Team Gibbs driver grabs Top Fuel title of Pennzoil Nationals RICHMOND, Va. (May 3) - It took an extra day but it was certainly worth the wait. Cory McClenathan drove his Gumout-sponsored MBNA Top Fuel dragster to the championship of the Fifth ...
Team Gibbs driver grabs Top Fuel title of Pennzoil Nationals
RICHMOND, Va. (May 3) - It took an extra day but it was certainly worth the wait. Cory McClenathan drove his Gumout-sponsored MBNA Top Fuel dragster to the championship of the Fifth Annual Pennzoil Nationals presented by Trak Auto Monday afternoon to capture his first win of the 1999 season.
"It's an unbelievable feeling to win our first race for Gumout right here at the Pennzoil Nationals," an elated McClenathan said to TNN announcer Bob Frey while a nationwide television audience looked on. "It couldn't have come together for us at a better time. Hopefully, this is just the first of many wins this year for Gumout and the MBNA dragster."
McClenathan and the rest of the top drivers in the National Hot Rod Association had to wait an extra day to finish this race as rain descended on Virginia Motorsports Park just after McClenathan had won his second round race on Sunday afternoon. "I was the only car to win a quarterfinal race before the rain so I got to sleep like a baby knowing I had advanced while the other guys had to stay up all night and worry," McClenathan said. "Plus I didn't have to rush this morning. The weather ended up being a real good ally. Still, we had some racing to do today and I credit my crew for having the car prepared.
"The track was a big unknown after all of the rain. Yesterday was terrible for the left-hand lane, but I ended up winning in the left lane today. The NHRA Safety Safari did a fantastic job of getting this track fixed and I thank them for their hard work.
"The only nervous part for me was that the other guys who had survived through the first-round did get to make one more lap than me today so they knew how the track had changed. Our strategy at that point was just to get this car from Point A to Point B and not worry about anything else. It worked and now we're all happy."
McClenathan beat Larry Dixon in the finals with a 4.684-second lap at 310.05 mph to Dixon's 5.383-second pass at 223.99 mph. Prior to the finals McClenathan had dismissed current Winston points leader Mike Dunn, 1998 Rookie of the Year Doug Kalitta and Randy Parks. This year's win marked the third title for McClenathan at Virginia Motorsports Park and makes him the first back-to-back Top Fuel champ in the track's brief history. "They say Virginia is for Lovers," McClenathan said. "Which sounds about right because I sure do love Virginia."
Across the Team Gibbs pit, Funny Car driver Cruz Pedregon had another impressive weekend, reaching the quarterfinals in his Gumout-sponsored Interstate Batteries Pontiac Firebird before losing to eventual champ John Force. The race marked the third straight semifinal appearance for Pedregon, who has now logged 10 elimination round wins in 1999.
"I was really excited about racing today," Pedregon said. "When I woke up this morning I had a pretty good feeling that I was going to be racing Force, so I was really up for him. He's the guy that everyone needs to get around if we're going to win the championship.
"As a driver you have to lay it on the line and that's what we did today. If we can get the car and the driver on the same page, then this Interstate Batteries team is going to be tough to beat. You win as a team and you lose as a team, and I don't plan on letting any more slip away from me for the rest of the year."
Pedregon started the elimination rounds out of the No. 2 position after posting a 4.943-second lap at 290.63 mph during the qualifying sessions. He went on to beat Dean Skuza in the first round with a 5.016-second pass at 296.05 mph and Cory Lee in the quarterfinal round with a 5.088-second lap at 254.57 mph.
In his race against Force, Pedregon smoked his tires at the 200-foot mark and watched Force post his best lap of the weekend.
"Wes (Cerny, crew chief) had us set up to be aggressive and give John a run for his money," Pedregon said. "Aggressiveness is what wins races, and in a contest like the one I had today with Force you don't want to leave anything on the table. This car is running pretty good right now. It's consistent, it's getting down the racetrack and I know for a fact that it doesn't matter where you start winning races whether it's at the beginning, the middle or the end of the year. You just have to get on a streak at some point. The pendulum is on the verge of swinging our way. We're solid in the points and things are going to come our way very soon."
Pedregon's effort kept him in third place in the Winston championship Funny Car points standings. Meanwhile, McClenathan's win lifted him two spots to the No. 4 position in the Top Fuel standings. Team Gibbs now turns its attention to the Advance Auto Parts Nationals, which takes place May 13-16 in Atlanta.