A Full Recap of the 2018 U.S. Nationals

CLERMONT, Ind – The 2018 edition of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals once again didn’t disappoint. In the top three divisions of the Mello Yello NHRA Drag Racing Series, we saw two of the three crown first time winners in the prestigious event and the other a repeat champion.

In Top Fuel competition, Terry McMillen had a dream elimination day as the No. 13 qualifier marched all the way to the final round of action on Monday afternoon. He had just 18 combined final round appearances in his first 137 races of his career prior. Plus, entering Indy, McMillen had lost in the first round in each of the last five races of the season. 

That didn’t stop him from blowing past Scott Palmer in the first round, points leader and defending US Nationals winner Steve Torrence in Round 2, Blake Alexander in the semifinals and Scott Kalitta in the finals en route to his second win of the season and just his ninth of his Top Fuel career.

It was a storybook kind of a day for him. It was also further proof of the mayhem that occurred in the Top Fuel division on Monday too. We saw four of the eight first round matchups see the lower seed win. In round two though, the top seed (Calinas), No. 5 (Torrence), No. 3 (Antron Brown) and No. 2 (Clay Millican) all bounced.

The semifinals were Alexander vs. McMillen and Kalitta vs. Billy Torrence.

That set up a very thrilling final round matchup allowing McMillen to become the first No. 13 qualifier to win a race this season in any division.

In Pro Stock competition, we saw another first time US Nationals winner in Tanner Gray. Monday was his third straight final round appearance on the season and seven on the year overall. He bested Jeg Coughln for his 10th career Pro Stock victory, half of which occurring this year alone. Gray, had never won “The Big Go” prior to this year either. Now, he looks like a legitimate title contender heading into the playoffs.

He was the No. 1 qualifier and matched passed Jason Line and defending US Nationals winner Drew Skillman to meet up with Coughlin for a winner-take-all matchup. The road for Coughlin was full of upsets. He beat Alex Laughlin in the opening round then took down the No. 2 seed and current points leader Greg Anderson in round two. In the semifinals, Coughlin defeated the No. 3 qualifier Bo Butler to advance to the final round matchup with Line. After winning in Sonoma three races ago, he lost in the first or second round in each of the last two races. Then, he went on a run towards his fourth win of the season and 62nd of his career but was stopped short by Gray.

Anderson, has lost in the second round in two of the last three races now.

In the Funny Car division, J.R. Todd defended last year’s win with another strong showing this weekend. He earned the No. 1 qualifier and marched by Jim Campbell, Robert Hight, Tommy Johnson Jr. and Matt Hagan en route to his third win of the season and 14th of his career. Heading into this weekend, he had lost in either the first or second round in four of his last five events. Instead, he came out with a force and heads into the Countdown with some new found momentum.

Hagan, also entered this weekend cold as he also lost in the first or second round in each of the last four races. But, he defeated Jonnie Lindberg, Courtney Force and Shawn Langdon en route to his sixth final round appearance of the season and 53 of his career. He’d come up just short though.

Heavyweights Knocked Out Early On Monday

I don’t know why it hasn’t caught on yet, but the bracket style format that the Mello Yello NHRA Drag Racing Series uses to determine race winners has been another hit in the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals.

Last year, we saw upsets galore. This year, while we did see some upsets again, the 2018 edition will be looked back on with how the legends of this sport were knocked out early. 

John Force, Tony Schumacher, Ron Capps and Jack Beckman were all eliminated from the first round of action in their respective divisions on Monday afternoon. Then, Antron Brown, Courtney Force, Robert Hight, Steve Torrence, Clay Millican, Greg Anderson and Erika Enders were bounced a round later.

That’s a lot of star power that was gone by mid-afternoon at the Lucas Oil Raceway.

How strong is this group?

There’s 24 combined U.S. Nationals victories in that group.

In terms of Top Fuel, Torrence and Schumacher won each of the last two years and neither made it past the second round. Torrence, is the current points leader and saw his third defeat in the first or second round in the last nine races.

Schumacher, has 10 U.S. Nationals wins, most ever, 84 career Top Fuel race wins, most ever and eight championships, again most ever. He was knocked out in the first round by Billy Torrence.

John Force has 16 Funny Car titles, most ever, 149 wins, most ever and four U.S. Nationals wins. He lost in the first round to Robert Hight.

Take this stat for what it’s worth, among the top four in career wins in Top Fuel competition, both didn’t last past the second round this past weekend. Three of the top four in all-time wins in Funny Car were bounced in either the first or second rounds. Half of the drivers in the top 10 of most wins in Funny Car competition ever lost in the first or second round on Monday as well.

Greg Anderson has the second most wins ever in the Pro Stock division and he lost in the second round.

In terms all all-time victories in NHRA, the first, third, fifth and seventh ranked drivers all lost on Monday in the opening round.

Eight active drivers are in the top 30 of the most elimination wins ever and all lost in either the first or second round too.

That’s how wild Monday’s eliminations were.