CLERMONT, Ind. -- Defending Top Fuel winner Cory McClenathan drove the Joe Gibbs-owned MBNA dragster to the top of the order Friday to open qualifying for the 46th annual U.S. Nationals, the world's most prestigious drag race. Tommy Johnson Jr., Kurt Johnson, Antron Brown and John Lingenfelter also were among qualifying leaders in their respective categories at the $2.6 million race, the 17th of 23 events in the $45 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.
McClenathan, from Anaheim, Calif., covered the Indianapolis Raceway Park quarter-mile in 4.655 seconds at 317.57 mph to lead the 16-car field.
"I'm glad we step up at the big races," said McClenathan, also a winner here in 1996. "It means a lot to come out on the first day and be the quickest car. I think that time will be good enough to keep us in the top three or four."
Ottumwa, Iowa's Johnson led Funny Car qualifying, clocking a 4.963 at 301.27 in the Hofmann Racing Pontiac Firebird.
"I'm pretty excited because I was really hoping for a 5.0-second run," said Johnson, who also led qualifying here last year after the first session. "This team is really starting to gel. We started to run pretty good at Brainerd (Minn.), so we just decided to leave the car alone."
In Pro Stock, Lawrenceville, Ga.'s Johnson posted a quick lap of 6.986 at 197.39 in his AC Delco Chevy Camaro.
Brown, from Chesterfield, N.J., had the quickest Pro Stock Motorcycle effort, recording a best of 7.324 at 182.70 on his Team 23 Suzuki. Defending event champion Matt Hines, who will lead the eight-bike Holley Pro Stock Dominator Duel field into eliminations Saturday, qualified second with a 7.364 at 178.24.
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