Photo courtesy NHRA

NHRA Gatornationals: Millican (TF), Beckman (FC), Anderson (PS), Hines (PSM) qualify No. 1

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Clay Millican (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) will be the drivers to beat in Sunday’s Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals.

All four drivers qualified No. 1 in their respective classes between Friday and Saturday’s sessions.

Here’s how the day played out:

In Top Fuel: Millican’s Friday-best pass of 3.708 seconds at 324.8 mph stood up during Saturday’s two qualifying rounds to keep him at the top of the heap.

It’s Millican’s second No. 1 qualifiying position in the season’s first three races, and the 12th of his career.

Next on Millican’s agenda: earning his first win at the Gatornationals.

 “Tomorrow, we must do better than what we did today,” Millican said. “We came into the weekend wanting to slow the car down. We’re still not on the consistency train. We don’t want to be that one-hit-wonder. Being hot tomorrow will be interesting for us.”

Millican will face No. 16 seed Terry Totten in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations.

In Funny Car, Beckman earned his No. 1 qualifying spot of the season and 24th of his career with a pass of 3.911 seconds at 332.18 mph.

“We didn’t have the best car on Saturday,” Beckman said. “Today’s conditions are going to be a lot more like the conditions we race in (Sunday). We just didn’t give credit to the sunshine out there since this is a warmer track than what we’ve run so far this year.”

Beckman will face No. 16 seed Jim Campbell in the first round of eliminations

John Force Racing teammates Courtney Force and defending Funny Car champ Robert Hight qualified No. 2 and 3, respectively.

In Pro Stock, four-time champ Anderson held on to the No. 1 spot with Friday’s best qualifying pass of 6.522 seconds at 213.00 mph.

Anderson is seeking his fifth career win in the Gatornationals and 91st overall win of his illustrious career.

“A little bit tougher today,” Anderson said. “This is still a great tune-up for tomorrow though. We think the weather is going to be exactly like this tomorrow. We made four really nice runs and that’s probably the best its been all year.”

Anderson faces No. 16 qualifier Wally Stroupe in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Hines knocked teammate Eddie Krawiec off the No. 1 spot with a Saturday qualifying pass of 6.773 seconds at 198.64 mph.

Hines’ last win at Gainesville came in 2004 and he was runner-up in last year’s race.

Obviously, he’s looking to return to the victory circle for the first time in 14 years.

“Coming here it was just a progression of taking our notes from last year and just making sure we are making the proper calls at the right time,” Hines said.

Sunday’s four rounds of final eliminations for the third of 24 NHRA national events begins at 11 a.m. ET.

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Sunday’s first-round pairings:

TOP FUEL: 1. Clay Millican, 3.708 seconds, 324.98 mph vs. 16. Terry Totten, 7.106, 96.49; 2. Steve Torrence, 3.739, 323.19 vs. 15. Mike Salinas, 5.557, 117.91; 3. Antron Brown, 3.751, 327.74 vs. 14. Audrey Worm, 5.133, 137.96; 4. Tony Schumacher, 3.785, 329.67 vs. 13. Brittany Force, 5.021, 138.17; 5. Pat Dakin, 3.810, 291.26 vs. 12. Shawn Reed, 4.128, 239.74; 6. Leah Pritchett, 3.811, 325.77 vs. 11. Terry Haddock, 4.038, 252.90; 7. Doug Kalitta, 3.827, 327.19 vs. 10. Richie Crampton, 3.942, 305.49; 8. Terry McMillen, 3.830, 320.74 vs. 9. Scott Palmer, 3.889, 316.08.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 3.911, 332.18 vs. 16. Jim Campbell, Charger, 5.142, 156.37; 2. Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.914, 327.66 vs. 15. John Force, Camaro, 4.281, 222.88; 3. Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.917, 333.66 vs. 14. Dave Richards, Ford Mustang, 4.133, 300.93; 4. Shawn Langdon, Toyota Camry, 3.926, 327.03 vs. 13. Gary Densham, Mustang, 4.089, 308.57; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.933, 327.27 vs. 12. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.084, 290.26; 6. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.941, 328.22 vs. 11. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.004, 315.05; 7. Ron Capps, Charger, 3.944, 325.06 vs. 10. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.989, 321.58; 8. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.962, 326.40 vs. 9. Del Worsham, Camry, 3.979, 325.14.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Cory Lee, 8.943, 85.95; 18. Jonnie Lindberg, 9.393, 80.65.

PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.522, 213.00 vs. 16. Wally Stroupe, Camaro, 7.042, 196.73; 2. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.525, 212.59 vs. 15. Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.664, 209.36; 3. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.529, 213.27 vs. 14. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, 6.612, 211.03; 4. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.534, 213.03 vs. 13. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.602, 210.24; 5. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.534, 212.93 vs. 12. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.581, 209.75; 6. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.541, 212.59 vs. 11. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.571, 212.83; 7. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.541, 212.69 vs. 10. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.570, 211.53; 8. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.544, 212.83 vs. 9. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.554, 212.06.

PRO STOCK MOTOCYCLE: 1. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.773, 199.05 vs. 16. Mark Paquette, Victory, 6.943, 193.21; 2. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.785, 199.67 vs. 15. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.929, 196.64; 3. Joey Gladstone, Suzuki, 6.793, 196.93 vs. 14. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.917, 198.64; 4. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.806, 201.01 vs. 13. Cory Reed, Victory, 6.910, 191.67; 5. Scotty Pollacheck, Suzuki, 6.816, 197.51 vs. 12. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.902, 195.59; 6. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.821, 196.50 vs. 11. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.889, 195.14; 7. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.855, 197.74 vs. 10. Angie Smith, Buell, 6.889, 196.10; 8. Angelle Sampey, Victory, 6.856, 196.07 vs. 9. Ryan Oehler, Buell, 6.881, 195.22.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Matt Smith, 6.945, 195.87; 18. Kelly Clontz, 6.970, 192.11; 19. Lance Bonham, 7.205, 694.44; 20. Andie Rawlings, 7.223, 182.45.

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Could Scott Dixon someday break Foyt, Andretti wins and championships records?

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With five races left in the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season, Scott Dixon is in the driver’s seat to potentially earn a fifth career IndyCar championship.

After winning Sunday at Toronto, Dixon now has a 62-point edge over second-ranked and defending series champ Josef Newgarden and a 70-point lead over third-ranked Alexander Rossi.

The triumph north of the border was Dixon’s third there, as well as his 44th career IndyCar win, third-highest in IndyCar annals.

Add in the four IndyCar championships and those are stellar numbers indeed.

What makes things all the more amazing is Dixon has done all that in under 18 full seasons on the IndyCar circuit. Heck, he’s only 37 years old, too (although he turns 38 on July 22).

Dixon’s championships have come in 2003 (his first full season in IndyCar after two prior seasons in CART/Champ Car), 2008, 2013 and most recently in 2015.

The quiet, unassuming New Zealander has been one of the most successful drivers ever not just in IndyCar, but in all forms of motorsports.

When his name is mentioned, it’s typically included with the only two drivers who have more career wins than he does: A.J. Foyt (67 wins and seven championships, both records) and Mario Andretti (52 wins and four titles).

That’s a pretty lofty pair to be part of.

One might think that after all the success he’s had, Dixon could easily walk away from IndyCar and Chip Ganassi Racing and enjoy an early retirement.

But competing in and winning races isn’t really a job for Dixon. He enjoys what he’s doing so much that he easily could keep doing what he’s doing – and at a high level – for another seven or more years, at least.

So, can Dixon catch Mario and A.J.? The former would be easier than the latter, for sure.

Numerically, it’s possible – at least part of it:

* Dixon can easily be competitive into his mid-40s.

* He’s averaged three-plus wins every season since 2007 (37 wins from then through Sunday). That means if he can keep that average going, he could reach 24 more wins – to overtake Foyt – by 2026. Yes, that may be a stretch to even imagine, but if there’s any current driver who potentially could overtake Foyt, it’s Dixon.

* Dixon already has three wins this season, and with five more races still to go, he could easily win another one, two or maybe even three more in 2018 as he continues his road to the championship. And let’s not forget that with each additional win, that’s one win closer to overtaking Andretti and Foyt.

In his usual modest and humble manner, Dixon downplays not just talk comparing him with Andretti and Foyt, but also overtaking one or both.

“I think A.J. is pretty safe,” he said. “He’s a long ways ahead. … Eight (championships) is an infinity away. Takes a long time to get eight.”

But that doesn’t mean Dixon can’t keep working at approaching Foyt’s mark.

“I think for us, we take it race by race,” he said. “We’re in the business of winning races. If we’re not doing that, I won’t have a job for too long. That’s the focus for right now.”

If he wins the championship this year, he’ll pass Andretti’s championship mark. That would be one record down, three to go.

And if he can win nine more races over the next few seasons, he’ll pass Andretti’s 52 career wins, making it two records down and two more to go.

“Right now with 44 wins, next on the list is Mario I think at 52 or something,” Dixon said after Sunday’s win. “We’ll see how it goes. Right now, we’re just trying to get the job done for the team.”

And he’s doing a darn good job at that indeed – with likely even more success still to come.

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