Clay Millican is still trying to chase down that elusive first NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series victory, but a new approach and a team entering its third year together has provided a recipe Millican believes will lead to a win sooner rather than later.
As for how soon, Millican is confident it won't be long in his 10,000-horsepower dragster, and perhaps as quickly as this weekend's 18th annual DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
"I think a win is right around the corner," said Millican, who has eight career finals appearances. "It's just a matter of when we're supposed to win. Every weekend we go, I think it's going to be the weekend. I really feel like we can get a win.
"This is our third year with this group, and I think it's the best group of people working on this car this team has ever had. They looked like they were in mid-season form after the first test session. They know what they're doing, and they're not second-guessing it."
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Alexis DeJoria (Funny Car) and Jason Line (Pro Stock) were last year's winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including three hours of live finals coverage starting at 3 p.m. Pacific Time on Sunday. The first of two annual stops in the high-stakes city is the fourth of 24 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series events during the 2017 season, and Millican enters the race ninth in points after falling in the second round to eventual winner and eight-time World Champion Tony Schumacher at the most recent race in Gainesville, Fla.
Millican has grabbed round wins at each of the past two events this season, but after posting a career-best run of 3.689 at 328.38 mph at the fall race in Las Vegas last year, there's been an early-season shift for crew chief David Grubnic and Millican's team. The performance is still there - Millican ran 3.71 in Phoenix - but Millican believes a different focus will have a payoff throughout the season.
"I think our goal this year has been to try to find some consistency," Millican said. "We didn't miss the mark too much at Gainesville and went down the track five out of six runs, which is fantastic. We're going to try to maintain that without giving away a ton of performance.
"I feel like our chances of winning are way better the more you go down the race track. Plus, the more runs you make down the track, the more information you get for when you do you need to push it."
Millican hopes that balance allows his team to end up in the winner's circle on Sunday. Getting that first victory will be difficult facing off against a loaded field that includes points leader and two-time 2017 winner Leah Pritchett, three-time defending World Champion Brown, Schumacher, Doug Kalitta and Brittany Force.
No matter the outcome, you will surely find Millican with a smile on his face all weekend.
"I've been in a final round there, and we run well there," Millican said of The Strip at LVMS. "This first (Las Vegas) race is especially fun, because it's the DENSO (Spark Plugs NHRA) Nationals and we are the DENSO car. That makes it a lot of fun.
"I really enjoy the Vegas races, and I really enjoy being around the DENSO people. As long we're talking about what we do as a race team, I can talk all day long. When it comes to talking racing, I can talk with the best of them."
Alexis DeJoria's Funny Car win was her second in three years at the track, but she'll have to contend with two-time 2017 winner Matt Hagan, Gainesville winner John Force and defending World Champion Ron Capps, a five-time Las Vegas winner.
Jason Line's dominant start to last season in Pro Stock that included a victory at the facility ended with a world title. The event also features the highly-anticipated K&N Horsepower Challenge for eight top Pro Stock drivers. Greg Anderson is the defending winner, earning a $50,000 paycheck last year.
Thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series is also on the bill and after nitro qualifying, fans can watch the spectacular Muy Caliente Racing jet dragsters sponsored by Lucas Oil. Jet cars are thrust driven vehicles propelled by jet engines with exciting pre-run flame shows.
As always, fans can interact with their favorite drivers with an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA's popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 2 and 4:30 p.m. on Friday, March 31, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, April 1, at 1:40 and 4:05 p.m.
Final eliminations are scheduled to begin at noon on Sunday, April 2.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 800-644-4444 or log on to www.LVMS.com.