClenathan