Pomona: Championship preview

NEW SEASON, ANOTHER WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP OPPORTUNITY FOR CAPPS, McCLENATHAN AND JOHNSON POMONA, Calif. - No one likes an alarm clock. We need one. We complain when ours doesn't work as we expect it to. But for most of us, it's probably our least...


POMONA, Calif. - No one likes an alarm clock.

We need one. We complain when ours doesn't work as we expect it to. But for most of us, it's probably our least favorite necessity. Hated, even.

Tick, tock. Tick, tock.

Everybody looks for that extra minute, extra hour, just a little bit of extra time.

Every driver wants a Full Throttle world championship. They may not talk about it, but it must be there -- reminders of that one thing they haven't yet done. The Kragen O'Reilly NHRA Winternationals at historic Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Feb. 5-8, will be another new start. It's another chance to get the job done for many drivers who have come oh so close but have yet to experience the feeling of winning a world championship. The $1.8 million race will be televised on ESPN2 and ESPN2HD.

And for many drivers, that clock keeps ticking.

Of the long line of drivers chasing their first NHRA Full Throttle Series world championship, a few are at the front of the overdue line. They've been there for a while. It must feel as if every season is a raffle contest and every year their number doesn't get called.

Cory McClenathan and Kurt Johnson lead the list. Both have four second-place finishes, McClenathan in Top Fuel and Johnson in Pro Stock. Both finished third in 2008.

Ron Capps, McClenathan's teammate at Don Schumacher Racing, is a three-time bridesmaid, finishing second in the Funny Car points in 2005, 2000 and 1998.

These three drivers know well the frustration of putting it all on the line for 10 months out of the year, winning races and gutting out the nervous energy, only to come up short of their ultimate goal. They are regarded as some of the best drivers in NHRA history. This season they will try to put the finishing touch on their world championship quests.

Capps, who has won 25 races in his career, says that this year, his crew chief, Ed McCulloch, is mad.

"Ace," Capps' longtime tuner, hated seeing the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger team finish eighth last year, its worst outing since a 12th-place finish four years ago. McCulloch is tenacious; he has already beaten back cancer. Surely 2009 could be his year.

"I tell you, Ed McCulloch has come out with fire in his eyes," Capps said from preseason testing in West Palm Beach, Fla. "We're really angry that we didn't do better than we did last year, especially at the end of last year. We finally got the fire we were talking about since the last race at Pomona. We're extremely motivated to start to get some race wins for NAPA Auto Parts. You can tell by the mood of everybody in the pit area because this stuff trickles down from the top. I can tell by driving the car that it's a completely different animal, and I'm excited."

McClenathan, who has won 30 races in his 18-year career, starts the season with two new crew chiefs, an entirely new crew, and a car hauled around as a spare last season.

"We wanted to start with something fresh, basically," said McClenathan, driver of the FRAM dragster. "We have some parts and pieces that we're trying out to help better our program, and it looks as though they're all going to work really well. You need that edge, so I'm excited to be able to try some new things."

Johnson, who has been one of the most prolific competitors in Pro Stock during the last 14 years, has never finished outside the top 10 in points in his career, and next to John Force, he has one of the most impressive streaks going: He has won at least one race each season for the last 14 years.

He has finished second or third in nine seasons, but never first. He will try to work on changing that statistic once again this year in his ACDelco Chevy Cobalt.

"The competition in NHRA Pro Stock is tight," Johnson said. "Everybody is swinging out there, and everybody has decent horsepower. It never gets any easier. In drag racing, you're always doing something different, and your creativity is always pegged. That's what it's all about, and to make more horsepower, you have to be open-minded."

They all have 11 months before the 2009 Full Throttle world champions are crowned.

When will the alarm go off?

SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying sessions are scheduled for 2 p.m. on Feb. 5-6 and at 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Feb. 7. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 8.

TICKETS: Tickets are available for the Kragen O'Reilly NHRA Winternationals. Call NHRA at (800) 884-NHRA (6472) or visit nhra.com or ticketmaster.com.

ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 10 p.m. (ET) on Saturday, Feb. 7. ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise NHRA Race Day, a 30-minute pre-race show, at 11:30 a.m. (ET) on Sunday, Feb. 8. ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise three hours and 30 minutes of eliminations coverage beginning at 6:30 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Feb. 8.

LUCAS OIL SERIES: The Kragen O'Reilly NHRA Winternationals also will feature competition in six 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 Feb. 5. Lucas Oil Series eliminations begin at 8:15 a.m. on Feb. 6.

-credit: nhra

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Series NHRA
Drivers Kurt Johnson , Ron Capps , John Force , Cory McClenathan , Don Schumacher