Clay Millican might not be running for a championship this year, but that doesn't mean he doesn't enjoy stealing a little thunder from the drivers in the title hunt.
Millican put his Parts Plus/Great Clips Top Fuel dragster on the pole for Sunday's fifth annual NHRA Carolinas Nationals for his second top qualifier of the season, beating out the top seeded Tony Schumacher in the opening race in the six-race NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown for the Championship.
Tommy Johnson, Jr. (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also raced to the top qualifying positions in their respective divisions.
Just two weeks after he failed to qualify for the US Nationals for the second straight year, effectively ending any chance of making the field for the Countdown, Millican raced to the top of the ladder with a pass of 3.774 seconds at 318.77 mph in the cool Friday evening qualifying session that went unbeaten in both of Saturday’s final rounds.
It was Millican’s third-career No. 1 qualifier and his first since Brainerd in 2013.
"Compared to Indy, we went from the outhouse to the penthouse," said Millican. "Indy was a positive in a big way, but obviously a negative. The positive was winning the first round of the (Traxxas Nitro) Shootout, and obviously the negative was the DNQ.
[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]"What we took from that, turned into that (today), because (crew chiefs) David Grubnic and Lance Larson and every one of these guys have been pouring over this race car and they found some issues. We found, not anything wrong, but some issues, a combination of problems, that hopefully these are the results that we’ll start seeing. It’s only two (qualifying) runs. One (DNQ) is an anomaly, twice is a problem."
Schumacher held the second spot at 3.774, 319.75, followed by Steve Torrence (3.786, 320.36) and Leah Pritchett (3.803, 319.45). Larry Dixon, who was sixth after Friday’s qualifying, moved up to take fifth.
With only 15 drivers entered for this weekend’s event, Millican with have a bye in the first round on Sunday.
Tommy Johnson, Jr. collected his second top qualifier after posting a 3.971, 312.42 in a wild Friday night Funny Car qualifying session that saw the top spot change hands four times over the final four pairs of drivers.
Johnson, the third Funny Car seed in the Countdown behind his teammate Jack Beckman and Matt Hagan, earned eight bonus points for his pole-winning run, in a championship battle where every point is precious.
"In the Countdown, you take every point you can," said Johnson, Jr. "We were counting them as we went. We gave up a few in the last round – we were experimenting a little bit, trying to see how far we could push it. At the end of year (the bonus points) might be big. It was a great qualifying run."
The rest of the top five qualifiers remained unchanged from Friday, with Worsham still in second with a 3.993, 318.32, followed by Capps (3.994, 317.4), Wilkerson (4.003, 318.32) and Robert Hight (4.004, 313.95).
Greg Anderson finally got his first No. 1 qualifier at his hometown track, holding onto the top spot in the Pro Stock through Saturday’s sessions for his third pole of the year and 78th of his career.
No one was able better Anderson’s time of 6.524 at 212.26 mph from Friday’s sessions, with Anderson posting the quickest and second-quickest times in the final two rounds of qualifying.
After going five years without a pole, Anderson now has two in a row. He’s also won from the No. 1 spot earlier this season at Englishtown.
"It's great to be Greg Anderson right now," said Anderson. “It’s definitely been a breakout year for me, I’ve been a little off for the two or three years. We’ve definitely made some very good performance gains with my car.
"When things are good like this, you just have to be thankful. There were two or three years where I wasn't a threat to win races or championships, and it was tough but you have to keep struggling and keep digging, and you have to know that someday you'll find your way back up to the top. It feels great to be back. My team gives me a great racecar, and I have a chance every week. Now it's up to me. You have to bring your A+ game."
Wally Stroupe qualified in the 16th position and will face Anderson in the opening round.
Butner’s time of 6.533 seconds, 211.66 mph held up for the second spot. Third went to Erica Enders (6.536, 211.83), followed by Shane Gray (6.545, 211.83) and Larry Morgan (6.548, 211.76).
Pro Stock Motorcycle points leader Eddie Krawiec snatched the No. 1 spot from Jerry Savoie in the closing minutes of qualifying to collect his third pole of the season and 26th of his career.
Krawiec hit the track as the second-to-last pair in the final session and clocked in with a low ET of 6.851 at 194.38 mph to take over the top spot on the leaderboard.
Savoie was bumped to second, standing in his time of 6.862, 195.59 from Friday’s session. Krawiec’s teammate Andrew Hines took third running 6.876, 194.10, followed by Karen Stoffer (6.886, 194.83), and Matt Smith (6.886, 194.83).
Angie Smith took the bump spot, while 10th-place Countdown contender Scotty Pollacheck failed to qualify for the event.