CONCORD, N.C., October 15, 2018: After earning his ninth No. 1 qualifier of the season last week at Texas, No. 2-ranked Clay Millican was looking to maintain the hot hand and cool off current No. 1 driver Steve Torrence at the Carolina Nationals.

As it turned out, things got plenty hot, pretty quickly, as the Parts Plus Top Fuel dragster qualified third in the field with a blazin’ quick 3.729@328.86 mph. And how’s this for a hot streak? The popular Parts Plus driver has now qualified in the top-four spots at 13 of the last 14 events, a remarkable feat.

Sunday’s elimination rounds were primed to really heat up despite mild temperatures in the area, as the top-3 point-leaders in the Countdown for the Championship—Torrence, Millican and No. 3-ranked Tony Schumacher— would all be competing in the same ladder at zMAX Dragway.

“It would be great if we can advance, especially if Stevie [Torrence] exits early, but he’s not going out without a fight, that’s for sure,” Millican said beforehand. “Hat’s off to the Parts Plus team for putting me in position to do some great things Sunday—they’ve been doing it all year.”

Millican and the entire Parts Plus Top Fuel team have proven to be fighters, too, and they came out swinging for their first-round matchup with Kyle Wurtzel, who was making only his fourth start of the 2018 Mello Yello Series. The Parts Plus Top Fuel dragster roared off the line, with Millican seizing the starting-line advantage.

Then the highlight reel began. The Parts Plus dragster started to shake the tires, so Millican pedaled it to get it to hook back up, but the car began dropping cylinders.

Millican’s engine started gobbling itself up and erupted with a huge fireball but the Tennessean kept his cool, crossing the finish line with a win light, officially running a 4.405@244.16 mph to top Wurtzel’s 5.574@119.80 mph.

When a FOX Sports reporter asked Millican if he was still breathing after the fiery finish, the Parts Plus driver deadpanned, “Barely.” He added, “Happy that we got the win light, but I’m upset we broke a part, because that’s so rare for this team.

“We’re a single-car team, so we don’t have as many parts on hand as most of the multicar teams, but this Parts Plus team will get it done and make sure I’m ready for round two.”

The Parts Plus team proved once again they could stand the heat and the pressure, as Millican showed no signs of slowing down in his round-two matchup with Schumacher, running a 3.729@328.86 mph. Unfortunately, that wasn’t quick enough, as Schumacher ran a 3.712@330.55 mph, giving him the win light with a margin of victory of 0.0384 seconds.

“It’s not the way we wanted to end the day, but I am so proud of this team for turning the car around and making sure I had a chance to win it—I just came up short,” Millican said. “We may not have won it all today, but this team is a group of winners for sure. We’re going to fight to the end.”

The good news is that Millican remained at No. 2 in the standings, ahead of Schumacher. The bad news: points-leader Torrence went 3.703-seconds at 329.67 mph in his Capco Contractors/Torrence Racing dragster to defeat Brittany Force in the final round, earning his ninth win in 2018 and 25th in his career. He also became the first driver in Top Fuel or Funny Car history to win the first four races of the Countdown to the Championship.

Countdown to the Championship Point Standings, Following the 22nd of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series:

1. Steve Torrence, 2,592; 2. Clay Millican, 2,423; 3. Tony Schumacher, 2,382; 4. Leah Pritchett, 2,297; 5. Antron Brown, 2,253; 6. Brittany Force, 2,243; 7. Mike Salinas, 2,228; 8. Doug Kalitta, 2,225; 9. Terry McMillen, 2,221; 10. Scott Palmer, 2,149.

NEXT RACE

Las Vegas Nationals

The Strip

10/25–10/28