Richmond Top Fuel Preview

McCLENATHAN HITS WINNING STRIDE EARLY FOR A CHANGE DINWIDDIE, Va. -- Don't look now, but Cory McClenathan is leading the NHRA Winston Top Fuel point standings -- and it's only April. Traditionally a slow starter, the ...

McCLENATHAN HITS WINNING STRIDE EARLY FOR A CHANGE

DINWIDDIE, Va. -- Don't look now, but Cory McClenathan is leading the NHRA Winston Top Fuel point standings -- and it's only April. Traditionally a slow starter, the McDonald's dragster driver has kept the momentum going that he started to build midway through the 1997 season. He won six times during the course of the final 11 races last season. This season McClenathan has picked up where he left off, winning the ATSCO Nationals in Phoenix, Houston's Pennzoil Nationals and the Fram Nationals in Atlanta. After finishing second three times in the Winston standings, (1992, 1995 and 1997) his early season performance has his confidence level at an all time high. This could be his year. McClenathan, from Anaheim, Calif., will try to add to his win total and points lead at the fourth annual Pennzoil Nationals presented by Trak Auto, April 23-26 at the Virginia Motorsports Park. The $1.6-million race is the sixth of 22 events in the $30-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series. "Usually we don't start off this well," McClenathan said. "We've always been kind of a late comer in the season. I feel real comfortable knowing we have a good strong race car. But there's a lot of really good cars after the same prize. We'll have to wait and see, but I'm happy to be in this position early in the season." McClenathan leads Jim Head by 83 points, and lurking in the distance are top rivals Gary Scelzi, Joe Amato, Kenny Bernstein, Larry Dixon and Mike Dunn. McClenathan knows the pendulum could swing either way at this point in the season. With 17 races remaining on the schedule, there's still a long way to go. "The standings are close and there are cars that are going to come on strong as the season continues," McClenathan said. "Actually, I like it being this close. I'd hate to be way ahead and be looking over my shoulder. Gary (Scelzi) had to do that last year and that's when we won four straight and came on strong at the end of the season. It's going to be a long tough year, but I'm looking forward to it." Ironically, at this event last year Scelzi defeated McClenathan in the Top Fuel final, providing a futuristic look at the way the Winston standings would end. But McClenthan has also had success at VMP, winning the inaugural race there in 1995. He says it's a scene he'll never forget. "That was an incredible weekend for me," McClenathan said. "Especially to have been there with Joe (Gibbs, car owner) and to win while wearing the (Washington) Redskins helmet. That just about brought down the stands." * There's only one King: Cory McClenathan predicts there'll be some 320 mph runs at the fourth annual Pennzoil Nationals presented by Trak Auto. That is, with the right weather conditions. There have been 320 mph runs posted at each stop on the Winston Drag Racing Series so far. While McClenathan owns the current national speed record at 322.92 mph, he says that in no way gives him license to the 'King of Speed' nameplate. He says there's only one Kenny Bernstein. "We love holding the record and going 320, we've done it a few times and it's an incredible feeling," McClenathan said. "But Kenny will always be the 'King of Speed.' That's just the way it is."

* Schedule: Pro qualifying is at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. April 24. Qualifying continues at noon and 4 p.m. April 25. Final professional eliminations start at 11 a.m. April 26. Federal-Mogul competition starts at 10 a.m. April 23. * Tickets: Tickets are available for the Pennzoil Nationals presented by Trak Auto. Call Virginia Motorsports Park, (804) 862-3174, or Ticketmaster, (804) 262-8100, for ticket information. * On TV: ESPN2 will televise two hours of highlights and live final round coverage from the Pennzoil Nationals presented by Trak Auto on April 26 at 4 p.m. (EDT). ESPN2 will show two hours of same-day qualifying highlights on April 25 at 7 p.m. (EDT).

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Jim Head , Larry Dixon , Mike Dunn , Kenny Bernstein , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Cory McClenathan