"A little bit of all of the above," Cory McClenathan answered when asked if he was crazy nervous, crazy anxious or crazy excited about ending the 2009 Full Throttle Drag Racing Series this weekend in Pomona, Calif., with a chance to win his first Top Fuel championship.
Having notched just one victory this season compared to the five each for the Nos. 1 and 2 in points, Tony Schumacher and Larry Dixon, No. 3 McClenathan is right in the mix as the 24-event season comes to a conclusion at the 45th annual NHRA Finals this weekend. The top three are separated by 48 points, an indicator of how tight this championship quest has become in the last few events. Schumacher leads Dixon by one point, while McClenathan sits in third, 47 behind Dixon, well within striking distance.
"I'm really eager to get it over with and see what the outcome is going to be," said McClenathan. "At the same time, we're not in the best position that we could be. It would be nice to be a little closer, like within one round, instead of a little over two rounds.
"If Tony and the Army team do their jobs, and Dixon and his team go out and do their jobs, they're going to be fighting for it instead of us. But we've seen a lot of different things happen this year. We've seen a lot of top people go out first or second round. And if that happens to either or both of the guys in front of us, and we go on to the final and win this thing, then we can put ourselves in a position to win the championship.
"I think the fans are getting exactly what they wanted and it's making us crazy, but I think we're up to the task. I'm excited about that. To be able to have a chance to win the championship is really cool, because there are a lot of people who don't have a chance.
"The Countdown to 1 has brought it all down to one race, and there are three of us ready to win Top Fuel, and, after looking at all the categories, it looks like Top Fuel is going to be the one to watch."
As for setting a national elapsed-time record to earn 20 bonus points, "It's very attainable," said McClenathan. "The temperature is predicted to be 68 degrees for a high on Thursday, so the conditions should be good. There's a 20-percent chance of rain on Friday, so we know it will be cool then. We're also going to run later in the day, so it's very attainable at this point.
"But first, we need to qualify ahead of these guys in as many sessions as we can. We need those little points right now." NHRA offers bonus points (three, two and one) to the top three qualifiers in each qualifying round.
"We don't see any reason not to go for the record, but we want to get qualified in the field right away and then we'll bear down on it. If we can run really well on Thursday in that one session, then we'll go for it Friday evening."
McClenathan is a two-time Pomona 2 winner: in 1992 and 2002. He's also been a Pomona 2 runner-up in 1994 and a Pomona 1 runner-up in 2003 and 2008. He was low qualifier twice in Pomona 1 (1993 and 1994), and twice in Pomona 2 (1993 and 1996).