The most tenured driver in the class, with 17 years of experience to draw from, has come ever so close to claiming that crown, earning second place in the point standings four times. A lot has changed for McClenathan this year. He joined Don Schumacher Racing full time and is driving more relaxed in the knowledge that he has a solid crew chief in Mike Green and a strong team he can rely on day to day.
In what some would call a resurgent season, McClenathan has been to three final rounds, winning the event in Las Vegas in April and qualifying No. 1 twice along the way. The consistently strong performances by McClenathan and the FRAM crew have placed him No. 4 In the Countdown to 1 six-race playoffs for the championship. He sits just 50 points out of first place with 24 rounds (20 points per round) or racing to decide the champion.
"The FRAM Top Fuel team is very excited," said McClenathan. "We know where we stand in the points going into this weekend's start of the playoffs. We're two-and-a-half rounds of racing out of first place going into the last six races. I'm sure it's going to be tough for my teammate and points leader Tony Schumacher (U.S. Army dragster), since he has to give up his big lead (567 points down to 30). He's been so tough all year, but it puts us in a position with our FRAM Top Fuel dragster to go in and have a chance to win a championship.
"The Countdown format is definitely working out and I'm excited about that this year. It has everyone behind us breathing down our necks so it's going to be very exciting for the fans and the racers to see how this thing plays out."
McClenathan is equally thrilled with the opportunity to race at another of Bruton Smith's stellar racing facilities this weekend.
"It's a great honor to start the Countdown at Bruton Smith's new track in North Carolina," he added enthusiastically. "I don't think there could be a more fitting place to kick things off: a brand-new facility and the first time everybody has raced there. Everyone is going to have to be on their game and everyone will be on fair ground. I think it's going to be very interesting. You're going to see some spoilers who are out of the top 10 trying to spoil the deal for everybody in the top 10. A lot of the top-10 cars are going to have to race each other on Sunday and that's going to be exciting to watch."
CORY MCCLENATHAN QUICK FACTS
* No. 4 in "regular season" Top Fuel point standings after 18 events in 2008 (one win in three final rounds, four semifinal, five quarterfinal, six first-round finishes)
* Enters the Countdown 1 in No. 4, 50 points out of No. 1
* Won the NHRA Nationals in Las Vegas April 13 this year, his 30th career Top Fuel victory in 53 final rounds
* Runner-up in 2008 season-opening race in Pomona and in Brainerd
* Finished 2007 season 12th in Top Fuel points, the first time out of the top 10 since 2001
* Has recorded 421 career round wins in Top Fuel
* No. 1 qualifying twice in 2008 (Atlanta and Denver), has 32 career top qualifiers
* Runner-up in St. Louis in only final-round appearance in 2007
* Recorded 400th round win in Top Fuel in Richmond 2007
* Has 30 Top Fuel victories in 53 final round appearances, fourth among active drivers on all-time wins list
* Has finished No. 2 in the standings four times (1992, 1995, 1997 & 1998)
* Finished No. 10 in rookie season in 1991. Made first four-second run
* Made NHRA history with first run in the 4.70s (4.799) at Reading in 1992
* First driver to break the 320-mph barrier with 322.17 mph run in Dallas in 1997
* Swept the three-race Western Swing in 1997 en route to four consecutive wins and career-high six victories in eight final rounds
* Won four of the first six races in 1998. Equaled career-best with six wins in eight finals
* Won the U.S. Nationals twice (1996, 1999)
* Qualified No. 1 at 31 races, including once this season (Atlanta) and a career-high seven times in 1993
* Missed four races in 1993 after crash in Rockingham and still finished sixth in the Top Fuel points
* Age 45 (January 30, 1963); born in Wichita, Kansas, now lives in Brownsburg, Ind.; has 17-year-old daughter Courtney
* Joined Don Schumacher Racing in 2008; third season with sponsorship from FRAM
FRIDAY, Sept. 12 – PROFESSIONAL QUALIFYING SESSIONS at 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.
SATURDAY, Sept. 13 – PROFESSIONAL QUALIFYING SESSIONS at 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.
SUNDAY, Sept. 14 – Pre-race ceremonies, 11 a.m. FINAL ELIMINATIONS begin at noon
Saturday, Sept. 13, ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise two hours of qualifying coverage at 4 p.m. (ET).
Sunday, Sept. 14, ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will telecast NHRA Race Day, a 30-minute news magazine show, at 11 a.m. (ET).
Sunday, Sept. 14, ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise three hours of final round eliminations at 7 p.m. (ET).
SATELLITE (Analog Feed):
Friday, Sept. 12, 8 – 8:30 p.m. (ET) – Horizons 2 / Transponder 12K (12160 MHz, horizontal)
Saturday, Sept. 13, 7:30-8 p.m. (ET) – Horizons 2 / Transponder 12K (12160 MHz, horizontal)
Sunday, Aug. 14, 7 – 7:30 p.m. (ET) – Horizons 2 / Transponder 12K (12160 MHz, horizontal)