READING, Pa.(Sept. 13, 1999) - This has been a different kind of season for Cory McClenathan, who challenged Gary Scelzi for the last two NHRA Winston Top Fuel championships. McClenathan won six races in 1997 and six more in 1998, one more ...
READING, Pa.(Sept. 13, 1999) - This has been a different kind of season for Cory McClenathan, who challenged Gary Scelzi for the last two NHRA Winston Top Fuel championships.
McClenathan won six races in 1997 and six more in 1998, one more than Scelzi over the two-year span, yet McClenathan fell short of his goal. In 1999, he really hasn't felt like he's been a solid contender. Until now, that is.
McClenathan's strong, consistent winning performance at the U.S. Nationals (Sept. 6 at Indianapolis) thrust him back into the very crowded title picture. This Top Fuel battle is the closest in history, with only 119 points separating the top 10. That's just six rounds of racing.
The win "was a blessing," said McClenathan, driver of the Joe Gibbs Racing MBNA dragster, "and it comes at the right time. It's awesome the way the car's running. Now we need to bear down and stick with the combination that will go down the track."
The team will try to accomplish that goal during the True Value Keystone Nationals, Sept. 17-19, at Maple Grove Raceway. McClenathan enters the event seventh in points with 933, three rounds behind leader Tony Schumacher, who has 995.
"Consistency wins races and championships," McClenathan commented. "We have it now and some Top Fuel teams don't. We need to advance at least to the semifinals of the last six races if we are going to stay in contention.
"It was great to win our sport's biggest race at Indy. It was huge for me and the team, which is based in Indianapolis. Our car ran really consistent all weekend and I'm grateful to Rick Cassel and Jim Brissette, our co-crew chiefs, and Wes Cerny (crew chief on Gibbs' Funny Car team). They put their heads together and came up with a great combination."
Consistency definitely was the buzzword in the MBNA dragster's camp. McClenathan's slowest U.S. Nationals run was his first, a supercharger-exploding 4.965 seconds. The performance picked up with successive times of 4.644, 4.589, 4.577 (which put him No. 2 in qualifying) and 4.647 seconds.
On race day came back-to-back 4.666-second times, the first beating Steve Smith, the second Eddie Hill, who ran a quicker 4.646. McClenathan stopped Schumacher in the semis with a 4.598 and ended rookie Andrew Cowin's upset dreams with a 4.618 in the title round.
"I was really nervous going into the semifinals because I was the only driver among them who had won a race," McClenathan noted. This was his 24th career title and second this season.
"Some people were talking about us not being in contention, but I guess we proved them wrong. There are six races left - 24 rounds of racing - and anything can happen. I know it's an old cliché, but we just have to take it one round at a time. It's only 20 points (the number awarded per round win), but considering there are 10 drivers still in the running, 20 points could win a championship."
As far as McClenathan and the other nine drivers in the title hunt are concerned, the countdown to the championship begins at the Keystone Nationals. "We've had some success at Maple Grove (winning in 1997 and reaching the semifinals in 1995 and 1998). It would be nice to go in there and run as strong as we did at Indy," he concluded.
Cory McClenathan Quick Facts
1999 Top Fuel Record Standing: 7th, 933 points (three rounds out of first) Round Record: 20W-14L Finals: 2 - Richmond Indianapolis Wins: 2 - Richmond Indianapolis Quickest ET: 4.573, Houston Fastest Speed: 323.04 mph, Brainerd
Career Top Fuel Record First Season: 1991 Best Season Finish: 2nd - '92, '95, '97, '98 Races Qualified: 159 Qualifying Streak: 151 consecutive races Wins: 24 (third in all-time Top Fuel victories) Runners-up: 12 Last Win: 9/6/99 - Indianapolis Last Final: 9/6/99 - Indianapolis No. 1 Qualifier: 24 times Last No. 1 Qualifier: 1998, Brainerd Quickest E.T.: 4.559, 1998, Houston I Fastest Speed: 323.04, 1999, Brainerd
At Reading: Best Finish: won in 1997 1998 lost in semifinal round (to Mike Dunn)