LAS VEGAS — Terry McMillen is the happiest man in Las Vegas.
He hit the jackpot Sunday at the Strip at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, winning his first-ever National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) race.
Coming into the season, McMillen had 172 career starts.
It wasn’t until this 23rd race of 2017’s 24 race season — McMillen’s 195th career start — that he finally had the winning hand, claiming the Top Fuel championship at the 17th annual Toyota NHRA Nationals.
Joining McMillen on the champion’s podium before another sold out house were Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
McMillen was the decided underdog coming into Sunday’s final round — he was 0-2 so far this season in final rounds.
But the race was over .06-seconds before it started when Brittany Force jumped the gun, red-lighting the tree.
“She made a mistake on the starting line and it cost her,” said Santa Maria’s Alan Johnson, the Top Fuel consultant to John Force’s racing team. “But it’s better to lose in the finals than to go out in the first round.”
“Our team has come so far to get to this level,” said McMillen. “The car ran flawlessly. This is the stuff you dream of as a little kid and to do it against the best in the world is amazing.”
A blown cylinder cost Force’s sister, Courtney, her shot at the Funny Car crown.
In the finals against Hagan, Courtney Force’s car blew a cylinder 200 feet down the 1,000 foot track, keeping the Force family off the winner’s stand.
“These cars are very finicky,” said Hagan. “Sometimes they love you. Sometimes they rip your heart out. I’ve had some rough first rounds earlier in the Chase but it all came together today.”
KB (Ken Black) Racing dominated the Pro Stock weekend.
Series points leader Greg Anderson was the top qualifier. Teammate Bo Butner, currently second in the standings, qualified third and the final KB racer, Jason Line, who is third in points and the defending series champion, qualified fourth.
Only Drew Skillman crashed the KB party, qualifying second — all four reaching the semifinals.
When Butner knocked out Skillman, the team knew it would be an all KB final.
Anderson beat Line in the semis and Butner in the finals for his 90th career race win and fourth in the six-race Countdown.
“Just a great, great day,” said Anderson. “And what a turnout in Las Vegas. Every time I looked up in the stands, I could see there was not an empty seat.
Krawiec defeated Hector Arana Jr. in Pro Stock motorcycles, giving him his fourth win in the Chase’s first five races and a 150 point lead over LE Tonglet.
“This has been a dream season,” said Krawiec. “You wouldn’t think it but our team struggled right up until mid-season, so we brought out our old chassis and haven’t looked back since.”
Krawiec’s lead is the biggest in any of the divisions but it’s not enough to wrap up the title before Pomona.
That’s because at the season-ending Auto Club Finals the points go up.
Each round in final eliminations will be worth 1 ½ times the number awarded the rest of the season, going from 20 points a round to 30, so winning the championship will be worth 150 points.
The “Little Points” — those earned during the four qualifying rounds — are also going up but by a smaller amount.
Steve Torrence will take a 20-point lead over Brittany Force to Pomona with Doug Kalitta 84 points back and defending Mello Yello champion Antron Brown in fourth, 135 points behind.
“The ultimate scenario is for Brittany and Steve to make it to the final round at Pomona and the winner of that race is the champion — it’s that simple,” said Johnson.
“We’ve had a really great season but we didn’t run as well today as we did Friday (where he had the best qualifying time),” said Torrence. “We weren’t going to win the title this weekend anyway, so it all comes down to Pomona.”
“I love you but where gonna whup you in Pomona,” said “Mama Kay” — Steve Torrence’s mother Kay — to Alan Johnson shortly after the action wrapped up Sunday.
San Luis Obispo native Ron Capps came into Las Vegas with the Funny Car points lead.
When his engine blew up halfway down the track in the first round of eliminations, it opened the door for Hight, whose who loss to Courtney Force in the semis earned enough points to put him 15 points ahead of Capps and 125 points up on Courtney Force heading to a Pomona showdown.
Anderson heads to Pomona with a 40 point lead on Butner and a 76 point lead on Line.
Now all the season championships will come down to a winner-take-all weekend, Nov. 10-12 at the Auto Club Raceway in Pomona.