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NHRA: Millican eyeing the No. 2 spot coming out of BIR

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Clay Millican and his Parts Plus dragster fly down the track earlier this season. Millican was in Brainerd Thursday right before the start of the Lucas Oil Nationals that begin Friday, Aug. 16, at Brainerd International Raceway. Photo courtesy of NHRA.

BAXTER -- Like everyone else, Clay Millican has been looking up at Steve Torrence in NHRA’s Top Fuel points standings.

Millican is in prime position as he sits third in the standings, just 11 points behind second-place Antron Brown, but he’s still 632 points behind leader Torrence.

So What’s the game plan for the Parts Plus Dragster team as it heads into the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals Aug. 16-18 at Brainerd International Raceway?

“The game plan for us and the rest of the Top Fuel cars is, we don’t look at the points Steve Torrence has because that is insurmountable,” Millican said. “That is the beauty of the NHRA Countdown. He can be so far out there and it doesn’t really matter at this point. Our goal, and everybody else’s goal, is to go into the Countdown in second place.

“There is no catching Steve. He’s been so incredible and won so many races, but the higher up we are when the points get reset then that massive lead that Steve has built up is gone.”

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Millican hasn’t collected a win yet this season, but reached the finals four times, most recently at Denver and Sonoma. The three-race Western Swing allowed Millican to move from sixth to third.

He owns a 20-16 round record with three No. 1 qualifying starts this year.

But he said the key is to become as consistent as Torrence has been through the first part of the season.

“What he has done is absolutely unbelievable and incredible,” Millican said. “It’s one of those things where the crew chief will get the right group of people. People are by far the most critical part of this whole deal. The crew chief finds a combination of parts and pieces and people that just work.

“Once you get that roll going other teams start making mistakes against you because they feel like they have to outrun you. It’s a magical thing when it happens. I’ve had it happen in my career on the IHRA side of things. I know what Steve is going through right now.”

Last year, Millican posted two wins and finished third in the final standings. It was his highest career finish in the countdown.

However, after the season, Millican’s team joined John Force Racing. Millican called a friend and that friend happened to be crew chief Mike Kloeber.

“Last season coming into this year meant nothing,” Millican said. “My entire team left. The only thing that was left was a few parts and pieces and me. We basically started from scratch this year. It was a heck of a challenge during the offseason to kind of start over again. Luckily my crew chief was the crew chief I started my career with. We were also able to get Jim Oberhofer, who was the crew chief at Kalitta for 30 years.

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“We were able to bring in a couple of guys who are amazing, even though people thought I was crazy for bringing in Mike Kloeber. He hadn’t been a crew chief in eight years. He was in the corporate world. The first part of the season was very challenging even though we found success in the third race of the season.

“So I can’t take anything from what I did last year.”

Millican said the transition has been fun and it would appear the new team is hitting its stride at the right time.

“I’m having fun,” he said. “You work with somebody a lot of years and have a lot of success. We just went our separate ways, but we remained friends. Enough time has passed where you’re able to come back with that same guy and it’s like magic all over again.”

At BIR, Millican qualified fourth and eliminated Chris Karamesines in the opening round. Then he was ousted by Mike Salinas in the quarterfinals. In 2017, Millican lost to eventual champion Leah Pritchett in the semifinals after qualifying fifth. A year earlier, Millican qualified ninth, but upset Pritchett in the opening round before falling to Antron Brown in the quarterfinals.

Millican is no stranger to going fast as he holds the national record with a 3.628 second run at Pomona last year. He’s actually broken the record twice. The first time came in Illinois with a 3.631 second run. That run broke the previous national record that was held by Leah Pritchett, who set it at BIR.

“This track is very capable of massive runs,” Millican said. “I mean like huge runs. We caught a weekend where it was actually cold and the record was set here. There was some monster runs and this place is set up for good runs. We’re not that close to the ocean, but we’re not that high up either.”

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Clay Millican

Clay Millican

Ride: Parts Plus dragster

Crew Chief: Mike Kloeber

Hometown: Drummonds, Tennessee.

Current standings: Third

Last year at BIR: Advanced to quarterfinals

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