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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Kyle Busch interests McLaren for Indy 500, but team is leaning toward experience

McLaren Indy Kyle Busch
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With Arrow McLaren SP heavily weighing a fourth car for the Indy 500 next year, Kyle Busch is a candidate but not at the top of the IndyCar team’s list.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown addressed the possibility Wednesday morning during a video news conference with Gavin Ward, the team’s newly named racing director.

“I have not personally spoken with Kyle Busch, but you can read into that that someone else in our organization has,” Brown said. “We want to make sure if we run a fourth car, we’re in the mindset that we want someone that is experienced around the 500. It’s such an important race, and from a going for the championship point of view, we’ve got three drivers that we want to have finish as strong as possible, so if we ran a fourth car, we’d want to be additive, not only for the fourth car itself, but to the three cars and so bringing in someone who’s not done it before potentially doesn’t add that value from an experience point of view.”

Busch will race the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing next season in NASCAR under a new deal that will allow the two-time Cup Series champion to make his Indy 500 debut. Busch, who had a previous deal to run the Indy 500 nixed by Joe Gibbs Racing, openly courted Chevy IndyCar teams to contact him during his introductory news conference with RCR last month.

After Team Penske (which has given no indications of a fourth car at Indy alongside champion Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), McLaren is the second-best Chevy organization, and it’s fielded an extra Indy 500 car the past two years for Juan Pablo Montoya. The Associated Press reported last month that McLaren was in “serious conversation” about running Busch at Indy with Menards sponsorship.

But with its restructured management, the team is in the midst of significant expansion for 2023. AMSP is adding a third full-time car for 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi to team with Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, and a massive new shop also is being built in the Indianapolis area.

“(It’s) not because of him but purely because of experience,” Brown said of Busch. “He’s an awesome talent and would be huge, huge news for the speedway. But yeah, I think everyone is under consideration if we decide to do it, but experience is right at the top of the list as far as what’s going to be the most important to us.”

And it seems likely there will be a veteran joining Rossi, O’Ward and Rosenqvist at the Brickyard.

“A fourth car at the 500 is very much under consideration,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t even want to get ahead of ourselves, but we wouldn’t be ruling out a fourth car in the future on a full-time basis. That definitely wouldn’t be for ’23. But as we expand the team and get into larger facilities and things of that nature, it’s something that Gavin and I have spoken about.

“I think we would be in a position to run a fourth car at the 500 this upcoming year. If we do decide to do that, we’ll make that decision soon for maximum preparation, and I would say we’re open minded to a fourth car in ’24 and beyond and probably will make that decision middle of next year in time to be prepared if we did decide to do that.”

Brown also addressed the future of Alex Palou, who will be racing for Chip Ganassi Racing next season after also signing a deal with McLaren. Though Brown declined to get into specifics about whether Palou had signed a new deal, he confirmed Palou will continue to test “our Formula One car from time to time.

“Everyone has reached an amicable solution,” Brown said. “We’ve now had Alex in our Formula One car as we have Pato. That will continue in the future, which we’re quite excited about. At this point we’re laser-focused on 2023 and glad to have the noise behind us and now just want to put our head down and get on with the job with the three drivers we have.”