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NHRA Topeka: Top qualifiers Millican, C. Force, Kramer are ones to beat Sunday

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NHRA Media Release

TOPEKA, Kan. – Qualifying concluded Saturday as Clay Millican drove to the Top Fuel No. 1 qualifier at the 30th annual Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals presented by Minties NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series race at Heartland Motorsports Park in Topeka, Kan.

Courtney Force (Funny Car) and Deric Kramer (Pro Stock) are also No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the eighth of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

In Top Fuel: Millican earned the top spot with a run of 3.739-seconds at 331.12 mph in his Strutmasters / Great Clips dragster during the third qualifying pass of the weekend and first of the day. He secured his fourth No. 1 qualifier this season, the 14th of his career, and he now sets his sights on his second career Top Fuel victory.

“When I drove by the scoreboard I couldn’t believe we had such a great run, but we are all excited to have jumped from the number 16 qualifier to the top of the board,” Millican said. “I’m giddy because our cars are running such high speeds but that was just a crazy run altogether.”

Millican will take on Terry Totten in the first round of eliminations on Sunday. Points leader Steve Torrence qualified second with a 3.747 at 328.30 and is set to meet Terry Haddock in competition.

In Funny Car: Force remained atop the Funny Car category with a run of 3.911-seconds at 321.73 mph in her Advance Auto Parts Chevy Camaro SS recorded during her second qualifying pass on Friday. The current Funny Car points leader locked down her fifth No. 1 qualifier of the 2018 campaign and third consecutive.

“My mindset didn’t change much despite that solid pass we had from yesterday, but we knew a lot of cars could improve their times and jump past us so we just kept pushing today,” Force said. “It’s great to kick off the weekend here at Heartland Motorsports Park in the top spot, but we are hoping for a great day tomorrow.”

Force is set to face off against Richard Townsend when eliminations get underway. Jonnie Lindberg sits at second with a 3.962 at 316.23 and will meet Jim Campbell in round one Sunday.

In Pro Stock: Kramer, behind the wheel of his American Ethanol Chevrolet Camaro, took over the No. 1 qualifying position after driving to a 6.613 at 208.42 pass during the final pair of Pro Stock qualifying. He now has two top qualifying spots on the season, after also leading the pack in Phoenix.

“We didn’t expect to go to the top spot going into that final run,” Kramer said. “I want to thank all of our sponsors for helping us get here, and we are excited to see what we can do when we get underway tomorrow.”

Kramer matches up with Will Hatcher in the first round. Erica Enders slots into the second spot after a 6.616 at 207.69 run in the final round of qualifying as she prepares for Mark Hogan in the first round.

Eliminations begin at 12 p.m. ET on Sunday.

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SUNDAY’S FIRST-ROUND PAIRINGS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Clay Millican, 3.739 seconds, 331.12 mph vs. 16. Terry Totten, 4.227, 246.35; 2. Steve Torrence, 3.747, 328.30 vs. 15. Terry Haddock, 4.098, 256.94; 3. Billy Torrence, 3.762, 331.36 vs. 14. Kebin Kinsley, 4.019, 271.52; 4. Tony Schumacher, 3.771, 331.12 vs. 13. Bill Litton, 3.915, 305.08; 5. Leah Pritchett, 3.776, 324.51 vs. 12. Antron Brown, 3.832, 322.96; 6. Terry McMillen, 3.792, 321.65 vs. 11. Mike Salinas, 3.813, 318.32; 7. Brittany Force, 3.792, 305.42 vs. 10. Richie Crampton, 3.811, 321.65; 8. Doug Kalitta, 3.798, 321.81 vs. 9. Scott Palmer, 3.806, 326.87. Did Not Qualify: 17. Audrey Worm, 4.983, 147.09.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.911, 321.73 vs. 16. Richard Townsend, Toyota Camry, 4.247, 254.14; 2. Jonnie Lindberg, Ford Mustang, 3.962, 316.23 vs. 15. Jim Campbell, Dodge Charger, 4.185, 297.02; 3. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.980, 314.68 vs. 14. Robert Hight, Camaro, 4.163, 259.96; 4. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.996, 320.89 vs. 13. Dale Creasy Jr., Dodge Stratus, 4.088, 309.70; 5. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.006, 315.93 vs. 12. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.086, 304.53; 6. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.008, 313.00 vs. 11. John Force, Camaro, 4.053, 314.97; 7. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.021, 317.79 vs. 10. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 4.052, 314.31; 8. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.028, 315.78 vs. 9. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.048, 311.56. Did Not Qualify: 17. Todd Simpson, 4.617, 197.94; 18. Shane Westerfield, 5.357, 140.58.

PRO STOCK: 1. Deric Kramer, Chevy Camaro, 6.613, 208.42 vs. 16. Will Hatcher, Dodge Dart, 7.649, 140.99; 2. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.616, 207.69 vs. 15. Mark Hogan, Pontiac GXP, 6.887, 201.10; 3. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.620, 208.94 vs. 14. Alan Prusiensky, Dart, 6.717, 205.16; 4. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.626, 208.10 vs. 13. Richard Freeman, Camaro, 6.682, 206.07; 5. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.627, 208.04 vs. 12. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.655, 207.18; 6. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.629, 208.01 vs. 11. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.649, 208.26; 7. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.632, 208.17 vs. 10. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.645, 207.85; 8. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.633, 207.37 vs. 9. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.635, 207.30.

Formula One: Haas fighting for ‘best of the rest’ in Year 3

Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images
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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The third season for Haas F1 has been its best, even if it’s been a bit bizarre.

Formula One’s only U.S.-based team has scored the most points in its young history and overcome some serious bumbles early to compete with – and beat – some of the legacy team names in F1.

Haas heads into this week’s U.S. Grand Prix in a tough season-ending fight with Renault for the “best of the rest” title among the teams outside of the Big Three of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.

“It’s the best battle of the field. It’s very tight. It’s going to go to the last lap of the race in Abu Dhabi, while I think the world championship is probably going to go this weekend,” said Haas’ French driver Romain Grosjean, who signed with the team before their first season.

“To rise as quickly as we’ve done hasn’t been seen in Formula One, I don’t think,” said his Danish teammate Kevin Magnussen.

Haas launched with a surprise in 2016 and has been rising ever since.

Haas scored points in its first race in 2016, and in 2017 had both cars finish in the top 10 for the first time at Monte Carlo, the biggest race on the annual calendar. A strong run over the last 10 races of this season has Haas just eight points behind Renault in the race for fourth place with four races left.

The 2018 season looks to finish better than it started.

After Haas scored the team’s best-ever qualifying at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, neither car finished the race. Magnussen and Grosjean both left pit stops on consecutive laps with unsecured wheels and had to stop. The team was fined for sending the cars out in unsafe conditions.

“That was extremely, extremely disappointing” Magnussen said “We are still showing signs of immaturity at certain moments.”

Other problems followed. A month later in Azerbaijan, Grosjean fought his way from the back row into sixth before he drove straight into the wall while following a safety car. Grosjean felt horrible, but blamed one of the season’s most bizarre incidents on an errant flip of a steering wheel switch that he said upset the car’s brake balance and sent him spinning into the barrier.

More valuable points were lost in Italy when the floor of Grosjean’s car was deemed illegal and he was disqualified from sixth place. Haas appealed and is awaiting a decision on points that would close the gap with Renault with a stroke of a pen. Despite the gaffes, Grosjean has finished in the top 10 four times in the last seven races.

“I got eight points stolen in Monza,” Grosjean said. “The results are coming with the kind of performance Haas signed me for in the first place.”

After the problems, Grosjean admitted it was a relief to extend his contract with Haas for 2019. He and Magnussen will be teammates again.

“When I joined, I didn’t know what Haas was going to be. I think they gave me some credit for that when I had a tough time earlier this year and turned things around, Grosjean said.

Haas Team Principal Guenther Steiner said he and team owner Gene Haas saw value in staying with drivers who knew the Haas cars.

“Just to change a driver for the same level of skill, you go backward,” Steiner said. “There’s not a lot of better drivers out there, so why should we change them? Stay the same and mature quicker.”

The question now is how high can Haas go?

The Haas business model – which has drawn complaints from its middle-of-the-pack rivals – has it buying parts and engines, most notably from Ferrari. It keeps costs down but creates a performance ceiling that Haas is unlikely to break through.

“We are not developing parts for our car,” Grosjean said. “So far it hasn’t been a problem. If one day we start to beat Ferrari, it’s not going to work.”

Steiner said a top three finish isn’t realistic, not against teams with much bigger budgets, development and staff.

“The first year we didn’t finish last, the second year we didn’t finish last and now we are fighting for fourth. We must be doing something right,” Steiner said. “How do we get to that next step? Where do we go from here? Right now, there is no answer.”

That can be the frustrating part of an otherwise very good season.

A taste of success begs for more. For the 26-year-old Magnussen, he can be good with Haas, maybe even the “best of the rest.” But that’s a career definition no driver wants.

“It’s been six years since I won a race in motorsport,” Magnussen said. “I miss winning. Badly.”