LATE SEASON SPURT PUTS McCLENATHAN BACK IN TOP FUEL TITLE HUNT TOPEKA, Kan. - Cory McClenathan was about one day away from pulling out the year 2000 daily planner and mapping out his plans for drag racing in the new millenium. Quite literally,...
LATE SEASON SPURT PUTS McCLENATHAN BACK IN TOP FUEL TITLE HUNT
TOPEKA, Kan. - Cory McClenathan was about one day away from pulling out the year 2000 daily planner and mapping out his plans for drag racing in the new millenium.
Quite literally, the Anaheim, Calif. racer that has been one of the most consistent challengers for the NHRA Winston Top Fuel championship in recent seasons, was going to throw in the towel on the 1999 campaign. Things just weren't clicking for his Joe Gibbs-owned MBNA team.
And then it happened. He won the U.S. Nationals. In an instant, McClenathan, who had struggled through much of the season, put his name back in the hat as a candidate for one of the most competitive Top Fuel title chases in NHRA history. He hopes to move closer to his championship winning goal with a Top Fuel victory at the 11th annual Advance Auto Parts NHRA Nationals, Sept. 30-Oct. 3 at Heartland Park Topeka. McClenathan is the defending Top Fuel winner at the $1.7 million race, the 18th of 22 events in the $40 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series. "Some people were starting to talk about us not being in contention for the championship for the first time in a while," said McClenathan, who sits seventh in the standings, only 126 points out of first. "Well, I guess we proved them wrong. There's 20 rounds of racing left and anything can happen. We've got to take it one round at a time and make the most of our opportunities." If there's one competitor in the Top Fuel category who could write a book on how NHRA championship points are gained, it's McClenathan. He's finished a distant second in the Winston point standings four times during his career, including the last two seasons. Many felt that 1999 would finally be his year to claim the title. However, a slow start to the season left his team without much momentum. All that changed when he defeated young Andrew Cowin at Indianapolis. "That may have been my most important U.S. Nationals win," said McClenathan, also a winner at Indy in 1996. "We were actually talking about beginning to work on plans for next year before we won. Winning at Indy changed everything. It was a big lift for this team, especially since we have a new crew chief (Rick Cassel) on board." McClenathan claimed six victories in each of the last two seasons and seemed headed for championship glory, only to watch in frustration as Gary Scelzi celebrated his first two titles. "Consistency wins races and championships," McClenathan said. "We have it now and we need to advance to the semifinals and win a couple of races if we are going to stay in contention."
Amato steps up: Joe Amato, driver of the Tenneco Automotive dragster, made a major statement in his quest for an unprecedented sixth NHRA Winston Top Fuel championship by winning for the first time at his home track in Reading, Pa. His 50th career victory was good enough to move him into second in the points chase, 36 behind leader Tony Schumacher. "Winning that race definitely helps with momentum at a time when we need any advantage we can get," Amato said. "In my mind we should be the points leader, but I guess everybody could say the same thing. It's just crazy. I think it's going to come down to the end and I just hope we're one of the cars there. It's very competitive and everybody's playing hardball."