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DI RETURN ROAD: NHRA Heartland Nationals

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It was an announcer’s nightmare for the Top Fuel final round matchup, but another dream come true for Clay Millican.

After his emotional first career Top Fuel win last season in Bristol, Millican broke through for his second victory on Monday at the NHRA Heartland Nationals in Topeka.

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Millican knocked off Terry McMillen in the vaunted “McMillican” final round matchup both have previously joked about, finishing the job after four No. 1 qualifiers this season. The storyline all weekend – and into Monday thanks to inclement weather – was Millican hoping to finally trade a green No. 1 qualifier hat in for the yellow hat the victor gets in the winner’s circle.

The consistency arrived for crew chief David Grubnic and Millican this weekend, and that could be a dangerous thing for the rest of the Top Fuel class for the rest of 2018.

“All the kids that work on this car have been just unbelievable at not making mistakes, and the car’s been really good and (Grubnic) found some consistency,” Millican said. “That’s all I’ve been saying all year, ‘We’ve got to be consistent,’ and Grubby found it.

“He is so focused. He is so fun to work with, but when it’s time to run that car, it is game face 100 percent. It’s just tuner, tuner, tuner, and right now we’ve got the baddest man on the planet.”

Millican beat Doug Kalitta in the second round with a 3.724 at 334.90 mph and then Grubnic dialed up something special in the semifinals, as Millican went an incredible 3.676 at 331.20 to defeat Tony Schumacher.

That run came on Monday, as did the 3.727 at 332.59 he ripped off against McMillen in the final round, showing some impressive speeds all weekend.

In a unique twist, all three No. 1 qualifiers in Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock ended up in the winner’s circle, but it was meaningful for Millican to meet another single-car racer like McMillen in the final round.

Both continue to make tremendous strides in the class – with Millican jumping to second in points behind Steve Torrence – and that wasn’t lost on Millican following the victory.

“He had an awesome weekend; he was definitely on it, (crew chief) Rob Wendland and that whole bunch,” Millican said. “Terry’s team and our team, we’re both single-car teams, we’re both small teams and kind of family-run operations.

“When we got ready for the final, I said, ‘It’s a good day no matter what happens,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, but ain’t neither one of us is up here to lose,’ and that’s a fact. We were definitely serious about it, but he’s a good guy and he’s a threat right now because he goes down the race track.”

CAN’T-MISS NEWS

FORCE STAYS RED HOTThis is clearly the best stretch Courtney Force has enjoyed in her career. Through varying conditions, Force was incredible in Topeka, qualifying No. 1 and taking out teammate and defending world champ Robert Hight in the final round for her second straight victory.

She strengthened her points lead in the loaded class, and 2018 is turning into the best season of her career with three wins already.

We could have seen it coming after a 2017 that didn’t feature a win, but did include perhaps Force’s most consistent performance behind the wheel, and a career-best third place finish.

Adding Brian Corradi to the mix and Force continuing to improve has made this an increasingly dangerous team, and the results have proven that thus far.

“It’s been really insane. I’m proud to be part of this Advance Auto Parts team. Being in the points lead, coming off of a back-to-back win, it’s just insane. I got on my radio and told my guys that they are just unbelievable. It’s so much fun driving this race car and it’s been a handful out here this weekend,” Force said. “Coming to a track where the conditions have changed drastically every single day, I have to give a lot of credit to my crew chiefs Brian Corradi and Dan Hood and every single guy on my team. It was a Sunday morning race that turned into a Sunday 7 p.m. race with a cooler track. We were able to get it done even with a lucky first-round win having to pedal it down there. We lost lane choice in the second round but still were able to turn the win light on and make it a little bit longer weekend. Having to run on a Monday makes for a long weekend, but it feels good to be in the winner’s circle with my team.”

BIG FIRST FOR KRAMER: Deric Kramer opened some eyes when he qualified No. 1 at the second race of the 2018 Pro Stock season. After his weekend in Topeka, it’s safe to say he is for real.

Kramer posted his second career No. 1 qualifier and then beat world champs Erica Enders and Jason Line in back-to-back rounds, including knocking off Enders in the final round with a 6.615 to claim his first career Pro Stock win.

The win against Line included a dynamite .006 reaction time, while he was .009 on the tree against Enders. The magnitude of the situation clearly didn’t bother him, adding another young standout to the Pro Stock mix. His win also gives the class its seventh different winner in eight racers, an impressive number considering standouts like Line, Greg Anderson, Jeg Coughlin and Drew Skillman have yet to win in 2018.

“I’ve been working a long time for this,” Kramer said. “The first win leaves me a little speechless but I’m already looking for the next one. Always great as a driver to do your part and I’ve certainly been doing that all weekend.”

SMITH CONTINUES TO AMAZE: In a class this loaded with talent and another 30-plus cars on the property in Topeka, a two-time winner in Pro Mod wasn’t supposed to come this fast. But, as usual, Rickie Smith is in a class by himself.

The three-time Pro Mod world champ has two victories through the first four races in 2018, knocking off class newcomer Chad Green in the final round.

Smith again traversed through a stacked lineup in eliminations, beating Harry Hruska, Shane Molinari and Todd Tutterow to reach the finals.

It’s given Smith an 80-point lead on Mike Janis, further exemplifying his overall greatness in this class.

“I’m just glad we won the thing,” Smith stated. “I think every round we had to work for it. Everybody was tough competition. You hate to start watching points, but when you start getting going you hate to give any round up. As a driver I have to try the best I can.”

TROY JR. ALSO GETS A FIRST: The decision to race Top Alcohol Dragster is proving to be a great one for Troy Coughlin Jr. The young standout has made impressive strides in a short time this season, picking up his first TAD win at the “Cavalcade of Stars” at Summit Motorsports Park.

It’s a great sign of progress for Coughlin, who stepped away from a Top Fuel ride late last year to gain more experience. He’s done just that with the Rich McPhillips-led TAD team, and Coughlin has simply been grateful for the opportunity.

Winning this race in this car with this team, right here in the great state of Ohio at this track, it just doesn’t get any better,” Coughlin said. “To be the No. 1 qualifier and convert that into a race win is very satisfying. I’ve known from the start this McPhillips Racing team was capable of winning and dominating like this and to have it come together after just a handful of starts says a lot about this tenacious crew.”

FURTHER VIEWING

Whoa!

First off, we’re glad to see that Top Alcohol Dragster driver Steve Collier was okay and avoided any serious injuries. But, wow, what a blow over during the weekend in Topeka.

Drag Illustrated Live Episode

Wes Buck with Drag Illustrated Live Episode No. 100! Some major announcements, some excellent build-up AND special guests Clay Millican, Erica Enders and Alex Laughlin. CBAO for life!

Get Your Popcorn Ready!

I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the “interaction” between Erica Enders, who ended up as a runner-up in Topeka, and Tanner Gray. Both are great racers and Pro Stock is churning out some killer storylines in 2018. We’re going to welcome any drama and it’s definitely a good thing to see racers who are not afraid to voice their opinions on camera. Gray’s future is certainly bright, and Enders is as good and as candid as they get in the sport.

Wheelstand Alert!

Harry Hruska with a brass set of you know what on this Pro Mod pass over the weekend. A massive wheelstand, keeps in it and ends up with a pretty darn good run of 5.85 at 245 mph. If you need an example of what makes this class special, I’ll definitely point you to this video.

Emotional Win For Pharris

It was a strong weekend for the NMCA at its Bluegrass Nationals at Beech Bend Raceway Park, but one of the coolest storylines was Daniel Pharris’ victory in Street Outlaw. Looking to honor his grandfather, who unfortunately passed away on Friday, Pharris grabbed the victory against Shawn Ayers with a 4.353 at 175.98. It was certainly a bittersweet win, but also an awesome way to honor his late grandfather.

ON SOCIAL

Congrats, Topeka Winners!

McMillican

You can’t forget a great weekend from Terry McMillen, who already has two final round appearances this season.

Serious Carnage!

Bob Tasca III has been featured far too often for the wrong reasons this year. It’s a bummer, but you have to love Tasca’s resolve. He’ll end up on the right side of luck soon enough.

More Carnage

Pomona winner Matt Hagan lauded his team’s hard work in recent weeks, and most expect him to be in the thick of the championship mix at the end of the year. Unfortunately, there was some carnage in Topeka.

Rainy Day Vibes

This definitely sums up a rain delay.

Green Machine

I’m really enjoying all the different looks we’re seeing from Jonnie Lindberg and Jim Head on the Head-owned Funny Car. The green might be my favorite.

Cloud Alert!

Cool shot, but not the best weather for drag racing this weekend.

More New Technology

This could be interesting. If there’s any way to get the feel of a live event into your living room, I’m all for it.

Fan Art

I mean, that’s dedication or something – I guess? Wow.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My initial reaction from Sunday was amazement at the amount of fans who stuck around through an eight-hour rain delay in Topeka to watch a couple rounds of eliminations that evening. Maybe it’s too much of a rosy outlook at times, but I like the direction of the sport as a whole. There were many different associations racing this weekend, and it’s a tribute to all of the good things going on right now in the sport. I’m hopeful the momentum will be taken advantage of effectively, leading to a great summer and fall.

Speaking of summer, things get really heated in a couple weeks. Chicago – and a PDRA race – close out the month, and it kicks off a stretch of four straight race weekends. Let’s have some fun this summer!

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