FOUR-TIME VIRGINIA CHAMP MCCLENATHAN AIMS TO CLOSE THE COUNTDOWN GAP BROWNSBURG, Ind. (Oct. 7, 2008) - No. 2 in points Cory McClenathan is aiming to close the gap between him and Top Fuel points leader Tony Schumacher this weekend at the third...
FOUR-TIME VIRGINIA CHAMP MCCLENATHAN AIMS TO CLOSE THE COUNTDOWN GAP
BROWNSBURG, Ind. (Oct. 7, 2008) - No. 2 in points Cory McClenathan is aiming to close the gap between him and Top Fuel points leader Tony Schumacher this weekend at the third annual Virginia NHRA Nationals at Virginia Motorsports Park. The driver of the FRAM Top Fuel dragster enters the third race of the six-event Countdown to 1 playoffs 166 points behind his Don Schumacher Racing teammate.
McClenathan is the winningest Top Fuel racer at Virginia Motorsports Park, having collected four titles at this track in five final-round appearances (2006, 1999, 1998 and 1995), the most he's won at any one track in his career. He was also the 1997 runner-up.
With only 12 rounds of racing remaining (20 points awarded per round win in eliminations) in the 2008 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series, he realizes it will take a near-perfect performance for the FRAM team to chip away at Schumacher's points lead. He also knows that Schumacher will have to struggle in these final three events for McClenathan to have any chance to earn his first Top Fuel championship in 17 years of trying. But his determination remains strong, and so does the pressure.
"The pressure is the same every time you get in the car, whether it's running for the championship or trying to qualify. I'm trying hard either way," said McClenathan, who has one victory in three final rounds this season. "Sometimes you try too hard and mess up and I've seen myself do that this year. Normally, I would say the pressure hasn't seemed to bother me, but I've made some mistakes as a driver this year that have cost the FRAM team some rounds. It's not always the driver, this is a team deal. But you'd better have some broad shoulders because you're going to take the brunt of the finger pointing when you make a mistake. I wouldn't want it any other way."
Despite the uphill challenge he's facing as the 2008 season winds down, he is happy with the changes that the NHRA has made in the Countdown to the Championship points system this season.
"I like the structure of the Countdown better than I did last year," said McClenathan, who missed it in 2007. "It should definitely involve the top 10 (drivers in points). I think that it's something they should have done last year, but we all knew they had to start from somewhere to make some adjustments, and I think they've made the right ones so far. It's good for everybody. It's given the No. 9 and No. 10 people a place to shoot from and it's made it interesting. And the fans really seem to like it.
"The front-runners throughout the season have remained the cars to beat during the Countdown. The FRAM dragster has been able to move up a couple of spots and we feel good about that. Obviously, most of us feel like we're just running for second place at this point. It is what it is. Tony Schumacher and the Army team would really have to mess up. We'll have to wait and see how things play out.
"We're just going to play the hand we've been dealt and be as good as we can and work hard, just like we do every single weekend. We certainly don't go out there to lose; we're out there to win every weekend for FRAM, for DSR, and for our sponsors. Our job won't change any in Richmond."
McClenathan is also looking over his shoulder at the other Top Fuel racers who are fighting for the championship: Antron Brown, 13 points behind him, followed by Larry Dixon (24), Hillary Will (25) and Brandon Bernstein (35).