Indianapolis, Ind.: Sept. 4, 2018: It was all systems go for Clay Millican and the Parts Plus Top Fuel team heading into Labor Day’s NHRA U.S. Nationals event at Indy, affectionately known by race fans as “The Big Go.” In past years, that meant win big or go home for Millican, who seemed to be consistently on the bubble of those who could possibly secure a top 10 spot in the Top Fuel standings to qualify for the Countdown to the Championship in the Mello Yello Series.

Nowadays, though, Millican, crew chief David Grubnic and the entire Stringer Performance organization work hard to punch their ticket to the dance early, with the only question this year being whether they would enter the Countdown in the No. 1, 2 or 3 spot. Since the points reset in the top 10 following Indy, Millican was jockeying to reclaim that No. 2 spot after slipping to No. 3 in points in recent weeks.

After front-halving the Parts Plus car at Don Schumacher Racing’s facility following Brainerd, Millican had reason to be confident, achieving promising numbers in testing leading up to Indy. That was a huge relief for the Tennessean, as Millican is driving a DSR-built chassis in 2018 after legendary car-builder Brad Hadman retired following the conclusion of last season.

“It ran pretty good—believe you me, we really stepped on the gas five or six times, and I felt great about it,” says Millican. “What testing allowed us to do is step on the gas with that fresh front half from Schumacher. We dropped the Parts Plus car off, and they delivered it to the race track six hours later. That was amazing.”

Following incredible back-to-back wins early in the season, Millican “slowed” to an average an ET of 3.8 seconds, with successful rans down the track 51% of the time. However, the Parts Plus team has improved down the homestretch—highlighted by seven consecutive top-5 qualifiers—showing those early season signs of dominance by the quickest car on the planet.

Grubnic, Millican and the Parts Plus crew came out ready to make a statement Friday in qualifying—perhaps too aggressively. Millican ran a solid-if-unspectacular 3.824 to get things going at “The Go,” followed by a disappointing Q2 where the new-and-improved Parts Plus car smoked the tires early.

As good as the Parts Plus team has been in the cold weather, they proved this single-car team can do it all under the warm late-summer sun as well Saturday. In Millican’s first qualifying run of the day, the Parts Plus team illustrated just how undaunted they are when it comes to beating the heat.

Lined up against Richie Crampton, Millican piloted the Parts Plus/Great Clips dragster perfectly straight down the groove to rocket to the No. 2 spot in the field in what was the best run of the session. Millican’s Q3 incremental times: 60ft-0.841 sec.; 330ft-2.136; and 660ft-3.023/287.53 mph.

In the process, Millican earned four qualifying bonus points to move into the No. 2 spot with yet another 3-second hit. The Parts Plus car’s 3.762-second pass put the team just .006 second behind polesitter Mike Salinas.

With a spot in the top three virtually assured, the Parts Plus team decided to ease up a bit in their attempt to make it three consecutive No.1 qualifiers at Indy. Still, Millican was thrilled with the Parts Plus team’s efforts to withstand the heat, literally and figuratively.

“I have 17 No. 1 qualifiers and three wins [Top Fuel]—the ratio is way wrong,” Millican says. “So while it’s great to be No. 1, that doesn’t always mean a lot as we haven’t been able to translate that into win lights at Indy. Hopefully, by being No. 2, we can get those win lights now at this point in the season, where every single point is crucial.”

Millican maintained the hot hand early Sunday, running a 3.821@321.88 to edge No. 15 qualifier Richie Crampton, who was up in smoke at the 330-ft mark in Sunday’s first round of eliminations.

The Parts Plus driver, who had lane choice over Billy Torrence in round 2, Millican fired off the starting line, apparently en route to an apparent win light—then both cars went up smoke, resulting in a full-blown pedal fest all the way to the end. Torrence barely triumphed in a furious battle of throttle work and dropped cylinders. Millican’s incremental times: 60ft-0.852 sec.; 330ft-2.251; and 660ft-3.457/203.65 mph. Torrence’s incremental times: 60ft-0.862 sec.; 330ft-2.201; and 660ft-3.343/210.44 mph, giving him a margin of victory of 0.0357 seconds (approximately 13 feet) over Millican.]

Nonetheless, Millican received a hero’s welcome when he returned to the Parts Plus hospitality tent, which was packed by Parts Plus member Smythe Automotive and their valued customer. And with Millican reclaiming the No. 2 spot in the Countdown, there was certainly plenty to cheer about.

NHRA Top Fuel Point Standings following the 64th annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, the 18th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series:

TOP FUEL POINT STANDINGS (FOLLOWING INDY)

  1. Steve Torrence, 1,422; 2. Clay Millican, 1,234; 3. Tony Schumacher, 1,195; 4. Leah Pritchett, 1,170; 5. Doug Kalitta, 1,166; 6. Antron Brown, 1,112; 7. Terry McMillen, 959; 8. Brittany Force, 839; 9. Mike Salinas, 768; 10. Scott Palmer, 755.

Next Race: Sept. 13–16, Mohnton, Pa.