CONCORD, N.C., April 30, 2018: You could say the four-wide spectacle in the NHRA Mello Yello Series is starting to grow on Parts Plus/Great Clips/ Strutmasters driver Clay Millican. On Sunday, Millican nearly became only the fourth driver—and the first Top Fuel racer—in the eight-year history of the annual zMAX Four-Wide Nationals to reach the finals and win the event despite finishing second in the first two rounds.
“I’m not the biggest fan of the format, but if we keep running like this every year, I may fall in love with it yet,” says Millican, who was the No. 1 qualifier a year ago with a firstname.lastname@example.org run and reached the finals in 2016. “It was cooler than expected today early today, but that was good for us. We showed once again we can run this car in any kind of conditions and not lose a step.”
Qualifying wasn’t exactly smooth sailing, though, as the team’s recent struggles in Friday’s homerun session continued at Charlotte. But Millican bounced back in a big way in Q4, running the second-quickest pass of the session on a hot track with a email@example.com, earning bonus points in the process. Millican, who would start Sunday in the No. 7 position, was confident the Parts Plus car would run well when it counted despite the inherent chaos of the zMAX four-wide.
“The Christmas Tree is different with the staging procedure, with the four cars out there, but the format is essentially the same as usual when you get down to it,” Millican says. “It’s still one driver, your car and your team. That said, it can be more challenging for the crew chief, as teams only get one qualifying run in each lane, so there’s less information to make an effective decision as to which lane to select. I’m glad Grubby [Stringer Performance crew chief David Grubnic] has to do that and not me. For me, I just have to go out there and beat three other drivers.”
Or as Millican illustrated Sunday, beating just two other drivers in the early rounds is pretty dang good, too, with each quad’s winner and the runner-up both advancing.
With the unexpected always expected during four-wide racing, it shouldn’t have been surprising when plenty of traditional heavy hitters were eliminated early, including all three Don Schumacher cars in a span of five minutes.
The Parts Plus/Great Clips/ Strutmasters dragster was also in danger of heading toward the exits when the car started to lose traction in Sunday’s first round before Millican pedaled it and got it hooked up to finish in the runner-up spot, 0.5647 seconds (a little over 100 feet) behind Dom Lagana. Millican edged Tony Schumacher by 0.321 seconds (more than 100 feet) ahead, while Leah Pritchett’s day ended in fourth.
“The car just got in front of me a little bit, and I moved it around a whole lot, and the car ended up spinning the tires, but fortunately I was able to get it hooked back up and take second,” Millican explains. “Only at the four-wide can you ‘lose’ but still advance. It’s a wild spectacle, for sure.”
With the sun emerging, and the temps rising in the air and on the track, Millican lined up in lane one against Mike Salinas, Lagana and Doug Kalitta for E2. This time, Millican was second off the line but went straight down the groove, advancing to the finals as the runner-up, finishing 0.0813 seconds (about 38 feet) behind Kalitta. The Parts Plus/Great Clips/ Strutmasters dragster topped Lagana by 0.044 seconds (about 20 feet), with Salinas finishing last in the quad.
That put Millican in position make history as the first Top Fuel driver to take home a four-wide Wally without winning a quad in round one or two. In the event’s eight-year history, only Greg Anderson (Pro Stock), Robert Thight (Funny Car) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) have managed to take advantage of the unique nuances of Charlotte’s four-wide to earn that rather dubious honor. Lined up against Torrence, Kalitta and Terry McMillen in the final four, Millican ran hard off the line but spun the tires at about the midway point.
Torrence went straight down the groove and never looked back, winning the quad and the event with a firstname.lastname@example.org mph.
“Of course, we wanted to win, but we’re pretty happy right now. The Parts Plus/Great Clips/ Strutmasters dragster is still the quickest car out there. Our only problem right now is maintaining that consistency because our car is either a rocket ship or a dud—there’s no in-between with it.
“I think it’s just a matter of Grubby figuring out that math problem to make the Parts Plus car run more consistently; when that happens, we will be winning more trophies. But I’m going to focus on doing my job. It’s fun knowing we’re capable of beating anyone out there each and every time we line up.”
2018 Mello Yello Series Top Fuel Point Standings (Through 6 of 24 Events)
|POSITION||DRIVER||POINTS||POINTS BEHIND LEADER||VEHICLE|
|01||Steve Torrence||503||0||Capco Racing/Torrence Motorsports|
|02||Tony Schumacher||426||-77||U.S. Army Dragster|
|03||Doug Kalitta||401||-102||Mac Tools Dragster|
|04||Clay Millican||384||-119||Parts Plus/ Great Clips/ UNOH dragster|
|05||Antron Brown||362||-141||Matco Tools Dragster|
|06||Leah Pritchett||315||-188||Papa John’s Dragster|
|07||Brittany Force||311||-192||Monster Energy Top Fuel Dragster|
|08||Terry McMillen||305||-198||Amalie Motor Oil Dragster|
|09||Richie Crampton||263||-240||SealMaster dragster|
|10||Scott Palmer||249||-254||CatSpot/Tommy Thompson Motorsports|