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Millican Climbs To Pole At Winternationals

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 11 2018

Clay Millican starts the 2018 NHRA season with a pole victory at the Winternationals in Pomona, Calif.

Clay Millican claimed pole position in Top Fuel in record-setting style Saturday as qualifying concluded for the 2018 season-opening 58th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif.

Millican re-set the national elapsed time record for 1,000-feet with a pass of 3.628-seconds at 322.04 mph in his Great Clips/Parts Plus dragster. That run eclipsed the 3.631-second lap Millican recorded at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Ill., near St. Louis, during Round 3 of the Countdown to the Championship playoffs last fall.

“My crew chief, David Grubnic, runs this car differently than anybody else out here and he‘s just one of a kind,” said Millican, a 52-year-old native and resident of Drummonds, Tenn. “I knew it was a special run at the 330-foot mark, and I even shut the car off a bit early so we know we can improve upon those numbers at some point.”

Millican logged a career-best five poles in 2017 and now has 11 for his career. Millican, who tied his career-best point finish with a sixth-place overall result last season, will face Steve Chrisman Sunday in the first round of eliminations.

Reigning Top Fuel world champion Brittany Force of John Force Racing qualified second after running 3.675 at 322.04 in her Monster Energy dragster, and will line up opposite Terry Haddock in a 14-car field.

“The season starts here in Pomona (Sunday),” said Force, who failed to complete a full-pass during Friday’s two sessions of time trials. “So, we want that first win of the season. No better place to do it than where we accomplished so much last year, where we became the champions and won the final race of the season. We’d like to start the season off right.

“We were ‘all right’ qualifying, we only got down there once, but we’ll take it. It’s a new day tomorrow; we’re hoping to go straight down there and turn on some win lights.”

Steve Torrence, an eight-time winner last year and the championship runnerup, narrowly ended up third following his best pass at 3.676-seconds and 329.83 mph in his Capco Contractors dragster. Torrence will race Steve Faria in Round 1.

Matt Hagan (Funny Car) and Vincent Nobile (Pro Stock) also emerged as No. 1 qualifiers at the first of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Hagan paced the Funny Car category with a 1,000-foot run of 3.822-seconds at a track record 336.32 mph in his Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T recorded during his second lap of the day. After securing four poles last year, Hagan notched the 31st of his career Saturday.

“I can’t say enough about (crew chief) Dickie Venables. We’re so blessed and lucky to have him in our corner. He’s worth his weight in gold,” said Hagan, a two-time world champion for Don Schumacher Racing. “I get to crawl in that hot rod he tunes, put my mouthpiece in and hang on. It’s always a fun ride. Dickie has a gut instinct for how the track is, and what decisions are going to be made. He’s been doing that since he was my age (35) so he has a lot of experience and that’s just stuff you can’t get overnight.

“The weather was awesome today. That’s why we saw those low numbers. The conditions are supposed to be more similar to what we saw on Friday. When the sun comes out and stuff slows down, it changes everything. Push hard first round and then peel it back, but you’ve got to get out of first round. One pass at a time.” Hagan will race Jim Campbell in Round 1.

Two-time/reigning Funny Car world champ Robert Hight of arch-rival JFR qualified second after running 3.850 at 334.24 in his Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro SS, and will race Jeff Diehl. 

“When you look at the time slip (of his final pass), it was a little slow early,” Hight said. “Had we run early numbers like we did earlier today, it would have been a lot better. But we’re still in good position. Heck of a lot better than we were three months ago when we here, when we ended the last run in 15th spot. Tomorrow, I’m not nervous. I know my team has a good handle on this thing.”

In Pro Stock, Nobile took over the top spot after covering the traditional quarter-mile in 6.529-seconds at 210.41 mph in his Mountain View Tire Chevrolet Camaro SS fielded by Elite Motorsports during the first qualifying pass of the day. Nobile, who earned his eighth career pole and first since Reading, Pa., in 2016, will face Alan Prusiensky and the only Dodge Dart in the 16-car field during in the opening round of eliminations.

“What’s bad about being No. 1?” Nobile asked, rhetorically. “You try your best to qualify No. 1 at every race. It’s about holding up the trophy at the end of the weekend. I don’t care if you qualify No. 1 or No. 16 as long as you bring home the hardware.

“Am I surprised? Not really, just because we ran well Friday and testing went really well. All in all, it’s a great start and I’m happy to be back out here and looking forward to tomorrow. I’m definitely on top of the world. I have a great car and a great group of people behind me. This team put in a ton of work over the winter and we definitely made a few improvements to our engine and we have to keep moving forward.”

Drew Skillman, who was Friday’s provisional leader, qualified second at 6.547 and 210.54 in his Ray Skillman Auto Group Camaro SS. “We decided to try something on this Q4 just to see what would happen. It wasn’t the right direction,” Skillman said. “We have a great hot rod for tomorrow and we know what we’re going to do. Right now we have one car that’s a little bit faster than us, and they made a hell of a hit. We made four decent hits, so I think we have a great chance to win.”

Four-time world champ Greg Anderson of Ken Black Racing, the defending Winternationals winner and driver of the Summit Racing Equipment Camaro SS, rounded-out the top three with his run of 6.554-seconds at 211.00 mph _ top speed in the “Factory Hot Rod” class during qualifying.

Reigning world champion Bo Butner qualified sixth in his Jim Butner’s Auto Sales Camaro SS at 6.569-seconds and 210.54 mph and will face Tanner Gray and his Gray Motorsports Camaro. That pairing is a repeat of the final-round run that clinched the 2017 title for Butner and KBR during the 53rd annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at Pomona on Nov. 12.

“Well, the battle begins,” Butner said. “We had some issues and changed the bullet last night. It’s a brand new engine and has never sat in a car before but it looks really good.  We were 1-2-3 (at KBR) for the session, which is back like it used to be. So, I’m very happy and we should go some rounds tomorrow.”

FOX Sports 1 will air one-hour of qualifying coverage at 1 p.m. (EST) as a prelude to three hours of live finals coverage beginning at 5 p.m. 

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Sunday’s first-round pairings for eliminations at the 58th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif., the first of 24 events on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule. Pairings based upon results in qualifying, which ended Saturday. DNQs listed below pairings:

Top Fuel _ 1. Clay Millican, 3.628-seconds, 327.74 mph vs. 14. Steven Chrisman, 8.066, 90.75; 2. Brittany Force, 3.675, 322.04 vs. 13. Terry Haddock, 4.133, 254.76; 3. Steve Torrence, 3.676,329.83 vs. 12. Steve Faria, 4.081, 249.44; 4. Leah Pritchett, 3.687, 330.23 vs. 11. Scott Palmer, 3.796, 325.53; 5. Doug Kalitta, 3.703, 330.15 vs. 10. Richie Crampton, 3.782, 314.75; 6. Antron Brown, 3.717, 332.51 vs. 9. Mike Salinas, 3.748, 326.71; 7. Terry McMillen, 3.727, 327.03 vs. 8. Tony Schumacher, 3.732, 331.20. 

Funny Car _ 1. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 3.822, 336.32 vs. 16. Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.059, 311.92; 2. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.850, 334.24 vs. 15. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Camry, 4.059, 313.58; 3. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.860, 332.84 vs. 14. Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 3.984, 322.50; 4. Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.877, 328.94 vs. 13. Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 3.950, 322.58; 5. Ron Capps, Charger, 3.882, 331.12 vs. 12. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.949, 328.06; 6. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.886, 327.43 vs. 11. Del Worsham, Camry, 3.943, 320.97; 7. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.908, 326.79 vs. 10. John Force, Camaro, 3.937, 314.75; 8. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.924, 326.48 vs. 9. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.932, 320.36. 

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Bob Bode, 4.151, 259.76; 18. Richard Townsend, 4.242, 258.91; 19. Gary Densham, 4.291, 225.18; 20. Brandon Welch, 6.313, 105.60.

Pro Stock _ 1. Vincent Nobile, Chevy Camaro, 6.529, 210.41 vs. 16. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.733, 207.02; 2. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.547, 210.60 vs. 15. Joey Grose, Camaro, 6.699, 207.46; 3. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.554, 211.30 vs. 14. Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.691, 207.91; 4. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.557, 209.33 vs. 13. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.624, 207.40; 5. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.558, 209.62 vs. 12. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.621, 208.30; 6. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.569, 210.54 vs. 11. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.598, 209.98; 7. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.577, 209.14 vs. 10. Jeg Coughlin Jr., Camaro, 6.596, 209.14; 8. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.580, 209.75 vs. 9. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.582, 210.37. 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 11 2018
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