Sept. 18, 2018: Every point counts. That was the mindset of Parts Plus Top Fuel driver Clay Millican and the rest of the Stringer Performance-owned team heading into the Dodge Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway, as the Countdown heated up to determine the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Series champion.

Millican and crew chief David Grubnic, who strived to make every single run matter on the road to the Countdown in the Parts Plus driver’s best season yet in Top Fuel, came out swinging on Friday.

Lined up against Steve Torrence in Q1, the Parts Plus driver rocketed to No. 1 faster than a Kenny Chesney hit song with a near-bullet-speed run of 3.747@ 328.30 mph, topping Torrence’s 3.27.74 in an exciting side-by-side race to the finish. Ironically, these two incredible driving forces would meet again on Sunday in a lightning-quick battle that was even more thrilling if not satisfying for Millican and his fans, who are rooting for the Tennessean to claim his first Top Fuel title.

If Millican fans were happy with Q1, then they had to be ecstatic with Q2, as the Grubby-tuned Parts Plus dragster ran a blink-and-you-might-miss-it pass of 3.723@330 mph to strengthen the Stringer team’s grip on the top spot.

You might think Millican and Grubby would be satisfied and ease up a bit on Saturday, with a top-three spot practically assured—but again, that’s not how this team is thinking right now. As if defiantly proving a point that Millican is the one to beat down the homestretch of the Countdown, the Parts Plus dragster launched hard with a roar, shooting past Mike Salinas en route to the team’s third-straight 3.7 run.

Officially, Millican ran a 3.766@329.34 mph, the second-quickest pass of the session, while remaining No. 1.

Millican showed no signs of slowing down much in Q4, either. Squaring off against Torrence, the Parts Plus car was again the quicker of the two—and the quickest of the session for the third time with another impressive 3.7, officially, a 3.746@326.56 mph.

In what was Millican’s most impressive qualifying effort yet in Top Fuel, the Parts Plus driver and his team were crowned qualifying kings with green caps for the eighth time this season. For those of you counting at home, that’s already five more No. 1 qualifiers than last year, with five events remaining in 2018.

Most important: Millican picked up three more crucial bonus points that could prove to be the difference down the road in Pomona. All told, Millican would finish the weekend with 11 out of a possible 12 bonus points. While the Parts Plus car’s Q4 pass did not move him up the qualifying ladder, but it did hold off all comers – such as Tony Schumacher (3.754) and Leah Pritchett (3.758), who are directly behind him in the run order. Torrence earned a lone bonus point and moved into fourth with a 3.762. The quick half of the field was filled with 3.7s and all but the bottom three qualifiers made 3-second runs, which pointed to an exciting day of Sunday eliminations.

Millican would start Sunday lined vs. No. 16 Jim Maroney in a favorable matchup for the Parts Plus pilot, who was pleased as punch but not shocked over his team’s brilliant consistency.

“This is the kind of weekend we’ve been building to all season,” Millican said Saturday evening. “If we make four runs like we’ve made the last two days, I like our chances. During these last six races, every point matters. It’s all points right now, and it’s vitally important we go down the racetrack [Sunday].”

The Parts Plus car did just that Sunday to kick things off with, yep, you guessed it—another 3.7 pass that not only bested Maroney but the rest the field with the quickest of the session. Officially, Millican’s 3.769@333.12 mph eliminated Maroney, who smoked the tires early and finally finished with a 4.53@1.76 mph.

Millican advanced to a round-two matchup with Doug Kalitta, who held a 25-12 win margin over the Parts Plus driver heading into Sunday. Make that 25-13. Even as the Parts Plus dragster “slowed” to a finish of 3.810@323.27 mph, Millican still notched another win light; Kalitta was in trouble early, exiting the event with a 4.475@183.82 mph.

After eliminating Mike Salinas to advance to the semis, Torrence would have his third opportunity of the weekend to outrun the popular Parts Plus driver —this time, it was a charmed .014-second hole-shot win over Millican in a nail-biter. Although the Parts Plus driver ran a 3.798@327.19 mph compared to Torrence’s 3.798@ 327.19 mph in E3, the Capco pilot’s quicker reaction time (.068 vs. Millican’s 082) proved to be the winning difference.

With Millican and the quickest car eliminated, Torrence went on to win the event, beating Tony Schumacher in the finals. Millican ended the day tied with Schumacher at 2,169 points each, 50 behind leader Torrence.

Afterward, Millican tipped his green hat to the hardest-working team in racing, illustrating once again the Parts Plus driver is a class act, win or lose.

 “Oh, man, that was a close one—one-thousandth of a second, to be exact. But we were the ones who came up short against Torrence in the semis. When we win, we win together, and when we lose, we lose together. Look out, because we are heading to St. Louis with the quickest car, and we will be racing on the home track of Stringer Performance—that bodes well for us. This team gave it their all to put me in position to win it all this weekend with four straight incredible qualifying runs and two win lights to reach the semis. I couldn’t be any prouder.”

NHRA Top Fuel Point Standings (following Maple Grove)

1. Steve Torrence, 2,219; 2. Clay Millican, 2,169tied with No. 3 Tony Schumacher, 2,169; 4. Leah Pritchett, 2,118; 5. Antron Brown, 2,116; 6. Doug Kalitta, 2,103; 7. Mike Salinas, 2,067; 8.Terry McMillen, 2,062; 9. Scott Palmer, 2,053; 10. Brittany Force, 2,052.

Next Race: Gateway Motorsports Park, St. Louis; Sept. 21–23.