After the first 15 NHRA events Cory McClenathan had yet to qualify for the NHRA's Countdown to the Championship.
His first qualifying run Friday in the Top Fuel division of the Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway clinched a spot in the Countdown. He then reeled off the fastest elapsed time (3.910 seconds) in his second run, sending him roaring into Saturday's two qualifying runs.
Top Fuel driver Cory McClenathan, leaving his crew in his first-round wake, came up with strong runs Friday in the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway. McClenathan drove his Fram Oil car to the No. 1 qualifier spot. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls » Purchase reprints of this photo.
But McClenathan won't focus on the Countdown until the final race of the regular season Sept. 7 at Indianapolis.
"That's just completely not important to me," he conceded. "It should be important and I want to be in that position. It's nice to have my name outlined from here on out, knowing that we're there.
"But the biggest thing is I want to win our guys a race before we get to Indy. (Crew chiefs) Phil (Shuler) and Todd Okuhara) and I have talked. We want to be in full stride by the time we get to Indy. That's still our goal. We're going to go to Reading (Pa., Aug. 20-23), and at Indy we'll test one day with everybody else on God's green earth. We're going to be ready for Indy."
McClenathan, fifth in season points, had the fastest run in the first qualifying round (4.004 ET, 298.01 mph).
He followed with a dramatic side-by-side win over teammate Tony Schumacher in the last qualifying round Friday. McClenathan clicked off a 3.910 ET at 305.36. Schumacher, second in season points and last season's champion, finished in 3.926 at 300.53 mph.
McClenathan said a considerable fuss was made of the fact some members of his crew went to work for Schumacher this year.
"I think the communication between the two teams is better now than it's ever been," McClenathan said. "Our crew chiefs are in the shop every single day working together and believe me I see it because I go in the shop 3-4 days a week. I know what the guys are doing, and I can tell you they work very hard. Every time you come out here as a driver you want to do the best you can for them, make sure it goes from A to B and do it the right way.
"As far as the cars, if you took the bodies off them you couldn't see the difference. If you looked at the tune-ups they're very similar."
In the day's first run, in 90-degree heat and stifling humidity, McClenathan ripped ran 4.004 at 298.01 mph. By the time the second run ended, about 8 p.m., the temperature had dropped and darkness was falling but McClenathan didn't think lane conditions were different.
"Tony and I just showed no matter how you do it, if the weather conditions are right, the cars can run the numbers to 1,000 feet," he said. "(Morgan) Lucas ran (3.942). I thought that probably would be low. Then we run what we did. That surprised me. I thought we would run some kind of low 90. To run 3.91 here right now, I think, is pretty good."
Afternoon conditions caused several dragsters to wobble as they made their first passes but there were no serious incidents.
"Negotiating the race track is not a big deal," McClenathan said. "I've been 19 years in a Top Fuel car and I've been coming to this track since 1988 so I know it very well.
"Whatever Todd and those guys tell me to do, I do it. They said I was going to slip a tire down there. I didn't do it either run so obviously the guys are doing their job."
MIKE BIALKA may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at 855-5861.
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