South by Northwest
After Quick Start, Parts Plus Top Fuel Team Concludes Western Swing with 2nd-Round Exit at Northwest Nationals
KENT, Wash., Aug. 5, 2018: It didn’t take long for Parts Plus/Great Clips Top Fuel driver Clay Millican to turn heads during the weekend’s NHRA Northwest Nationals, blazing down the track at Pacific Raceways in Q1 at 3.743 seconds, temporarily commanding the No. 1 qualifier spot and earning three bonus points in the process.
Following uneventful runs in Friday’s and Saturday’s remaining sessions, Millican was No. 3, accomplishing the team’s ongoing goal each race weekend of qualifying in the top 5, if not securing the pole itself like the Parts Plus driver has done seven times this season, including at last weekend’s Sonoma Nationals.
The fast start in Seattle was indicative of the Parts Plus team’s aggressive approach heading into the weekend, after dropping from No. 2 in the NHRA’s top 10 Top Fuel standings last week to No. 3, 143 points behind leader Steve Torrence but only 6 behind new No. 2 Tony Schumacher.
“Without a doubt, the team’s goal is to start the Countdown in that No. 2 spot,” Millican says. “That’s our plan—our mini-championship, you could say. And that’s only because I don’t think we can get to the No. 1 spot. But stop and think back over the last five years when the goal was just to be in the top 10 [at the start of the Countdown].
“It’s great to think the bar has been raised, but we won’t be satisfied with anything less. Obviously, Steve is the guy to beat right now, but for the moment, our target is being No. 2 by the time the Countdown kicks off.”
Earning the No. 3 qualifier spot put the Parts Plus Top Fuel team in a seemingly advantageous position heading into Sunday. Millican would begin the elimination rounds lined up against veteran Nostalgia drag racer and second-generation competitor Jim Maroney, who recently made his Top Fuel debut during July’s New Hampshire event, qualifying for the race despite making only one run because of budget concerns.
Maroney, who jokingly claims his Top Fuel goal thus far is “to not be noticed,” definitely had the Parts Plus team’s attention on Sunday. Stringer Performance crew chief David Grubnic didn’t take the Top Fuel newcomer lightly despite the lack of “big show” events under his belt; after all, Maroney has been racing his entire life.
With nothing to lose, Maroney fired off the line to seize the starting-line advantage but was up in smoke early, while the Parts Plus Top Fuel dragster cruised straight down the groove with an impressive email@example.com mph to earn Millican his 196th Top Fuel round win.
In the latest chapter of what is quickly becoming a Top Fuel rivalry, Millican lined up against Leah Pritchett in E2. Two of Millican’s three Top Fuel wins have been against Pritchett, but the 30-year-old Californian has held the upper hand most recently, with a 9-6 edge overall.
Unfortunately, that trend continued Sunday, as Pritchett was a bit faster off the line and held on for the win after Millican hazed the tires early. Officially, the Papa John’s dragster’s firstname.lastname@example.org mph topped the Parts Plus car’s email@example.com.
Antron Brown, who has come on strong of late, went on to defeat Pritchett in a nail-biter to earn his first victory of 2018 in Sunday’s final round.
For Millican, who remains 6 points behind Schumacher following Seattle, it was the latest near-miss that could prove to be crucial as the Parts Plus team gears up for its late-season title run, Grubnic says.
“It’s that last little 2 percent that represents 98 percent of our problems,” Grubnic tells National Dragster. “I’ve been preaching this for the last two months: attention to detail in everything. Everybody has 95 percent of the puzzle. We all have these long things [chassis], and we’ve all got wheels and tires and engines. That’s the 95 percent. The remaining 5 percent of the puzzle represents the difference between 10th or 1st. When you’re in the top 5, it boils down to 2 percent that separates No. 1 from No. 5.”
Having wrapped up the 2018 Western Swing, the Parts Plus team will take a break before heading to Brainerd, Minn., where Millican has performed well in the past.
Following Brainerd, the team will visit the Don Schumacher Racing shop to have their Parts Plus dragster front-halved before participating in pre-Indy testing, where Millican and Grubnic will also test tires for Goodyear.
“We’re excited about that,” Millican says. “Grubby will ensure [Goodyear] gets what they need, but it also gives us what we need. We’re not trying to go as fast as we can go—we’re just making sure we can go.”
NHRA Top Fuel Point Standings (following Seattle)
1. Steve Torrence, 1,251*; 2. Tony Schumacher, 1,090*; 3. Clay Millican, 1,084*; 4. Leah Pritchett, 1,083*; 5. Doug Kalitta, 995*; 6. Antron Brown, 927; 7. Terry McMillen, 759; 8. Brittany Force, 731; 9. Richie Crampton, 660; 10. Scott Palmer, 649; 11. Mike Salinas, 619; 12. Blake Alexander, 522. (*clinched Countdown spot)