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Abrupt Hollywood Ending to a 4-Star Season

Clay Millican, Parts Plus Top Fuel Team Finish 3rd in Points After 2nd-Round Upset at Pomona

POMONA, CALIF., Nov. 11, 2018: For Parts Plus Top Fuel driver Clay Millican, Pomona, Calif., turned out to be a Hollywood beginning but not the blockbuster ending he was looking for. But nothing can take away from what has been a 4-star year for Millican, crew chief David Grubnic and the entire Parts Plus/Stringer Performance crew.

 

Over the weekend at the Auto Club NHRA Finals, Millican returned to Pomona, where his best season in Top Fuel yet got underway quickly—literally. During February’s Winternationals, the Parts Plus Top Fuel dragster recorded a run that would help set the tone for rest of the season: 3.628 seconds@322.04 mph, earning Millican his first No. 1 qualifier of the year and resetting his own elapsed time record of 3.631 achieved last year in St. Louis.

 

To help put things in perspective, Millican had earned 10 No. 1 qualifiers during his entire Top Fuel career entering the 2018 campaign—the Parts Plus driver doubled that this season.  

 

“Right from the start, I told everybody that my crew chief, David Grubnic, runs this car differently than anybody else out here—'Grubby’ is just one of a kind,” Millican says. “I feel like other teams were trying to catch up with us all season. And, of course, we were trying to catch Stevie [Torrence], but turns out nobody was going to catch him.”

 

 

 

 

 

The gap between No. 1 Torrence and No. 2 Millican was not insurmountable when the Countdown to the Championship kicked off. But then Torrence recorded 5 straight wins to practically seal the deal early and deny Millican and the nationwide viewing audience on FOX Sports a suspenseful Finals showdown. It wasn’t impossible for Millican to surge ahead on Sunday, but it almost would have taken an act of a higher power to prevent Torrence from making it to the track to make it happen.

 

Undaunted, Millican came out Friday night swinging like Dodgers slugger Justin Turner in the home-run session, launching hard and keeping the header flames high above the rear wing all the way down the track en route to a blazing-quick 3.702@327.18 mph, temporarily flying the Parts Plus pilot to the number-one spot. Millican's Q2 incremental times: 60ft-0.824 sec.; 330ft-2.105; and 660ft-2.972/292.52 mph.

 

On Saturday, Grubby didn’t let up in Q3 as Millican was on a good-looking pass until the Parts Plus dragster began losing power and coasted to a 3.8 finish.

 

Each team jockeying for position in Sunday’s field would pull out all the stops in Q4, the last qualifying session of the season—and, as it turns out, also one of the quickest.

 

Leah Pritchett’s 3.631 in Q4 tied for the second-quickest pass in history behind Millican’ s 3.628 national record set at the aforementioned season-opener.

 

Pritchett and Millican were part of an elite club of 3.60 Pomona fast-trackers in Q4 as the Parts Plus dragster ran a 3.681, Brittany Force recorded a 3.667, and Blake Alexander enjoyed a career-best 3.692 in a remarkably quick session. Millican would eventually be put to the test with Alexander the following day.

 

Although his 11th No. 1 top spot in ’18 eluded him, No. 4 qualifier Millican was all smiles moments after Saturday’s session ended, answering succinctly when asked by a FOX Sports reporter on the air how he would sum up the Parts Plus team’s season. Beaming at the camera, Millican proudly bellowed, “Awesome!”

 

The popular Tennessean went on to thank Parts Plus and our strategic manufacturer partners who have helped support Millican and his team for years, along with the Stringer Performance crew’s other sponsors. Clay seemed to have a twinkle in his eye, as if he knew the Parts Plus car was going to do something special on Sunday—and it almost happened.

 

While he qualified 4th, Millican was nonetheless in a challenging spot to open eliminations Sunday, as he lined up against his buddy Terry McMillen, whose similar surnames have confounded many an announcer over the last few years.

 

There was no confusion here, though, as the Parts Plus dragster went straight down the groove with a nice-looking pass for the win. Officially, Millican’s 3.748@327.35 mph topped McMillen’s 3.823@313.88 mph.

 

Millican would give up lane choice, though, to Alexander the Suddenly Great, who was emerging as a dark-horse favorite to win the event. This thrilling side-by-side race would come down to a matter of seconds—milliseconds, actually...0.0215 to be exact.

 

Alexander seized the starting-line advantage and battled with the Parts Plus dragster all the way to the finish line, taking the win on a holeshot to end Millican’s dream season earlier than expected.

 

But what a season to wake up to and reflect upon: 2 back-to-back Wally trophies (giving Millican 3 total), 10 No. 1 qualifiers, and 18 top-4 qualifiers out of 24 races, and tons of deserved exposure that goes with those kinds of accomplishments.

 

The 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Series was definitely a season to remember for the team, Parts Plus and all our manufacturer partners.

 

“I can’t say enough about this team or my sponsors,” Millican says. “Parts Plus has stood by me when things weren’t going so good, and together with all their great manufacturers, we went to work with the best parts in the business to make a serious run at the championship—no small feat for a single-car team. I think about the back-to-back wins at Topeka and Chicago—that was incredible, and proved this Parts Plus team was for real.

 

“And all those No. 1 qualifiers—wow, we had a bunch of ‘em, along with plenty of top 5s, which really—that’s our first goal every weekend—so we did great there. We just gotta work on turning those No. 1s into wins. My hat’s off to Grubby and the team for putting me in a position to win every week. I think I said this last year at the end of Pomona, and it turned out to be true: This team’s gonna be tough to beat next year, that’s for sure.”

 

Torrence went on to officially clinch the championship early Sunday and put an exclamation point on his season with his sixth-straight event win—becoming the first driver to win all 6 Countdown playoff races—beating Tony Schumacher, who nudged past Millican for the No. 2 points spot in the final rankings posted below.

 

Top Fuel Point Standings (top 10) following the 54th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, the final of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

 

1. Steve Torrence, 2,900; 2. Tony Schumacher, 2,596; 3. Clay Millican, 2,573; 4. Leah Pritchett, 2,456; 5. Brittany Force, 2,417; 6. Antron Brown, 2,378; 7. Mike Salinas, 2,308; 8. Doug Kalitta, 2,308; 9. Terry McMillen, 2,301; 10. Scott Palmer, 2,231.