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NHRA: Millican gets first career Top Fuel win in 254 starts; Capps, Laughlin also win

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Sunday’s NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals will be something Clay Millican will never forget.

Not only was the race held in Tennessee – at the legendary Thunder Valley (a.k.a Bristol Dragway) – it was also the first career NHRA Top Fuel win for Volunteer State resident Millican.

TOP FUEL: What makes the win all the more impressive is that it was Millican’s first win in 254 career Top Fuel starts and nine final round appearances.

Millican (3.825 seconds at 316.38 mph) defeated Leah Pritchett (3.881 at 307.09) became the 103rd different winner in Top Fuel history.

“There were times I ever wondered if this was going to happen,” Millican said. “I don’t deserve this credit. I’m really happy for David Grubnic and all of the boys who work on this car and I mean that one-hundred percent.”

FUNNY CAR: Ron Capps earned his fifth win in the first 11 national events of the 24-race 2017 schedule, as well as his 55th career Funny Car win.

The defending NHRA Funny Car world champ (4.054 seconds at 317.05 mph) defeated Don Schumacher Racing teammate Jack Beckman (4.040 at 319.29). It was a better launch at the starting line that propelled Capps to the win.

“We’ve gotten a few lucky rounds, but it’s been preparation in the offseason,” Capps stated. “We had runs on Sunday against four of the toughest cars, drivers and crew chiefs combined. You read down the list of people we had to beat in a new car that was prepared. There are not very many teams that are that prepared to pull a car out and have a quicker set-up than we were.”

The win ties Capps with 16-time national champion John Force for most Funny Car wins at Bristol with four victories apiece.

PRO STOCK: Alex Laughlin (6.718 seconds at 205.04 mph) earned his first win of the season and the second win of his Pro Stock career, defeating Bo Butner (6.729 seconds at 205.79 mph).

Laughlin, who reached his fourth final round of the season, becomes the eighth different winner in Pro Stock in the first 11 races of 2017.

“We didn’t really have anything handed to us; we had some good matchups all day,” Laughlin stated. “I definitely feel like I had a point to prove. We have a competitive car on the starting line. I came into this weekend with the confidence to win.”

Plus, in a shocker, neither Greg Anderson nor teammate Jason Line reached the final round for the first time since 2014.

The 2017 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season continues next weekend at Norwalk, Ohio, in the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals June 22-25.

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TOP FUEL: 1.  Clay Millican; 2.  Leah Pritchett; 3.  Shawn Langdon; 4.  Steve Torrence; 5.  Scott Palmer; 6.Brittany Force; 7.  Antron Brown; 8.  Mike Salinas; 9.  Kebin Kinsley; 10.  Tony Schumacher; 11.Terry McMillen; 12.  Doug Kalitta; 13.  Troy Coughlin Jr.; 14.  Chris Karamesines; 15.  Pat Dakin; 16.  Kyle Wurtzel.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Ron Capps; 2.  Jack Beckman; 3.  Tommy Johnson Jr.; 4.  Matt Hagan; 5.  Robert Hight; 6.  Tim Wilkerson; 7.  Courtney Force; 8.  John Force; 9.  Del Worsham; 10.  Alexis DeJoria; 11.  Cruz Pedregon; 12.  J.R. Todd; 13.  Jonnie Lindberg; 14.  Jim Campbell; 15.  Jeff Diehl; 16.  Bob Bode.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Alex Laughlin; 2.  Bo Butner; 3.  Erica Enders; 4.  Tanner Gray; 5.  Shane Gray; 6.  Jeg Coughlin; 7.  Vincent Nobile; 8.  Allen Johnson; 9.  Jason Line; 10.  Greg Anderson; 11.  Drew Skillman; 12.  Alan Prusiensky; 13.  Wally Stroupe.

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TOP FUEL: Clay Millican, 3.825 seconds, 316.38 mph  def. Leah Pritchett, 3.881 seconds, 307.09 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 4.054, 317.05  def. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.040, 319.29.

PRO STOCK: Alex Laughlin, Chevy Camaro, 6.718, 205.04  def. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.729, 205.79.

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TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Antron Brown, 3.952, 286.62 def. Pat Dakin, 12.230, 56.62; Clay Millican, 5.313,139.40 def. Kyle Wurtzel, Broke; Shawn Langdon, 4.183, 255.53 def. Doug Kalitta, 4.414, 206.35; Steve Torrence, 4.280, 203.80 def. Chris Karamesines, 8.710, 63.35; Leah Pritchett, 4.378, 186.51 def. Troy Coughlin Jr., 4.497, 189.26; Brittany Force, 3.897, 310.55 def. Terry McMillen, 4.283, 252.19; Scott Palmer, 3.969, 307.16 def. Tony Schumacher, 4.076, 275.96; Mike Salinas, 3.855,320.05 def. Kebin Kinsley, 3.850, 317.87;

QUARTERFINALS — Pritchett, 7.094, 84.32 def. Palmer, Foul – Red Light; Langdon, 4.251, 258.37 def.

Brown, 4.310, 263.26; Torrence, 4.000, 309.56 def. Salinas, Broke; Millican, 4.011, 294.18 def. Force, 4.060, 267.85;

SEMIFINALS — Pritchett, 3.798, 319.90 def. Langdon, 3.901, 308.00; Millican, 3.812, 319.90 def. Torrence, 3.949, 303.57;

FINAL — Millican, 3.825, 316.38 def. Pritchett, 3.881, 307.09.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 4.132, 255.43 def. J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 4.305, 240.89; Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 4.367, 233.12 def. Bob Bode, Dodge Charger, Broke; Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.985, 322.58 def. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Solara, 6.461, 105.19; Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.387, 233.48 def. Jim Campbell, Charger, 6.307, 105.26; Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.172, 303.43 def. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.302, 275.28; John Force, Camaro, 4.136, 312.42 def. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.211, 303.43; Ron Capps, Charger, 4.104, 315.34 def. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.246, 278.75; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.105, 314.17 def. Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 5.901, 122.44;

QUARTERFINALS — Beckman, 4.321, 276.75 def. C. Force, 4.343, 221.42; Capps, 4.090, 314.31 def. Hight, 4.124, 310.55; Johnson Jr., 4.083, 314.53 def. Wilkerson, 4.220, 262.18; Hagan, 4.202,306.95 def. J. Force, Foul – Centerline;

SEMIFINALS — Beckman, 4.009, 318.99 def. Johnson Jr., 4.043, 313.29; Capps, 4.045, 314.61 def. Hagan, 5.264, 168.43;

FINAL — Capps, 4.054, 317.05 def. Beckman, 4.040, 319.29.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Alex Laughlin, Chevy Camaro, 6.761, 204.88 def. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.735, 205.13; Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.752, 205.57 def. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.765, 203.74; Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.743, 204.54 def. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.748, 204.94; Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.736, 204.82 def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.758, 204.60; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.742, 205.38 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dart, 6.807, 203.61; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.714, 205.79 def. Wally Stroupe, Camaro, Foul- Red Light; Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.740, 205.26 was unopposed;

QUARTERFINALS — Enders, 6.761, 204.88 def. Nobile, 16.442, 49.55; Laughlin, 6.769, 204.54 def. Coughlin, 10.491, 95.69; T. Gray, 6.748, 204.94 def. S. Gray, 6.783, 205.01; Butner, 6.763, 204.76 was unopposed;

SEMIFINALS — Butner, 6.732, 205.44 def. Enders, 6.745, 205.01; Laughlin, 6.767, 204.48 def. T. Gray, Foul – Red Light;

FINAL — Laughlin, 6.718, 205.04 def. Butner, 6.729, 205.79.

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TOP FUEL: 1.  Steve Torrence, 954; 2.  Leah Pritchett, 943; 3.  Antron Brown, 934; 4.  Tony Schumacher, 801; 5.  Doug Kalitta, 678; 6.  Brittany Force, 649; 7.  Clay Millican, 639; 8.  Troy Coughlin Jr., 443; 9.  Scott Palmer, 432; 10.  Terry McMillen, 424.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Ron Capps, 1,044; 2.  Matt Hagan, 881; 3.  Jack Beckman, 748; 4.  Robert Hight, 707; 5.

Courtney Force, 704; 6.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 663; 7.  John Force, 641; 8.  Tim Wilkerson, 490; 9. J.R. Todd, 476; 10.  Cruz Pedregon, 397.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Bo Butner, 945; 2.  Greg Anderson, 835; 3.  Tanner Gray, 830; 4.  Jeg Coughlin, 766; 5.  Jason Line, 702; 6.  Erica Enders, 657; 7.  Vincent Nobile, 617; 8.  Drew Skillman, 536; 9.  Shane Gray, 434; 10.  Chris McGaha, 421.

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Title contenders stumble on the streets of Toronto

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The championship picture of the Verizon IndyCar Series saw a massive shakeup after Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto. While points leader Scott Dixon ended up in victory lane, his third win on the streets of Toronto and his third win of the 2018 season, all of his championship rivals stumbled.

Josef Newgarden, the pole sitter and second-place man in championship – he trailed Dixon by 33 points entering Sunday – led from the pole and looked to be a contender for the win, but a Lap 34 restart saw his day come apart.

Newgarden ran wide exiting the final corner coming to the green flag and smacked the outside wall. He plummeted through the field and pitted under caution – for a Turn 1 pileup involving Graham Rahal, Max Chilton, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power, and Sebastien Bourdais – to allow the No. 1 Hitachi Chevrolet Team Penske group to examine the car for damage.

Newgarden continued on, but was never a contender the rest of the day, ultimately finishing ninth.

“I knew it would be low grip, but not zero grip. I just lost the front end completely,” Newgarden said in describing how the wall contact happened. “I feel terrible, it’s not fun to make a mistake.”

Alexander Rossi, who sits third in the championship, ran a steady sixth in the first stint until Lap 27, when contact with Will Power damaged his front wing. Rossi was then caught up in the melee on the Lap 34 restart, getting airborne over the left-front of his Andretti Autosport teammate Hunter-Reay.

Rossi again pitted for a new front wing – he had six stops in total – and ended up eighth on a day when he felt like a podium beckoned.

“It’s a pretty disappointing result. I don’t think we had the car to beat Scott (Dixon), but for sure with the problems that everyone had, we could’ve finished second. It’s been a difficult string of races,” Rossi said afterward.

Hunter-Reay, too, had a day forget. After going from sixth to third on the start, he spun his No. 28 DHL Honda into the Turn 3 Barrier on Lap 27. And like Rossi, he was caught up in the Lap 34 pileup, falling off the lead lap in the process.

Hunter-Reay languished in 16th at the checkered flag.

“It was a very unfortunate day and a big loss for us in points,” Hunter-Reay lamented. “The DHL Honda was running comfortable in third and pushing hard, but I had too much front brake lock and found the tire barrier – that’s my fault. Then after that, we got caught up in a wreck, which put us a lap down. From there we just fought to stay in front of the leader.”

Power, too, hit his struggles after the first stint, when contact with the Turn 11 wall, an incident similar to the one that his Team Penske teammate Newgarden had, bent the right-rear suspension of his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet. He also had contact with Rossi later that lap.

Power lost two laps in the pits as the team made repairs, and he took the checkered flag in 18th.

“In the last corner, I brushed the wall and bent a rear toe link, so the car was a little bit out of whack. I didn’t even know that (Alexander) Rossi and I touched. I was just kind of trying to hang on until we got a yellow and could pit,” Power explained. “I’ve never had so many DNFs; not DNF for this race, but like a DNF in a season. Still, it’s kind of how this sport can go.”

All told, their struggles mean that Dixon leads the championship by 62 points over Newgarden. Rossi sits third, 70 points of the lead, followed by Hunter-Reay and Power, who sit 91 and 93 points out of the lead respectively.

And the next race, the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (July 29 on NBCSN) won’t make it easy for them to make up ground, as Dixon’s record there is astoundingly strong. The four-time IndyCar champion has five wins at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, his most recent triumph coming in 2014, a race in which he famously came from last on the grid (22nd) to win.

Conversely, Newgarden, Rossi, Hunter-Reay, and Power have a combined one win at Mid-Ohio (Newgarden, last year).

However, the likes of Newgarden and Rossi still appear confident that they can make up for their Toronto struggles.

“We have to move on now and try to pick it back up. With the championship battle, we’ve got a long way to go. This doesn’t help but look, we have plenty of racing (left),” said Newgarden. “We need to keep our head up here. We’re going to be just fine, we’ve got fast cars and the best in the business. If we get our mistakes sorted out, we’re going to be just fine.”

Rossi, who finished sixth at Mid-Ohio last year, echoed similar sentiment, and thinks Mid-Ohio presents an opportunity to get back on track.

“We’re very good at Mid-Ohio, we’re kind of circling Toronto and Mid-Ohio as two races we were going to be pretty good at, so we got to reset, man, and just execute,” Rossi explained afterward. “We’re fast. We’re there every weekend. That’s the important thing. It’s a lot harder to be outside the top 10 and looking for answers. We’re fighting for pole every weekend. We’re in the Fast Six virtually every weekend, so you’re putting yourself in position to have a good result, it hasn’t come really since Texas.”

The 2018 championship is far from over – the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma being a double-points event helps ensure as much. But, if Dixon does claim the 2018 title, Toronto may be the race that serves as the turning point.